Interviews with Latin content creators (4): Caia

1. paulum nobis narra de te ipso, et quomodo alias linguas in primis didicisses.

Nōmen mihi est Caia Caesarēnsis (vel saltem id vocārī mālō, partim quod Novae Caesarēae versārī soleō). Profestrix sum nōn Latīnae sed Physicae et investīgātiōnēs īnstrūmentīs mathēmaticīs condūcō ad vulcānōs in fundō maris pertinentēs. Quamquam inūsitātum sit, cottīdiē variās rēs in labōrandō agō Latīnē (dē quibus plūs deōrsum).

Prīma alia lingua mihi Bulgarica erat, quia forte amīcōs Bulgaricōs habēbam. Hanc linguam discēbam praecipuē per dialogōrum legendum et amicīs meīs in sermōne. Ōlim librum Famīliam Rōmānam fortuitō invēnī et nōn crēdere potuī linguam intellegere posse sine aliae linguae auxiliō! Rē vērā sīcut magica vidēbātur sonitumque huius linguae valdē amābam. Hīs diēbus etiam linguam Hispānicam discō et in hōc opere Latīna ūtilissima est.

2. quid censebas de lingua latina, antequam discere incepistis?

Sciēbam hanc linguam ūniversālem scientiae aliārumque disciplīnārum fuisse (exemplī grātiā, per librum “Philosophiae Nātūrālis Principia Mathēmatica” ab Isaacō Newtōnō), sed ad Latīnam discendam tantum genera librōrum “Wheelock’s Latin” similia mihi nōta erant et ille modus discendī mē omnīnō reppulerat.

3. adhuc quomodo linguam latina uel discis uel melius colis?

Legere amō et hōc amōre ūtor quam maximē in linguārum discendō praesertimque Latīnae. Cottīdiē multiplicem varietātem rērum legō et saepe eandem rēm plūries. Ad linguam exercendam per tōtum diem rēs agendās mihi ipsī narrō et notās Latīnē faciō (dē consiliīs investigātiōnis, congressibus facultātis, lectiōnibus cursūs et cēterīs).

4. quae latine scribere soles, atque quid temporibus futuris creare in animo habes?

Dē rēbus insolitīs bēstiīsque imāgināriīs discō et in fābulās meās incorporō. Persōnae principālēs hārum fābulārum paene semper sunt fēminae, partim quod nōn satis fābulae Latīnae tālēs habent, sed etiam quia mē plūs perītam esse sentiō in scrībendō dē fēminīs. Hās fābulās aliquando in ūnā narrātiōne coniungere velim ut aliquid sīcut “Ad Alpēs” creem, sed in genere phantasiae, cum viātoribus fābulās narrantibus in mundō imāginōsō.

5. si quis plus scriptum/inceptum a te audire aut legere vult, ubi inveniri potest?

Omnēs meae fābulae invenīrī possunt apud Journaly et mē sequī in pipiandō licet @caesarensis.

Interviews with Latin content creators (3): Matthew Jay

  1. So, tell us a little bit about yourself, and your previous experiences with languages

So my career to date is a pretty odd one. I went to law school fully intending on becoming a criminal law barrister and then a judge (naïve 16 year-old me wanted to sit in the Court of Appeal) but I was, thankfully, disabused of such ideas when I witnessed the hopelessness of the criminal justice system in action. I became a welfare rights adviser at the Citizens Advice at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, mostly helping EU families access benefits, and there I developed a strong interest in health inequalities and health justice. Nowadays, by day, I’m a full-time legal epidemiologist. The main part of my research uses big, routinely collected data to study participation in education among children in the care system and other children particularly vulnerable to poor outcomes.

In terms of languages, being educated through a pretty bog-standard English state school, I never really cared. In our school, French was mandatory from year 7 to 9 (about age 11 to 13) and then we had to pick from French, Spanish and German for GCSE (age 14 to 16); I picked German. I got good grades but could barely speak a word of either language and remained monolingual until much later. Classical languages were unheard of at my school. Even when I went to college (6th Form) to do my AS and A levels (basically the pre-requisite for going to university), Latin and Greek were nowhere to be seen. I studied Psychology, Biology, Law and Classics, the latter of which basically consisted of reading excerpts from the Odyssey and then something to do with Pericles and Thucydides, all in English and all frightfully dull. I actually wanted to do the Romans, I hated the teacher with a passion and then I dropped the subject (sometimes I tell people I “dropped out” for dramatic effect, but the truth is it was standard back then to drop one of the four AS subjects and take only three onto A level).

  1. What was your impression of Latin prior to your serious foray into learning it.

I never really had one. I was taught in primary school that it was the language of the Romans but even the idea of a dead vs a living language wasn’t part of my linguistic schemata. There was just language, which you could either learn because there are people who know it, or you couldn’t, because there aren’t. I suppose I knew Latin fell into the former category because it’s everywhere but I never even thought about how someone would go about learning it, and certainly never knew the difference between knowing about language and knowing language. I must have heard at some point before entering the living Latin world that “Latin is a dead language” but I never really knew what that meant or why a language should be considered dead just because there’s no big nation state that uses it.

  1. What has your Latin-language-learning journey looked like so far?

One day, sometime around 2007, I decided to learn another language. Because I’ve always been interested in the Romans (we had a “Roman week” in primary school for which my dad made a replica scutum out of balsa wood—I got to be part of the emperor’s body guard), I decided on Latin. I just began Googling for affordable courses and I found a physical pen-and-paper distance course which was the typical grammar-translation, not a word spoken, approach. The course probably should have taken a few months to complete but I found the lack of progress so agonising that it actually took me two years and, as you can guess, I came out of it not being able to read a single thing beyond Poeta puellam amat. This was very disappointing and so I pretty much gave up, only occasionally returning to Latin. I thought, given I have a legal education, I should at least be able to read Magna Charta, but even that evaded me at the Rex Anglie and so I gave up again.

A few years Later, I was bored and, searching on Google for information on how we know how Latin was pronounced by the Romans, found audio books and other such material. I just started listening to this and reading simpler stuff without any real direction but found myself being able to understand more and more. I then found some podcasts which are now increasingly prolific. I eventually summoned the courage to attend the London Latin Circle where I learned about CÆLUM (the Madrid living Latin summer school), my first being the 6th CÆLUM in 2018. When I returned to work, a colleague commented on how I actually looked relaxed and chilled out, which nobody has ever said before, so I knew I had found my Latin home. Otherwise, I now just try to speak to as many friends about interesting topics in Latin as I can and teach through the UCL Living Latin & Greek Society.

  1. What sort of Latin content have you been producing, and what are your hopes for the future?

I basically have two main projects, both of which are really side projects and so only got done when I have some spare time. The first is my podcast, “Salvi Sitis!,” which I will carry on with as long as I can be bothered. This is a podcast entirely in Latin about anything to do with epidemiology and health. Sometimes it’s the very modern stuff, like what Latent Class Analysis and social epidemiology are or how you say “Data Science” in Latin, other times, I look at some of the Victorian greats in epidemiology, like the doctor John Snow, and I’ve also delved into the early modern period in looking at William Harvey’s De Motu Cordis (on the motion of the heart). The hardest part of producing this has been the neologisms. I always try to find words in our sources—we have medical texts written in Latin at least into the 18th century and a modern Latinate vocabulary—and so I hope I’m doing a good enough job in that regard and, therefore, that the podcast is a source of information about both epidemiology and Latin.

My second project is an Ørbergified version of De Motu Cordis and I’m also gathering together other relevant materials; so far this consists of two Latin poems written about Harvey and his book. I’m not sure for how much longer I want to carry on with just Harvey. So far I’ve been doing the whole of each chapter but I might start excerpting the rest of the book and then bring the project to a close within some reasonable time frame. I also want to expand into other early modern anatomists and do something with them, though I haven’t decided what. I think I’d like to do a compilation in the manner of the In Delphini Usum books but there are only 24 hours in a day.

5 If people want to hear more from you, in Latin, where can they follow your work?

Probably easiest is to follow me on Twitter (@MattJayLats). I almost always tweet about both my Latin and scientific activities, hoc sæpissime Anglice, illud Latine. People should be able to subscribe to Salvi Sitis! anywhere where they normally download podcasts. I put my De Motu Cordis work out on https://matthewjayepi.com/. Finally, if people want to know more about my legal epidemiology work, they should check out our website at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/child-health/research/population-policy-and-practice-research-and-teaching-department/cenb-clinical-5.

 

Interviews with Latin content creators (2): Delia

Series forward: One of the things I’m interested in doing more of, is promoting those involved in generated new, original authored materials for Latin and Ancient Greek. I hope this will spotlight some of the amazing work being done and produced, and encourage you to go and read it, support these individuals, and participate in literary production and consumption in the languages. See my first interview with András Alkor.

 

So, Delia, tell us a little bit about yourself, and your previous experiences with languages.

I grew up in a rural community in Downeast Maine, and moved around a lot at a young age, almost always in Maine.  I wouldn’t say my family is particularly “bookish,” but they always encouraged my love of reading from a young age; one of my earliest memories is trying to read Lord of the Rings, well before I really could read proper English prose.

I don’t really have many stories about myself, just scattered memories that are made ever more dim and ever more scattered as the years wear on.  A constant in my life has been literature, something that really drew me into the ancient world.

Besides some mandatory, unfruitful classes in Spanish and French, I never had any particular foreign language exposure until I was already in high school, where I’m due to graduate in a few months.  Latin was my first foreign language I had any particular success in, then Greek, and currently I’m learning Catalan.

What was your impression of Latin prior to your serious foray into learning it.

I didn’t really have much of a pre-conception of Latin besides that it existed mostly in medicine and law and was the precursor to many Romance languages.  I took Latin in high school on a whim because of my aforementioned failed attempts at learning Spanish and French, the only other two languages available at my school.  I had been told it was a dead language, that it was useless, and that it was hard; three facts that seemed to make me ever more determined to learn the language, in my foolhardy stubbornness that hasn’t left me, yet.

You’ve had some… unconventional learning tactics, especially for Greek. What have you done? Would you recommend it?

Haha, yeah.  My Latin experience is somewhat accidentally Natural Method.  My school’s program, taught by the wonderful voice behind Latintutorial, uses the Cambridge Latin Course, which, while I recognize isn’t the best textbook available, especially for the methods I ended up committing to, was all I had available.

As a freshman in high school (I think that’s 13, 14 years old?) I was immediately hooked by the idea that languages could be a) taught in a book and b) be taught with an entertaining story.  I’d fallen for the Educational YouTube bait of being entertained and tricked into learning.  While my teacher definitely supplied me with a grammatical base (who continues to push me even as my time with him as my formal teacher comes to a close), the fullest extent of my learning came from, initially, reading the story of the CLC over and over again and, when summer came, eventually moving onto “authentic” authors.  Cicero, Martial, and Caesar were my first “proper” authors, assuming Winnie ille Pu is not considered authentic Latin.  My infatuation with poetry came with Tibullus, whose poetry I emulated closely (and poorly) in my early days of writing; poems that, while enjoyable to write, aren’t worthy of public consumption and won’t be in the mind of people besides those who’ve already had the misfortune of reading them.

Now for Greek.  First off, I would not recommend this for most people, especially in 10 years from now when, hopefully, there’ll be better resources than Athenaze complete and available, (cough cough, LGPSI). It is a road of frustration and misery, until eventually coming to the conclusion that Greek is not a mountain to climb, but a sea, utterly indifferent to you, that will offer you great peace and great pain on the same day.

That being said, what I did was get the basics from the, in a word, frustrating Athenaze (I believe up to Chapter 8), so that I wasn’t totally lost.  Essentially, I knew how the cases worked, mostly learned from Latin, and how the present tense conjugated.  Then I bought a bunch of Loebs (I believe the Iliad, Odyssey, Sappho, and Theocritus), and a notebook, and bookmarked Logeion and Wiktionary.  Then I read.  Slowly, painfully slowly, I read bits of Greek, wrote down what I had read, in Greek, and wrote some more Greek that was wholly unrelated to what I had read.

I had started this about a year ago, right when the pandemic began.  The timing was coincidental, I think, but it certainly helped having the Odyssey on hand while drifting through the uncertainty and frustration of being stuck at my home.  At the moment I can read a fair bit of somewhat difficult Greek with some difficulty; I’m currently reading Theocritus and some Homeric Hymns, for reference.  Vocabulary especially has been my hard spot, but I think writing has been the most helpful.

Where do you see your Latin ability now – things you’re able to do and areas you’re still working on?

I think my Latin ability is rather strong at this point, four years into the process.  I’ve read a few epic poems and analysed at the very least the broadest strokes without research.  I’m able to read most Latin texts, or at least the Latin texts I’ve come across, and, without much help, understand at the very least the basics.  I’m currently going through a phase of reading OCTs as opposed to my traditional Loebs, and I’m not really missing the translation at all.  As well, I think I have a greater grasp of style in my composition, a greater sense of rhythm and sound than I had a year ago.

Obviously, improvement is always needed.  My vocab is, as with Greek, my hardest spot, and especially in unfamiliar prose, I’m not that skilled at going beneath the surface.  If I am to use these languages as a method of communication, I do need to work on my listening comprehension more, though I think that is getting better all the time.

What sort of Latin (and Greek) content have you been producing, and what are your hopes for the future?

I write Latin and Greek poetry, and, on YouTube, I recite some short excerpts of my work.  When not writing short, lyric poetry, or the longer epyllia of 80-200 lines, I’m writing two epic poems: one is my lockdown project, a Latin poem about trauma/grief, chosen vs biological family, and identity, tentatively called the Mannica, which to date is around 1,150 lines, after multiple revisions of the first book, and many, many drafts of the overall plot.

The second is a new project, in Aeolic Greek, without a title but a couple hundred lines in or so, about community and rebuilding, both of communities and individual people, after disaster.

In the future, after the completion of these two projects, I hope to continue writing epic poetry.  In the immediate future, I’d like to start making more audio versions of my work, branching into my Greek work, and especially an audiobook version of my epics.  For most of my writing career, I’ve wanted to write fantasy but have only had success so far with these two projects, so perhaps one day I’ll revisit fantasy in Latin or Greek (or maybe both)!

I have an idea to start a publishing company for authors in ancient languages to make the whole process from writing to publishing to reading fully accessible for all people.

If people want to hear more from you, in Latin, where can they follow your work?

As I said earlier, my YouTube channel is where I produce some basic audio versions of some of my smaller work.  For text versions of varying quality and size, my Twitter is the place to be.  Finally, my Patreon is where I post the largest excerpts from my work, some or most of which is available for free, but the rest is locked behind a paywall, especially pre-revision drafts of my work.

 

τοὔνομ’ μοί ἐστι “tecum sto”

Over on twitter, our friend Travis asks the somewhat provocative question

Almost every single Communicative Greek resource I’ve ever seen commits a very basic error with naming. According to John Lee, Greeks said: τὸ ὄνομά μου or ὄνομά μοι but NEVER τὸ ὄνομά μοι. How has literally everyone missed this?!

I myself have certainly been guilty of violating that ‘rule’ (I note that Lee places ‘rule’ in quotation marks within his paper, and I’ll talk about too), and I think this provides a good occasion to reflect upon errors, idiom, communicative methods, and related things.

Lee’s article

John Lee’s article is worth reading. In short, he observes that the LXX and NT consistently use τὸ ὄνομα + genitive, but ὄνομα + dative, and that this pattern is consistent with an almost universal pattern in Greek from Homer to the Koine period, starting to break down in the 2nd century CE. He then formulates this as a ‘rule’, and suggests that it is proof of the LXX and NT authors having good Greek idiom, whether native or native-like. Lee also, importantly, notes that he hasn’t seen this ‘rule’ formulated anywhere before – not within Greek literature, and not in grammatical works on Greek.

Types of ‘error’

First of all, I think it’s worth realising that there are various degrees of error, and I think violating the ὄνομα rule is very low down the scale. In fact, I wouldn’t call this an error, I would call it non-native idiom. In particular, this represents a completely understandable and comprehensible pattern of language. If you said, ὄνομα μου or τὸ ὄνομά μοι to a native speaker of 1st century Greek, I have zero doubt that you would be understood. Maybe they’d correct you, maybe they wouldn’t, but there’s zero failure of communication there because in this instance the difference between a possessive dative and a genitive is a rather minute nuance.

There are other types of errors, though, and some are failures of idiom, others are ungrammaticalities. It is very common among contemporary Latin speakers, especially those influenced by American speaking circles, to use the phrase tecum sto (lit. “I stand with you) to mean “I agree with you”. This phrase isn’t attested classically with this kind of idiomatic meaning, there are quite a few other phrases that would do better service. But it’s widespread. Personally I think this non-native usage is a slightly higher level of problem, because it’s shifting to the realm of meaning, and reinforcing a non-idiomatic construction. But even here, you shouldn’t be a jerk about it, interrupting Latin conversations to rant at them for their barbarisms.

The type of errors that speakers today of historical languages should most be concerned about in their own speech, are ungrammaticalities. παύομαι τρέχειν for “I stop running” is right on the verge of being categorically ungrammatical. Yes, you might be understood by a native speaker, but they are going to pause and mentally check for a second. If they were given a nice little linguistic field test, they’d mark it with an asterisk for ‘ungrammatical sentence’.

Why we all ‘got it wrong’

Why did almost all communicative teachers of ancient Greek get the ὄνομα rule wrong? And why is tecum sto so prevalent? Let me deal with the latter first, and highlight a genuine danger for contemporary speakers of historical languages. As best I know, tecum sto was picked up by some American speakers (sorry American friends), and circulated reasonably widely among them, and because of the nature of spoken-Latin events and circles, it has been widely reinforced and now forms part of some speakers standard phraseology. Even very proficient speakers use it commonly, to the chagrin of purists.

This illustrates a feature of contemporary speaking circles – the number of contemporary Latin and Greek speakers is relatively small, and in the age of the internet things can spread rapidly and decisively. Terrence Tunberg suggested the word acroama / ἀκρόαμα for ‘podcast’ and it was taken up by Latin podcasters within the week.

So, what about τὸ ὄνομά μοι? I would suggest that we all ‘missed’ this for a simple set of reasons. Firstly, Ancient Greek is now an undead language – it’s spoken, but it does not have intergenerational transmission nor is it used actively as the daily language of a residential community. Secondly, although (as Lee does) you can search the corpus of AG literature to find lots of examples of ὄνομα usage, the simple exchange τί ἐστι ὄνομά σοι; would happen countless times in a speaker’s life if they engaged in life with a Greek speaking community, but it is not so frequent in literary texts. Thirdly, it’s not that Lee noticed a rule that we were all ignoring, it’s that Lee formulated a consistent idiom pattern that no-one had formulated in explicit writing for 2800 years. Fourthly, it suggests something subtle about article usage that had escaped us. Fifthly, this kind of non-native idiom sometimes occurs among contemporary AG speakers due to Latin interference. That is, while not all AG speakers have Latin or are stronger in Latin, many are, and their Latin sometimes shapes their Greek.

Proof that you communicative folks are terrible

Now, at least regularly I hear some people pipe up and say, “Look, this is why you can’t teach communicatively! How could you confidently teach ancient Greek as a spoken language if you can’t even get the ὄνομα rule right??”

To which I would reply τὰδε· Every communicative teacher I know is well aware of the issues that face us about linguistic accuracy, the corpus we have access to, what linguistic data is ‘missing’ because there is no intergenerational + daily life speaking community with continuity (setting aside the important questions about the role of Modern Greek). It’s not that we are ignorant or are ignoring those challenges, we’re just not convinced they are defeaters.

Given that Lee is the first to point out explicitly this ‘rule’, I don’t think you could reasonably complain or blame anyone for not knowing it. You certainly couldn’t say grammar teachers were doing a better job – I’ve never read or heard a grammar teacher formulate the rule!

Do better

Please take this section-header tongue-in-cheek. Communicative teachers of AG (and Latin) are interested in norming their learners’ and their own speech to a literary corpus. That’s almost always been true of Latin, and it remains true of AG. We’re not aiming to revive the language and then see it become a modern spoken language that goes on to evolve independently. So there is an inherent conservativism, or a gravitational ‘centre’ to our language use, and that center is the literature we are interested in.

And so, as I have said before, the thing that more than anything will norm our speech patterns, is regular and consistent exposure and immersion in authentic ancient Greek (and Latin) literature. That is incumbent upon teachers in particular – they need to be spending considerable time reading and reflecting on ancient texts. It is less incumbent upon learners, because they should be getting as much comprehensible input as possible, at the easiest possible levels, and that learner-oriented material should be being produced by teachers who are norming themselves to the literary corpus I just mentioned. That’s how you ensure that Latin and AG produced by contemporary speakers continues to conform to usage patterns of thousands of years ago.

Secondly, we need good linguistics. Although I am definitely on record as saying that explicit grammar is of little to no use for acquiring languages, I am very in favour of ongoing, rigorous linguistic work on ancient languages, and that this understanding of Latin and Greek should then be brought to bear, especially on teachers and teaching. Lee’s paper is a great example, it has refined all our understandings of a pattern that we didn’t explicitly know existed, and teachers and speakers can now consciously adjust their usage to reflect that norm, which should then be reinforced among learners.

Thirdly, this is one reason LGPSI exists freely available for you to read and critique, instead of waiting umpteen years for me to finish it, publish it, and then get lambasted for errors. There are definitely errors in LGPSI right now. But it is there for people to read and send me corrections and suggestions at any time. Even now, I have been going through and subtly conforming it to the ὄνομα rule.

Fourthly, remember to be gracious to speakers of ancient languages. Classics and Biblical Studies have enough snooty jackasses already.

Easy Greek, Transcription, and helping yourself and others

Lately I’ve been talking here and there about a few things that all interrelate, so I thought I’d try to bring them together in one post, with a pitch at the end.

Reading Easy Greek

I spend a lot of time these days reading quite easy Greek. Obviously this includes reading and re-reading textbook material (primarily but not exlcusively Athenaze) with students, but also in some of my own time, I am reading easy Greek as much as I can. It’s this that I recommend to people as a key element in getting lots of comprehensible input, and it’s this that is going to propel your Greek forward in general. If you can spend 5 minutes reading a passage in which you comprehend basically everything, or need to look up just a handful of words along the way, you’ve done wonders for your Greek. Incidentally, this is why I’ve moved to start telling my students about halfway through Athenaze that it’s time for them to start working on additional readings.

Transcription

I also recently spent some time talking about why you might spend some time transcribing Greek texts. I think this does a good deal of good in focusing you on a text, and developing typing skills as well as spelling and accentuation sensitivity. So when I personally am reading easy greek, some of that is transcribing easy greek and then re-reading it, proofing it, and adding a few notes in for my own benefit.

Where to find Easy Greek?

Honestly one of the best things you can do is scour 19th century and early 20th century Greek Readers, such as those listed here. That, and reading any connected narrative text in textbooks helps too. Some authentic texts could be considered easy, depending on your own level. Then there are people writing modern content in ancient Greek, for example.

What if there were more ‘Easy Greek’ for everybody?

This is essentially why the Greek Learner Text Project exists and came about. Through discussions with James Tauber and I, it became clear that if we consistently digitised Greek-Learner texts, and developed annotated versions of those texts, they could become part of a personalised, difficulty-structured, reading platform, which would know what you know, and offer up texts, and reading supports, to give you Greek that was just that tiny step up that you needed. But to do that we need digitised texts, and especially lemmatised texts.

You could help:

Whether you transcribe a text, or OCR it and proof it, or read through another text and help lemmatise it, or even just proofing in general, these would all help the GLTP move forward in getting some complete texts at least to the point of digital and lemmatised, which is the starting point for some exciting transformations of them. If you’d like to help and don’t know how to start, get in touch and we can help you do so.

Upcoming Term 2 (2021) at SeumasU

My next round of classes here is scheduled to start in a few weeks’ time, and I’d like to highlight a few of the offerings for you:

Greek

I’ll be running the usual range of Athenaze-based classes: 103, 105, and 132, which start at chapters 13, 21, and 8 respectively. 132 is offered to suit a European timeslot. I’ll be offering 101 again starting in July.

In addition I have a number of other classes:

Greek 222: Septuaginta Psalms in which we’ll be reading a selection of the Psalms in Greek. This is ideal if you’re background is biblical Greek and you’re interested in getting into some conversational-type work but with a biblical basis.

Greek 232: Readings in Byzantine Prose Literature: We’ll be reading from an anthology of Byzantine Texts. This class doesn’t assume you can converse in Greek, and the Greek/English split in instruction will be shaped by participant proficiency.

Latin

There are two ongoing Latin offerings, Latin 103 which is at Familia Romana chapter 22, and Latin 202, which is at Roma Aeterna ch 41. I’m also offering:

Latin 281: Prose Composition, in which we’ll work explicitly on writing in Latin. This is explicitly designed not to just be “here are English sentences, please translate”, but “how do we write better in Latin?”

Latin 263: Vampire RPG in Ancient Carthage. One instance of this is now full, but if you’re interested and I have numbers, I’ll offer a second instance.

Latin 291: Scottish Neo-Latin Poetry. This class is flexible to those who don’t have a background in spoken Latin. We’ll be looking at Latin poems from Scottish authors of the 16th and 17th century. It doesn’t start until late May, and it’s on a European-friendly timeslot.

Latin 332: Join us for selections from the medieval faux-epic Ysengrimus, and the tales of Reynardus the Fox and Ysengrimus the Wolf. Conducted in Latin.

Other options

If you’re unable to attend a class because it’s scheduled in the middle of the night for you, I am open to audit options, where you will receive the video recordings of classes, and interact with me via email. Contact me for details and costs.

This year I’m pleased to be able to offer a limited number of scholarships. If your situation or circumstances would not permit you to fund a course with me, please contact me about a scholarship.

Term 3 (July): I have in mind to run a range of Athenaze and Ørberg-Latin classes, a Koine class on the Book of Common Prayer in Koine Greek, another Greek Composition class, Klim’s Iter Subterraneum, more Vampire, and possibly a Latin Reformation class.

 

Greek Notes in Passing: Mark 9:1-29

I’m going to try a thing, where I just post some observations on a Greek passage ‘in passing’, i.e. not an in depth study or anything, but things I noticed this week. This week is Mark 9:1-29, and I’m using the Tyndale House GNT.

v2 παραλαμβάνει ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ τὸν Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην

It’s interesting that Ἰωάννην lacks an article here, I wouldn’t venture a hypothesis why though.

v8 ἐξάπινα  ‘immediately’ or ‘unexpectedly’. A very uncommon adverb, found as ἐξαπίνης classical but also rare. The α form might echo Doric and Aeolic, making this even more striking.

v9 Καὶ καταβαινόντων αὐτῶν ἀπὸ* τοῦ ὄρους διεστείλατο αὐτοῖς

A great example of how non-absolute Genitive Absolutes are.

v11 ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν λέγοντες· ὅτι λέγουσιν οἱ γραμματεῖς

ὅτι here used as an interrogative, equivalent to τί or τί ὅτι, not very common in broader Greek. Appears several times in Mark though.

v15 καὶ εὐθὺς πᾶς ὁ ὄχλος ἰδόντες αὐτὸν ἐξεθαμβήθησαν καὶ προστρέχοντες ἠσπάζοντο αὐτόν

Nice example here of the shift from the grammatically singular collective noun ὄχλος to grammatical plural participles.

v21 ἐκ παιδιόθεν

This is interesting, because ἐκ παιδός or ἐκ παίδων can mean from/since childhood. The όθεν suffix works to create “from X”, or “-ence” type forms, but it is not vastly productive. πόθεν – whence? οἴκοθεν – from home. Here you have a relatively unattested coinage with παιδιόθεν strengthened with the arguably redundant ἐκ.

v23 Ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ· τὸ εἰ δύνῃ

The father in the story has just say, ἔ τι δύνῃ, and Jesus’ response contains a great instance of the substantising force of the article. In fact, here I would suggest that it’s like saying “if you are able?” with the person literally making air-quote signs with their fingers and a look of incredulity on their face.

v28 Καὶ εἰσελθόντος αὐτοῦ εἰς οἶκον οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ κατʼ ἰδίαν ἐπηρώτων αὐτόν

Not only is this a great example of GA not being absolute, like above, but it demonstrates how the Genitive-Adverbial-Clause sets up and provides background information, regardless of whether the subject of the GAC appears in the rest of the sentence, it remains ‘offline’ contextual and circumstantial information before the main clause gets going with οἱ μαθηταί

 

 

 

 

Interviews with Latin content creators (1): András Alkor

Series forward: One of the things I’m interested in doing more of, is promoting those involved in generated new, original authored materials for Latin and Ancient Greek. I hope this will spotlight some of the amazing work being done and produced, and encourage you to go and read it, support these individuals, and participate in literary production and consumption in the languages!

Interview forward: I first came to know András through a couple of the Latin discords, and I have seen him go from an absolute beginner in Latin, to a reasonably competent speaker, all from diligent study of LLPSI and involvement in conversational voice-chats and study-groups. That he has come so far, so quickly, and is now involved in instructing others, and producing Latin content himself, is a real testament to the effectiveness of a focused, CI-based, approach to a language, and to András himself. Okay, on to the interview!

1. So, András, tell us a little bit about yourself, and your previous experiences with languages.

I grew up in a family of musicians, spending my childhood years among instruments, in choirs, and buried in my violin practice. I could’ve pursued music but, due to many and complex reasons, I left my hometown to study English instead at a very good high school in Hungary. Besides English, I also picked up some German during my adventures in Bavaria, which I have since mostly forgotten.

I never went to university, but freelanced for a while, doing image manipulation work and creating websites for a variety of clients from around the world. I moved back to my hometown and was trying to figure something out. After a series of bad experiences, I wanted something else.

I got a job offer to help research alternative teaching methods for abused students, and after a year, found myself teaching English to the very same students.

I carried on doing that for three years before, due to changes in our educational system by the government, I lost my job and had to find something else again.

I am confident in saying I know English very well. As much as I want to credit my school, I picked up English on my own and was speaking it on a conversational level at around the age of ten. I decided I could continue teaching English, and I set up online courses. This was last summer, when I was already studying Latin. I’ve been teaching ever since.

2. What was your impression of Latin prior to your serious foray into learning it.

First of all, I did attempt to learn Latin in high school on my own, which lasted for a few weeks. After falling in love with a certain someone, I quickly gave up on my Latin studies.

My second insight into Latin is something I don’t actually remember. I released the full story of this in email format, but the short version is, still in high school, I managed to write four lines of correct Latin on a very drunk night. We’re still investigating how that happened.

My impression was, especially coming from a background with English etymology, that it was a very harmonious language. As much as it was the Romans’ speech, I mostly associated Latin with the medieval period and with classical music, of course. I definitely didn’t think I would laugh at the obscenity of Catullus and Janus Pannonius a few years later.

That’s about what my impression was. I didn’t have an interest in Classics, and Latin was only one of those what ifs back in high school.

3. Tell us a bit about how you initially got started on learning Latin, and especially your experiences with Familia Romana, and with conversational groups.

It was an accident. About ten months ago, my body broke down. The doctors couldn’t do anything with me, it was right in the pandemic. I moved back home to my mother and tried to do something useful in-between crying and generally suffering.

I think I was having a conversation with a friend when the idea came to try and read Caesar. He told me some interesting stories about his time up in Great Britain, and I wanted to find them for myself. I just asked, how hard can it be? And now here I am, about ten months later.

After figuring out that reading Caesar was indeed not a light afternoon activity, I remembered some sites back from high school that were either in or about Latin, and tried to find them. Most of them are either gone or they didn’t come my way this time, but what I found instead was so much better.

I found LLPSI on April 28th and began reading Familia Romana in earnest. I believe I joined the Discord servers, one dedicated to LLPSI, the other a general Latin community, when I was at chapter three. I really found the book and the communities at the same time, but I didn’t dive in immediately.

My first idea was to just start writing in a channel designed for beginners of Latin. I thought I could find anything I didn’t know on the internet, and what I couldn’t I could ask. I was right, people were extremely helpful, and I quickly got up to speed.

In the meantime, I also started attending reading groups to go through the book with other people. This went on until August, where I actually took over one of these groups. I tried out conversational Latin in the very beginning of June. That was an experience. I really began conversing at around the end of July, the beginning of August.

That’s also about the time where I branched out and started consuming other Latin, outside of Familia Romana. Ørberg’s book remained a sort of benchmark, along with Caesar, with which I could measure where I was with my Latin. I really only finished Familia Romana in November, due to laziness and getting my Latin from elsewhere. But I read the last six chapters in one sitting.

I think Familia Romana is the best book out there for self-studying Latin. It’s built up really well, even with the difficulty spikes sometimes, and gets you through the most important grammar points through the story it tells. What I would also recommend is to read whatever you like or what you can alongside with the LLPSI series.

Doing it this way gave me more challenges, but, I believe, also a more rounded knowledge of Latin. These combined with my daily conversations, I was well on my way to learn the language.

4. Where do you see your Latin ability now – things you’re able to do and areas you’re still working on?

I can hold an everyday conversation, and I can read easier or more straightforward authors, with a dictionary. I think the biggest area where I’m lacking is vocabulary. Because of the hundreds of hours of speaking, and Hungarian being my native tongue might help with this too, I don’t have too much trouble with syntax. I can read poetry alright, sometimes even easier than prose due to poems’ succinctness. From another angle, reading Cicero now is about as difficult as reading a new chapter of LLPSI, only I lack the useful margin notes Ørberg carefully puts in his books.

It’s a big frustration that I can sort of sight-read everything but miss the meaning because most unabridged Latin is not comprehensible input at my level. I think the best thing I can do is work through Roma Aeterna, the second book of LLPSI, and attending my usual reading groups and conversations. I would say it’s a grind, but if it is one, it’s an exciting one. Honestly, I feel like a sports player talking about this, but really all it takes is to show up every day. That’s what I’ve been doing and it’s what I plan to do.

I’ve been trying myself at telling entire stories in Latin on my own. It’s something I find to be a lot more difficult than having a conversation, because I have less immediate feedback, and less time to think about how I’m going to reply. It also works my vocabulary, what with all the words I need to actually use actively to narrate a full tale.

As Medus sings in Familia Romana, «non via longa est Romam», but it sure is full of hurdles and adventures!

5. You’ve recently begun a number of creative endeavours producing Latin-language content, what are they and what are you envisaging for the future?

It all started during the summer, where we had a discussion, you, Jessica, and me, about how there are holes in what content is available for students of Latin to consume. I made a few videos on YouTube without really having a plan with them. Among those is a video about the video game Neverwinter Nights, a visit to some Roman ruins, and some Latin dubs of film scenes.

I was also planning on sharing my Latin notes, because many people have been asking for them. The real problem with that was, I didn’t really take notes. You might guess what sort of a student I was back at school. Instead, I began writing a short-lived Weekly Latin series, available both on my website and on Patreon. I think it was a good idea, but there wasn’t enough to say every week, and I didn’t want to push myself too hard just to get enough material for an article.

After surviving Christmas, I began preparing new things in January. Things I was doing anyway or that I thought would be fun. My Latin dubs received more and better feedback than my readings or my Neverwinter Nights video, and from that I realised there is a serious lack of Latin entertainment. What better way to give back to the community than to create entertaining videos but entirely in Latin?

The preparations for those videos are mostly done, but my laptop recently had an accident. Some of those videos will be published later than planned. I’ve been trying to figure out what to put out while I get spare parts for my laptop, and we’ll see what I can come up with.

I don’t want to share too much because I don’t want to make empty promises, but I can say I’m planning two series, one involving comedy, the other some very delicious recipes.

Replacing Weekly Latin, I created an email list where I share Latin stories. The difference in motivation is substantial because I tell these stories in various Latin chats anyway. So, instead of clogging up conversations with hundreds of Latin words, I can write these stories down separately and send them out. They’re mostly from my past, because a roller coaster is a comfortable cradle compared to the craziness my teenager years were, both in a good and in a bad way, but I’m planning on sending a few fictive ones as well if inspiration strikes me such. The entire catalogue of these emails is available for Patrons.

6. If people want to hear more from you, in Latin, where should they be looking?

I’m active in a number of places. There are the Latin Discords, of course, along with my own Discord server I created for Patreon.

There is my email list, where past the automated introductory email, I only send content in Latin, and I reply to everyone who chooses to respond to my stories.

I’m also on Twitter where, even if I sometimes retweet English content, and might reply under other people’s tweets in English, I tweet exclusively in Latin.

It’s rare these days, but sometimes I can be found in the weekly Latin chats on Zoom.

Lastly, there’s my YouTube channel, which, as inactive as it’s been lately, will see more content in the following months.

 

New Year, New Podcast

Just this week my sodalis latinitatis graecitatisque optimus (Andrew Morehouse) and I launched a new podcast! It’s called ἑλληνιζώμεθα and it is an unscripted conversation between us in Ancient Greek about, well, about topics that interest us. The first episode is now live, you can listen on Anchor, also on most podcasting platforms, even on Spotify. If it hasn’t quite reached your platform yet, it soon will.

We really do live in a renaissance age for spoken Ancient Greek. I see more and more endeavours, more and more listening and audio-visual material, conversation circles, teachers via communicative methods, each day. But while the number of things is increasing, the volume of things has yet to follow. ἑλληνιζώμεθα is one attempt to fill that out. It has the advantage of being a two-person program, so you get the back and forth between us, it’s a genuine conversation between us, not a pre-scripted performance piece. We aim to generally speak in ways that aim to be understandable to intermediates, we’re not trying to be super fancy, we’re also not accomodating right down like you would for absolute beginners.

We hope that this will be of great benefit to those seeking to cultivate their own spoken Greek through more comprehensible listening, and we look forward to sharing many more great episodes to come.

Scholarships at #SeumasU – new in 2021

Thanks to the generosity of a number of individuals, I’m pleased to announce that you can now apply for a scholarship for any of my courses in the coming year. I recognise that because I operate as a private enterprise and this is my livelihood, unlike more formal structures of education no one else is footing the bill except my students. And, not everyone’s circumstances allow them to spend money on tuition in an ancient language in a communicative mode. Also, many of those who would most benefit from these classes are structurally disadvantaged in one or several ways. Scholarships are one means of addressing this.

In short, if you would like to take one of my courses but are not able to fund it yourself, please contact me about a scholarship position.

2021 Courses, Term 1 and beyond

I try not to make this entire blog just information about courses I teach, and I hope to get some more blog content flowing this year, but at the same time this is a very useful venue for me to share about what I’m teaching.

In terms of courses for 2021, there’s a year-long overview of my plans that you can download here.

Term 1 for 2021 begins on January 28th, in the US, and runs for 9 weeks. I will be running a wide variety of classes, and you can read descriptions and sign-up for them here. Let me talk about them here though:

Greek for beginners:

Greek 102, 104, 106, 131 – these are all Athenaze-based courses that use a textbook, primarily for reading content, and then work on communicative Greek built of questions-and-answer around the text.

Greek 121 – this is the second in a series of courses based on LGPSI, my own in-development Greek reading text

Greek for non-beginners:

Greek 221: Ephesians and Galatians: we’ll read the text of St. Paul’s letters and discuss them at various levels (word, sentence, syntax, meaning, discourse) in Greek.

Greek 231: Plato’s Crito: We’ll be reading Plato’s dialogue and discussing it in Greek. Some class prep is expected. This will be one of a series of classes on Platonic dialogues this year.

Greek 281: Greek Composition: This course is not designed as a communicative experience, but rather a workshop format, where we will use exercises of various kinds to develop a writing ability in Greek, as well as work on longer written pieces for your own purposes.

Latin

Latin 102: This is the second in my intro series working with Lingua Latina per se Illustrata

Latin 201: This is a post-beginner course for those who have finished Familia Romana and want to read, and talk in Latin. We’ll be working with Ørberg’s Roma Aeterna as well as his edition of the Aeneid.

Latin 331: Boethius: This is a more advanced course in reading and discussing a late antique philosophical text. More outside prep will be expected, and participants will be reading, discussing, and writing about the text all in Latin.

Other options

If you’re unable to attend a class because it’s scheduled in the middle of the night for you, I am open to audit options, where you will receive the video recordings of classes, and interact with me via email. Contact me for details and costs.

I’m always open to offering some different classes, in different timeslots for people, especially if you can find a friend to start with. My classes are small by design, but I do need a minimum to get them started.

Lastly, this year I’m pleased to be able to offer a limited number of scholarships. If your situation or circumstances would not permit you to fund a course with me, please contact me about a scholarship.

 

Contact Me:

Some teaching reflections from 2020

This year I’ve taught more Greek than ever before, and more in ways that reflect my own pedagogical commitments. And so here’s some reflections on teaching Greek and Latin from my experience with The Patrologist courses, aka SeumasU

Athenaze

I decided to whole-heartedly adopt Athenaze as a text this year and use it as a basis for most of my intro Greek classes. This allowed me the freedom, ironically, to lean into the text. Previously I’d tried teaching from the Italian version alone, but the difficulty in getting hold of that text makes it somewhat prohibitive for learners.

The more time I spend with Athenaze, the more I grow to both like it, and be sorely aware of its faults. In my view, it’s still the best, currently available, continuous narrative text for learners. That’s my main reason for using it. I typically ignore all the grammar sections and let my students read them if they wish; my video course has grammar videos that go over those points too. But in class, we read the text, and as far as possible, use in-Greek question and answer to go over it, clarify meaning, etc., so that the text itself is understood. Comprehension is my main focus, and the text is both the means and a certain end, because it’s a good story for the most part.

It’s also far more text than you get anywhere else, except for maybe JACT’s Reading Greek. Which brings me to Athenaze’s great fault – too much vocab, too steep a slope. Because, under the hood, Athenaze is still a grammar-translation driven textbook. It still very much expects you to be translating the readings, memorising paradigms, and rendering things into English. So every chapter has too many new words, and too much new information.

That is, however, why I don’t instead use Reading Greek, because it’s actually worse at that. Much more grammar-as-a-hammer, pages of glossed vocabulary, and an even steeper difficulty curve.

All this has given me 3 main takeaways:

  • We need lots and lots more easy to read Greek aimed at learners. Novellas, novelliolas. Stand alone narratives. Connected narratives. Interconnected narratives.
  • The most useful thing for students to do on their own time, generally speaking, is to read things they can understand, including text they have already read. Corollary: the most useful thing they can do with my time is in-Greek communicative discussion, and making-comprehensible things they can’t do themselves
  • The more I can get away from the textbook, any textbook, to comprehensible Greek activities, while also ensuring that learners continue to develop reading skills, the better.

 

Latin

I mostly teach Latin from LLSPI, with a combination of some visual resources, and in-Latin discussion and paraphrase, and personalisation of q&a. This is one area where it’s clear just how good Ørberg’s LLPSI really is. The more I work with it, the more I see how carefully it has been constructed, and the progress I have seen with students in understanding Latin as Latin, as well as producing Latin output, has been tremendously encouraging.

Post-Beginner Conversational Classes

These were a bit of an experiment for me this year. I knew I wanted to run some classes that were, “okay, you learnt Latin/Greek, but you’ve never spoken it, so how do you start doing that”. And I also knew that I wanted to incorporate some of the standard gambit of CI type techniques – things like Picture Talk, Movie Talk, Storyasking/TPRS, as well as giving students a vocabulary to talk about things that they wouldn’t necessarily have ever encountered (e.g. modern things, grammar itself, daily activities).

I do think these courses could become a bit more structured from my end of them. That’s a little hard for me because I really do enjoy flying improv with just enough preparation to not fall entirely flat on my face. But that’s something I’ll be thinking about – clearer structure and progression in these kinds of classes.

Post-Beginner Reading Classes

Teaching μὲν beginners is super fun and super helpful for me. It’s like building and thickening and strengthening my own foundation as a speaker and developing my skills as a teacher.

Post-beginners δὲ are a different source of teaching joy. This year I taught a Greek patristics reading group for a term, and a 4-term sequence of theological Latin through the ages (right up to and including the Reformation era). It’s incredibly interesting to read texts and discuss them with students in their language. This is something I’m excited to develop further next year and beyond, with offerings in Biblical, Classical, and Post-Classical texts in both languages.

RPGing

My last ‘type’ of course has been running table-top RPGs in Latin. I ran two groups this year, and both were a great deal of fun. They came about because (a) I really love RPGs, (b) I had a great time playing D&D at the Australianae Rusticationes, (c) I think they have a huge potential at all levels for language acquisition. I’ll have a bit more to say about these in an upcoming paper at ASCS42, which I will also release at that time. There will definitely be more Latin RPGing coming up in 2021, and maybe Greek?

 

All in all, it’s been a big year of teaching for me, and I’ve loved 95% of it. Teaching teaches me a lot, and it keeps me committed to learning as well – I am always working on my own Latin and Greek behind the scenes, as well as self-professional-development as a teacher. Looking forward to a veritable smorgasbord of ancient language teaching in 2021.

 

On studying in a second language

Those unfortunate enough to be following me for a sufficiently long time know that apart from my work in Latin and Greek, I am also a student of Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig). I have been studying Gaelic for at least as long as Latin, which is to say far too long. And it has been a slow process. Mostly because I live in Australia, and despite significant immigration of Gaels here, it failed to survive as a community language. So when I started, it was books and tapes, and then some short courses here, and eventually some online classes. These days I’m a reasonably competent speaker, somewhere in the B2 range, depending on the day and the topic. I’m also pursuing (s l o w l y) higher education through the medium of Gaelic.

So in this post I want to reflect particularly on the last semester, in which I took a full subject that was in Gaelic, and not “about” Gaelic (that is, the aim of the class was not primarily directed at teaching the language, except as a desirable incidental). The experience is interesting to me on two levels – firstly, for the light it sheds on the past realities and future possibility of higher education done in Latin and Greek; secondly, for the insight into what so few of us English language natives realise about the experience of ESL speakers in our education systems.

A little bit more about my Gaelic then. I speak reasonably well, I can converse with clear speakers without too much difficulty. I have trouble understanding full speed spoken Gaelic especially with dialects that I’m not accustomed to, and older speakers. I can read quite well, I can write, but slowly. For this class, we had 2hrs a week seminars, conducted almost entirely in Gaelic, ‘ideally’. I say ideally because code-switching to English is natural and normal for Gaelic speakers, and indeed native Gaelic speakers are more comfortable with it than some learners. Generally though, this occurred only on a word or phrase basis, not for extended periods of time. I generally had a high degree of comprehension, but processing real-time Gaelic about an academic topic late at night, after usually a full day of teaching living-language Latin or Greek, well that is a cognitive load.

There was (and is) one major weakness, though, in Gaelic medium higher education – a very high number of the readings are in English. So while you might be doing class in Gaelic, and writing in Gaelic, your academic literature is still predominantly in English. That doesn’t break the spell, but it does weaken the immersion.

For the class, I also had to turn in a 2000 word essay in Gaelic, and complete an exam. I had written an essay in Gaelic last semester too, but not as long. Writing academically in an L2 is challenging as heck. In English, I can produce words at an incredible rate, when I sit down to do it. In Gaelic, I had to dedicate extended period to sit down, get my brain into the right language, and then try to figure out some rather high level thinking and how to express it in Gaelic, including plenty of things for which I did not know the appropriate vocabulary, things for which there might not exist the vocabulary (otheringemicessentialism), awareness of register that I struggle with, and even plenty of times fundamental grammar and spelling that I needed to self-monitor.

All of which more clearly illumines how difficult it is for students in our education systems who have not acquired English as an L1, and/or not been formally educated into academic Englishes. It doesn’t matter how well they converse with you, they may well be struggling with academics through the medium of English precisely because these are high order tasks in a non-native language.

As for Latin and Greek, it will be a real challenge, for everyone involved, to develop not only a competency in spoken Greek and/or Latin to talk about texts at a sophisticated level, but it is genuinely possible, and my own classes are evolving with me towards that point. Learning also to write, and thus produce new reading material at that level will also be a sophisticated and complex challenge. But given that Latin remained the language of learned discourse for so many centuries, there is no linguistic barrier. That’s one reason I’ll be pushing (gently) some of my students to write more in Greek and Latin in the coming years, to generate collaborative resources of materials that are authored and edited and developed, which others may then read and enjoy, about a variety of topics, including the range of texts we read.

As for Gaelic, I will keep on with it. There is a great feeling of accomplishment to be tackling and discussing meaningful content in the target language, and knowing that language acquisition will just keep happening as we do.

10,000 vocab challenge

Generally speaking, I don’t consider flashcards to be a high-yield activity for vocabulary acquisition. However I don’t think it’s entirely pointless. Especially if it’s well-implemented, and if the time spent on this kind of revision is (a) liminal time that you wouldn’t otherwise be spending in more CI-oriented activities, (b) is part of a broader language learning program that does focus on communicative endeavours.

One of the weaknesses in my Gàidhlig, I’m ashamed to say, is that my vocabulary just isn’t quite expansive enough. So in 2021 I’m going to push it to new limits. I’m setting myself a 10,000 word challenge. Here’s what I’ll be doing:

  1. Inputting the core vocabularies from a few learner textbooks into a spaced repetition system as one source of words, those which I mostly already know.
  2. Inputting new vocabulary that I encounter ‘in the wild’ and have to look up – through my own engagement with Gàidhlig reading, media, etc., this will be more haphazard and serendipitous, but will provide a constant source of new vocabulary.
  3. Working on gaining enough Gàidhlig input each day to be generating a sufficient stream of new vocabulary inputs
  4. ‘Adding’ at least 30 new vocab items to my working sets per day, and following through with daily vocabulary revision.

One could, undoubtedly, do the same for Latin or Greek. Indeed, there already exists a set of memrise courses, for example, covering 10000 Latin words. I don’t currently feel any need to explicitly build my Latin or Greek vocabularies in this way, but you perhaps might/could/would consider the same.

I’ll post some reports during the year ahead

Playing Catan in Ancient Greek

I’m a big advocate for playing games in a target language. I think it creates a language focus which isn’t the language itself, so that you are communicating about something else, not about language, and that creates a need to use the language actively and passively to express, and negotiate, meaning between speakers.

For some time I’d been interested in doing (Settlers of) Catan in Ancient Greek. It’s a great game, which isn’t highly dependent on verbal ability – you could play the whole game in silence if you wanted to, but it offers a limited set of vocabulary and expressions needed for core gameplay. Last term during my Patrologist classes, I’d thought of getting my conversational Greek students to play it, but I’d run out of time to prep and execute it. Not so this term!

Catan is easily played online, which makes it also a great game for distanced, online video-chatting learners. We ran a game today, and I think it worked reasonably well. We used the site colonist.io, which works reasonably well. It helps to get players familiar with both the game and the website beforehand. Players can play against bots, so they can get in a bit of practice before you do it in-language.

I’ve put together a cheat sheet of core vocabulary which you can use if you too want to play in Ancient Greek, I hope it will be of use to you! And, if I’m free, I’m always up for a game myself.

Catan in Ancient Greek v 0.2

Towards genuine reading courses in Latin and Greek

We’re now drawing in on the end of the 3rd year in which I’ve offered continuous structured small-group classes online in Ancient Greek and Latin. And one thing I have been working both on and towards is offering intermediate and advanced type classes. What do I mean by those? Well, anything where a student is past the point of needing to learn the fundamentals of the language as covered in typical intro/grammar books. I cover those things in my beginner classes, even though those beginner classes are also oriented towards communication and in-language work.

What happens in most classics departments is, sad to say, that beyond your first year, your class has an assigned text, and each week you have to translate X number of lines or however many words, and then in your class you sit around in a metaphorical or literal circle and translate sentence by sentence and your professor offers their feedback on the translation, points out your grammar mistakes, and makes various comments about things of literary or historical significance. I would say that describes a rather large bulk of classics degrees.

That seems somewhat boring to me. So this year in particular, I’ve offered intermediate level reading classes, where we have an assigned piece of text, I expect students to do some prep on it beforehand as needed, and in class we read it in Latin/Greek, and I ask questions in Latin/Greek, and we clarify difficulties or discuss some of the points in Latin/Greek. The most successful of these has been a sequence of 4 subjects in which I’ve read theological Latin from the early church period until right up to the Reformation currently, in a smorgasbord/sampler/anthology style.

The vision/model of reading/text based class I’m working towards, and will begin offering in more earnest in 2021, involves reading a set text week to week, with a set amount of material in particular, and coming to class to read/interpret/discuss all in the target language. At the same time, we’ll cover difficult to understand sentences, and unusual vocabulary, as it arises, as well as do paraphrase, question and answer at various levels, etc.. All in language.

One of my questions has always been, ‘how to make this manageable?’ Especially given the jump from ‘textbook Greek’ to real Greek. Well, by controlling the length of text. I have, now, a fair idea of how much text can be reasonably covered in an hour session, with certain amounts of experience. So, my plan to address this is to start to offer stages of intermediate/advanced classes – a very first post-beginner class will read Plato’s Crito, for example, which is 4172 words, roughly 410 words a session. In the process we’ll be able to develop Greek-Language glosses, explanations, paraphrases, etc, for the text: a new type of ‘Reader’s Edition’. And as I go on as a teacher, and as students go on with me, we’ll read longer works with longer sections, with more reading outside class but more discussion of themes and literary/historical (and theological where pertinent) questions in class. In a few years I hope to have students reading relatively long pieces of Greek and Latin, as naturally as any language.

This is part of my master plan – not just to teach more people Greek and Latin, but to create a new generation of Greek and Latin learners who are speakers, and readers, and can get through lots of material, and can talk and write about it effectively.

Next year, if you’re wondering, I have plans to teach a range of texts in this mode, dependent on demand: Platonic dialogues, Boethius, Medieval and Neo-Latin authors, Reformation Latin writings, Biblical and Patristic texts, and anything else I can convince you to take, or you can convince me to offer.

Biblingo, a review

Biblingo is an app developed for learning the biblical languages (very specifically, New Testament Koine Greek, Biblical Hebrew), through a (semi-)communicative approach. I became aware of Biblingo some time ago, and followed some of their pre-launch promotional material, but more recently decided to test it out with a 10-day free trial.

Firstly, a little background. I studied Hebrew at Seminary for 3 years, doing quite well along a traditional grammar-translation track. I didn’t succeed very well in keeping Hebrew up, and so my Hebrew slowly atrophied. I did teach a course on the exegesis of Amos in Hebrew (in Mongolian), but my ability to read Hebrew now is very weak. I have off and on considered taking some communicative courses to get some Hebrew back in a more robust and active mode, but it is relatively low down my everyday priority list of languages.

You can sign up for a 10-day free trial of Biblingo at present, and that’s what I did. It gives you access to the four current ‘modules’ – Language Learning, Flashcards, Alphabet, and Bible Reading. Beyond that, one needs a subscription, for either or both languages.

The user interface is very pleasant, and generally easy to navigate. You are given some short pop-up intro videos to get you oriented, and if you don’t know the alphabet at all, there are a number of video lessons to get you acquainted with it. Those video lessons are high quality presentations, but there are no exercises to familiarise you with using the alphabet. You also have a range of choices for pronunciation in each language.

The core of the engine at present appears to be the Language Learning module. This starts off as all locked, and you need to do and complete lessons in sequence, with 3 levels, a total of 26 units across them, and 4 sub-lessons per unit. Each lesson consists of a sequence of Vocabulary, Grammar, and ‘Final Act’ or application. I can’t say if the format and organisation changes in the more advanced units, as I haven’t gotten there.

Vocabulary begins by offering you 6ish new vocabulary items, each presented with a short video or an image, with an audio track. You can click for an english language gloss, but I did not use that feature, preferring to associate image directly with word/phrase. This did leave me unsure about exactly what some verbs were portraying, but my presumption is that I’ll figure that out as I progress.

The images and videos are high quality, and tied to an imagined biblical world, that is you will see people in biblical settings, with biblical type clothing, doing biblical type things. There’s no telephones and where is the bibliothèque here.

Vocabulary proceeds through several stages: presentation, then passive knowledge (selecting the right answer from multiple choices), and ‘active’ knowledge – inputting the correct word(s) by either typing or using a word bank.

Generally, I found the typing frustrating. Partly this was some technical issues with my own Hebrew keyboard layout, but the app would benefit greatly from some kind of typing tutorial mini-app. Similar to, say, duolingo, it doesn’t penalise you for minor misspellings, such as accents, but offers a gentle reminder and a chance to ‘practice’ (i.e. retype), though the retype is not compulsory. I did notice that even when I had entered the Hebrew correctly, I was sometimes told to ‘watch my spelling’, perhaps because of a mismatch in coding between the Hebrew keyboard I was using and what the app expected. I had no problems when testing out the Greek side.

I’m not quite convinced that simply entering vocabulary by typing it out quite counts as ‘active knowledge’. It certainly helps spelling. But it still seems to me a rather limited treatment of active recall. The Hebrew/Image presentation is a good improvement over bilingual flashcards, but we are still mostly being presented with isolated vocabulary items.

Grammar in each lesson takes the vocabulary you have learnt, and puts it into sentences, with one or at most two new grammar elements per unit. Again you are prompted with a video or image, and with a symbolic presentation. The symbolic presentation uses symbols to prompt for things like definite articles, 1/2/3rd person pronouns, and the like, which would not be obvious from the videos alone. This is quite a novel feature and well executed. The movement through this section is very similar to vocabulary – presentation, ‘passive’ recognition (multiple choice with 4, then 8 options), and then active input.

The last section is usually quite short, and asks for active response to a slightly harder prompt, requiring some creative application of materials you have learnt. It is a way of testing that you’ve understood and can apply in a more adaptive way, the things you have been shown with more restricted vocabulary.

Overall the sequence of lessons is well done, it moves in very bit-sized pieces, and gives lots of opportunity for exposure and integration. I will say that a few features and perhaps critique are in order though.

The multiple choice responses could be improved on the UI level by offering keyboard numbered responses. The typed-response was frustrating in not recognising some correct responses because of presumably some Hebrew Unicode representation issues, and so I ended up using the wordbank more, which makes those exercises a little more ‘passive’ again. There’s no way to skip lessons, or even to skip to, e.g., the latter part of a lesson that you’ve already completed, you have to work through each one in sequence, and if you ‘retake’ a lesson, you need to go through it from the start.

The inability to skip/unlock was frustrating, partly because I wanted to check out some more advanced Greek lessons. I have a very solid knowledge of Greek, but the linear direction of the app prevented me using features that would be useful for me, without investing significant time.

Two other modules are present in the app. Flashcard Deck is a spaced-recognition presentation of vocabulary that either (a) you have tackled in the lessons, (b) some preset decks (fairly limited at present), or (c) custom decks (to which you can add words from the Bible Reading module). The flashcard deck presents the vocabulary in ‘sets’, and asks you to work through the same association>passive>active sequence as are presented in the Language Learning module. For that reason it was also, in my view, a little tedious. I couldn’t indicate I ‘strongly’ knew a word for instance, and so I had no choice but to see it over and over, nor vice versa. I would like to have seen a more fine-grained version of ‘how well you know a word’ in the vocabulary engine.

The last module, and the most recently released, is Bible Reading. This is really meant for more advanced learners, it seems, so for this review I’ll talk a bit more about the Greek version. Essentially, you have the chance to browse the Bible at Book, Chapter, Verse level, and at each level it indicates what percentage of the words you know. You can thus sort and look for parts that you know more vocabulary, and which therefore should be easier to read.

Then, when you select a book, each word (or morphemes in the Hebrew version) is colour coded based on whether you know 0, learning-some, learning-all, or know-all sense of the word. Each word can be clicked, and you are given a ‘dictionary pop-up’ which divides the word into various senses, divided by semantic domain (this seems to draw on Louw-Nida). Pictures are given where available, but otherwise English glosses. Each word also has parsing information.

Navigating the Greek version of this, it was fairly cumbersome to try and ‘fast-track’ what I already know. So I couldn’t easily bring the app up-to-speed with what I knew, without again investing significant time in teaching it.

Nonetheless, especially for someone working from scratch, this is a good feature. Though it could be improved – it still presents the biblical text, and only the biblical text, as its reading input. So your ‘input’ options in biblingo are either isolated sentences in the language learning module, or raw biblical books.

Pros

The biblingo interface is smooth, and the underlying principles are generally sound. The de-emphasis of explicit grammar, the modulisation and indeed granularization of learning chunks, and the focus on image/video material for direct association of vocab, are all great features. So, too, is the use of a symbolic code for sentence structures.

I’ve now done a week of Hebrew, 15mins or more a day, and I feel like I understand everything i’ve been presented and can respond to it clearly, directly, and in Hebrew. That’s what you want in language learning, and that’s what I’m getting on this app.

Cons

The structure of learning is very linear, and each sub-unit has to be worked through in sequence, and as a block. There remains something of an emphasis on passive recognition, even in ‘active’ exercises. Comprehensible Input is limited to isolated sentences, and there is no truly ‘communicative’ component to Biblingo – I am interpreting meaning at an atomised level, but only for the purpose of language learning, not for any other purpose. I am also not actively outputting meaning-based language, and there’s no negotiating of meaning between parties, it’s all one way in that sense.

The fine-grained nature of ‘know/don’t know’ is not adequately, or at least adequately transparently, presented to the learner, so it feels like overkill on some words, underkill on others, and knowledge also appears to be mostly tied to vocabulary knowledge. For biblingo to be more data-driven and user-responsive, it needs to find ways to track learners’ exposure, and comprehension, of other features of language (e.g. syntax).

I would also suggest that biblingo simply doesn’t provide enough, and enough variety, of comprehensible input. The gap between ‘isolated sentences’ and ‘biblical texts’, is enough to mean that the jump from one to the other is too far. Learners need extensive exposure to CI, and that means broad and wide and varied input. This has long been a problem for historical languages, and is only starting to be addressed for Latin. It’s an ongoing problem for Greek, which I try to solve for my own students in a variety of creative ways (mostly involving finding new easy things for them to read).

Overall

Despite these criticisms, I find biblingo engaging enough as an app, and I am learning some genuine Hebrew without explicit grammar (which I mostly try to ignore even when it pops up), and without translation. That’s a very significant difference to any other app/program/asynchronous set of materials out there (though there are some other options, yes), and for which the biblingo team ought to be applauded. And, work on biblingo (to all appearances) is ongoing, so it may yet improve and offer more and richer ways to learn.

To find out more about Biblingo, see their website.

 

Upcoming courses, October 2020

Of course, you can just go and read the course descriptions, but it might be helpful to give an overview of what I’m running:

Greek 101, 103, 105

These are all courses keyed to Athenaze, where we work through the text of the book 5 chapters every 10 week block. The course is text-based, but the class is run primarily in Greek, with just enough English to help you through. 101 is chapters 1-5, 103 is chapters 11-15, and 105 is chapters 21-25.

LGPSI 1

This course is an ab initio introduction to Ancient Greek, using the author’s own Lingua Graeca per se Illustrata text. Additionally, we’ll use communicative Greek to help learn ancient Greek through Greek. Partnering in this course will also help directly support LGPSI development. I envisage running subsequent LGPSI courses throughout 2021.

Greek 221: LXX Readings

In this intermediate class we’ll read a selection of texts from the Septuagint and use in-Greek discussion to discuss meaning, grammar, and features. It assumes you are moderately comfortable with some spoken Ancient Greek, and have a reasonable familiarity with Greek overall.

Greek 272: Conversational Greek for post-beginners

This is a course that focuses on free-ranging conversational activities, including story-telling, interviews, Q&A, movie-talk, picture-talk, etc., to help students (or teachers!) who ‘know’ Greek but haven’t really spoken much Greek before, to get into ancient Greek as a spoken language.

Latin 104

I am only running a single beginner’s stream of Latin. We’re working through Familia Romana, and this cohort is up to chapter 31. The classes run entirely in Latin. As we will finish Familia Romana in 104, we’ll also do some additional readings from Ørberg type supplements to round out the year.

Latin 214: Theological Latin 1400-1650

The fourth of a series of intermediate courses, in which we read a sample of christian Latin authors. The class runs almost entirely in Latin, and we will be reading renaissance and reformation authors in this module.

Latin 262: Latin RPG

A series of 10 gaming sessions in which we’ll play a rules-light version of Shadowrun, entirely in Latin.

 

2021 Plans

In 2021 I plan to run a mix of the intro courses (Greek 101-106, as well as semester-long intensives), and a Latin sequence (101-104). At the intermediate level I plan to run reading groups in biblical and patristic Greek, ancient Greek novels (Athiopica, maybe others), a series of 4 Plato reading groups, an intermediate Latin reading series (focused on Roma Aeterna and possible other Ørbergiana), and some medieval Latin.

NaNoWriMo for Latin/Greek 2020 edition

Last year I set up a small group that made an effort to write some short original fiction in Latin and/or Greek. We set up a google group and used it for some informal discussion and encouragement.

Two lessons I learned from last year:

  1. Even 3000 words is a considerable goal if this is your first attempt writing Latin. So this year I’m going to propose that people set a range of goals that are even more modest. Never written an original piece in Latin before? Try 500 for the month.
  2. November is too late to start, if you’re plan is to open up a document file on Nov 1 and start writing. You want to spend September and October thinking, planning, jotting ideas, storyboarding, etc., so that you have some idea of what you are going to write. You want to have a rolling start, so get the engine going, the wheels in motion, and then Nov 1 you can accelerate to your heart’s content.

I’ll post again about this a few times in the lead-up. For now feel free to send me an email at thepatrologist@gmail.com to sign yourself up for our group.

On Authentic Texts in language learning

Today I want to get back to talking about “authentic” texts and language learning. It would behoove you to read the prior post that sets this one up.

Firstly, let’s talk about terminology. Very often people talk about “authentic texts”, and in classical languages they really mean something like “Authentic texts are defined as “written by members of a language and culture group for members of the same language and culture group” (Galloway 1998 ???)[1]

I think this is a lot better as a definition than what is normally bandied about. The main point is that authentic texts are not authored primarily for language learners, or for the purpose of learning the language. They may not be authored by native-speakers, they may also not be targeted at native-speakers. They are ‘real’ texts whose primary purpose is communicative, not pedagogical.

In this discussion then, I’m going to go back to using ‘authentic’ in the above sense, and leave off using “non-learner directed speech” (which is useful in clarifying what ‘authentic’ means in this context). But I will use LDS (“learner directed texts”) for those texts whose primary audience are learners and primary purpose is pedagogical.

Why are people so keen on authentic texts in language learning? Here are five reasons I find commonly or strongly posited in historical language education:

  1. Students’ goal texts, the reasons they are learning these languages, are authentic texts, so getting some authentic texts is actually getting to where you are going.
  2. Learner-directed texts are seen as easy, and so less valuable for learners.
  3. Learner-directed texts are seen as not being representative of good, or best, language usage. They are often considered inauthentic representations of Latin or Greek speech. For example, accommodations to English word ordering, or reduced particle usage in Greek.
  4. Authentic texts are motivational. A corollary to (1) really, but if you can get some authentic texts early, students feel like they are getting ‘the real deal’, and that is motivating.
  5. That the gap between Learner-directed texts and authentic texts is still quite considerable even after a lot of introductory material, and so authentic texts are seen as a better preparation for reading un-scaffolded authentic ancient texts.

Before going on, I just want to note that what counts as authentic is often, really, quite narrowly understood. It is often defined very much by traditional canonical perceptions, and only elite literary texts are considered authentic enough. For both Latin and Greek, the huge (really, vast) tracts of post-classical literature are swept out of consideration.

Of all these reasons, (4) is the one that is most understandable and most readily taken into account. And, careful curation of authentic texts can be done – by having a good repository of shorter authentic texts, such as fragments, verse, graffiti, etc., as well as less high-literature texts. These, presented to learners along the way, do give a sense of, “Yes! I read some real Greek!” And with some learner accommodations such as minimal glossing, occasional helps, and techniques such as embedded/tiered readings, more authentic texts can be made more accessible.

However, the others I find the others less convincing. The whole point of LDS is that it is accommodated to learners. And LDS should be accommodated to learners! Even if a text or speech’s purpose isn’t pedagogical, its content and manner should be. That, in my view, is how and why you should split purpose from content – communicative language learning shouldn’t give you oodles of material whose primary purpose is learning, but communicating, and by communicating we learn – when the language is comprehensible.

(5) is a real problem. As much as I sympathise and whole-heartedly agree with those calling for more and more and ever more CI novellas and the like with highly restricted vocabulary, there’s also a particular and peculiar gap at the intermediate stage – between the end of practically all textbooks and the encountering of wild, unsheltered “real” (and let us distinguish between this idea of “real” and a technical definition of “authentic” above) historical texts. There’s a reason Xenophon and Plato are such common 2nd year texts – they seem low on the mountain. But they aren’t necessarily easy.

I’d really like to see more LDS written at the post-beginner level. High quality, good Graecitas, post-textbook but pre-literary texts. Stories, poetry, etc., that is slightly sheltered in vocabulary in particular, and so is accommodated in content, but not necessarily in purpose. Tell a good story in a novella (or a novel!), so that it’s communicative in purpose, but learner-friendly. More and more of this would help bridge the gap.

Since, we should not forget, most of the goal texts of learners are high-register literature, as I said in my prior post. And the gap between ‘end of learner books’ (of whatever series) and ‘literature’ is still pretty difficult. A lot of our learners fall of the cliff at that stage – they did fine in intro classes, but they never really learn to scale the heights, and pretty soon they are back wandering around the foothills searching for silver bullets.

 

[1] I got this from ACTFL here, but it’s not entirely possible to follow the citation trail, since Galloway has several 1998 publications (Presumably: V. Galloway.)