My Adjunct life

This is a follow-up and personal lament to the book review from earlier this week.

I submitted my PhD dissertation in late 2016, and received my pass in March 2017. I graduated in September of that year, and it’s now 2019. I had already begun to realise how difficult it was going to be to move into any academic position. That awareness of the difficult reality of academic employment dawned on me once I came back to pursue my doctoral studies full-time. In 2016 I applied for 7 positions, without any hint of success. I applied for a further 17 academic positions in 2017. Since then I have barely applied for any, partly because I have seen almost zero positions in my field.

My field, strictly speaking, is patristics. My department was Ancient History, but really I studied patristics, and this puts me at a disadvantage for every job. I’m not familiar with the core areas of “Ancient History” – I couldn’t teach a class on core Roman republican history or classical Greece. I’m not a classicist for Classics departments – it doesn’t look like I know my classical canon of Greek and Latin. And I’m a rough fit for theology and history departments too.

Since 2017, I’ve been working primarily for two institutions, both small colleges. One involves online ‘tutoring’ – the materials for those courses are pre-constructed, and I am on sessional contracts to provide online interaction, guidance, email support, and marking for students. Students main point of ‘human’ interaction is supposed to be me, but it is all mediated, and I do not ‘teach’ material directly. The other involves me teaching my own course, but it is again asynchronous, and feels rather disconnected. A student approached me for a reference recently, a reference I’m reluctant to give because even after serial courses, I barely know them, and my reference is barely going to count for them anyway.

I do these jobs because I don’t know what else to do. If you include the courses I taught while holding a Masters and living in a 2nd world country, I’ve taught 31 instances of 19 courses. I have a specialised doctorate for which they are not even job openings. My current positions provide a liveable wage, only because of Australia’s strong unions, and the minimum hourly wages for academics remain decent. Nonetheless, I work long hours, late nights, and have no time to do research, the one thing that would make me actually employable. I attempted to persevere with research in 2017, with some success though no real publications, but my ability to do that has dwindled to practically none. It took all of 2018 to see an article go from submission to review to resubmit to rejection.

My experiences, and desires, suggest I could be a very effective teacher, but I do not feel capable of realising that potential. Anything I put into personal development comes out of my own time, and my own pocket. I have every reason to believe I could continue to do important, significant, valuable research in my field, but without any capacity to support that, it will also remain unrealised.

During my PhD I began language tutoring, not for the first time, but since then this work has expanded, and this year I have begun to make it as much a business as possible. I’m constantly amazed that people come to me with 2, 3, 4, or more semesters of Greek, and yet by their own admission have not really learnt Greek. That’s thousands of tuition dollars given to institutions that ought to have taught Greek better. I’ve invested heavily in time, and some money, in developing my own Greek and Latin, and ability to teach it communicatively, because I believe it’s truly worthwhile and effective. And yet even here my ability to do so is subject to the real contingencies of freelancing. A lost student is significant. Class sizes determine whether a proposed offering is viable or not. Nothing is guaranteed.

In academic circles, the practice of ‘passing’ is common. Anything to avoid being thought of as an adjunct. Even with those who know your employment, the tendency to ‘flatten’ differences in Australian culture serves to maintain a practice of just pretending these differences don’t exist, that we’re all equal members of an equal club. We’re not, because the salary for an entry level academic position is about 2.5-3x my current earnings. I never lose sight of the fact that we’re not equals, because we never can in our current conditions.

Among friends and acquaintances, the pretence is just as bad, in that there is a regular assumption that I have some kind of job with decent pay, leave, and at least some of the usual benefits of employment in Australia. I have almost none. Last year I fell sick at the end of semester and had to cede much of my marking, and thus part of my income, to someone else. ‘Leave’ means ‘not working and not getting paid’. Few of those around me understand, or could understand, that I am the academic equivalent of a burger-flipper.

I regularly feel exhausted, trapped, and unable to change my circumstances. I’ve trained myself into a career that doesn’t exist, and now work in positions that offer no advancement, and preclude the very opportunities that would allow escape. In response, I have and continue to try to carve out alternate forms of language education that both escape the systemic problems that plague classical-language teaching in universities, and rescue me from the grind of marking identical essays on identical topics by almost identical students. I don’t know if it will work. But the idea that I might once have genuine teaching relationships with students, or produce meaningful and useful research, seems more and more a delusion.

What to do about teaching grammar? Four suggestions

Since we’re on a bit of a “let’s talk about grammar” roll at the moment, here are some more thoughts on the vexed problem of when to teach some grammar. But first, what is grammar?

In my view, when we are talking about Latin and Greek in particular, grammar is a surface description of the rules of the language’s morphology and syntax. That, by the way, is not a full-fledged linguistics definition of grammar, but the grammar that most students learn for Greek and Latin is not shaped by linguistics as a modern discipline, it’s shaped by the history of Greek and Latin grammar itself. And in that respect, the ‘rules’ that people learn are very often surface phenomena. They may be right, but they are not the whole story.

And grammar is also descriptive. It’s an attempt to theorise what the rules are based on what people wrote. Which is why my students infuriatingly hear me qualify almost every ‘rule’ with “this applies 95% of the time”. Because even violations of rules may not in fact be ‘ungrammatical’. A very clear example of this is the “genitive absolute” in Greek, which is so often not absolute, that calling it a genitive participial clause is my new preference.

So, if grammar is that, why teach it? I can think of three reasons you might want to teach grammar, and these relate to what I said in my previous post:

  • Learners often want to learn grammar because they feel like they understand what’s going on. (Affective)
  • Learners are going to interact with others (teachers, systems, institutions) where grammar is expected (Sociative)
  • Grammar forms a meta-language that allows speakers to speak meta-linguistically about utterances. It also provides an entrée to the language-user to engage with a history of meta-linguistic commentary on texts and language (Meta-linguistic)

Personally, only (3)  holds great persuasive force. (2) is a function of teaching learners in a variety of contexts and ends, and (1) I am fine to do because I think lowering learners’ affective filters and barriers as much as possible contributes to their overall wellbeing, and progress, as leaners. But for me, (3) is of most interest and importance.

So when and how do you do it?

Option A – you can sideline it and set it entirely as written material for students to read, or not, as they like. You could even set questions on it, worth 0 grades and 0%.

This has the advantage of providing learners all the grammar they want, but it takes it entirely out of the ‘must be learnt’ material. It shows that you genuinely don’t believe they need to learn it. But that you do indeed care enough to provide it to them. Grammar then becomes a kind of ‘bolt-on’ module that students can dive into, as they see fit, but not on ‘learning’ time.

Option B – Teach it all at the end

This approach basically says, “let’s front-load all our language learning, and when we’ve got a ton of that under our belts for the [X amount of Time], we’ll spend a bit of time at the end going over explicitly, what we’ve been doing implicitly.” I think this might work in year long blocks, perhaps semester blocks, but you’ve got two problems: (i) you’re giving up instructional time to do this, (ii) it’s going to be a lot of content.

Option C – Teach it in the Target Language.

This is what Ørberg does, of course. At the end of each Lingua Latina chapter is a section, latine, that explains the grammar of the chapter. It’s surprisingly effective, though I wonder how much that was for me because I already knew these things, and English grammar terminology is predominantly latine anyway.

The advantage of this is that you are giving learners the tools to talk in the language, about the language, as you go. So it’s more comprehensible input, and it creates more communicative possibilities.

The disadvantage, as I see it, is that it shifts learners’ focus back to grammar, and they may feel strong needs to ‘get this stuff down’, and ‘get it right’

One could also do this all in the language, but at the end. This would be like skipping all the grammar in LLPSI, but doing it all from scratch in Latin, once you got to chapter 35. I think the downside of this would be again, a lot of content in a shorter space, without giving learners the lead-up to acquire some of those words, structures, and concepts to talk about the language in the language.

Option D – Teach it as a separate module, and as linguistically informed as possible.

One final approach to this would be to modularise it off. Do your course in Greek, e.g., and then offer a course/unit/module that was explicitly Greek linguistics, designed to cover this material, and preferably in conversation with modern linguistics, not just the grammatical tradition. This could also be conjoined with a version of Option C. Indeed, if I had my way, I would do C ‘as we go’, and then ‘D’ as a separate course.

Or, I guess there’s option E – teach foundational grammar in the target language, until learners reach advanced levels, and then teach full-blown linguistics in the target language. I think that option will have to wait for my 4-year immersion college though….

How grammar-translation might lead to acquisition

Last week I wrote about how I did plenty of grammar-translation, and I don’t believe that it leads to acquisition. This often surprises people. Let me explain why it’s surprising:

Firstly, for those of us who did G-T and did a lot of it, and ended up with some language acquisition after all, it often looks like G-T lead to language acquisition. Just because after a whole bunch of G-T you ended up with some language doesn’t mean that G-T caused that language.

Secondly, for people in general who’ve had some experience of learning any language, grammar is so prevalent, that most people’s impression of ‘language learning’ involves grammar.

Thirdly, as adult learners in particular, we have a strong desire to understand what’s going on in a language. We almost can’t help ourselves. And I don’t actually think we should fight against this in learners. Knowing and understanding explicit structures is great for two reasons: (1) explicit knowledge of a language is not a bad thing! (2) we feel more in control when we have an explanation.

However, if the research consistently suggests to us that it is not grammar + memorisation + practice that leads to language acquisition, but rather exposure to comprehensible input in communicative contexts over time, how do we explain the scarred veteran survivors of G-T? You know the ones, the classics professors who can sight read Greek and Latin texts, or the biblical professor for whom the New Testament in Koine is as familiar as the English, if not more.

I wrote a while back about two different types of translation (https://thepatrologist.com/2018/05/29/between-two-types-of-translation/), and I think this holds the key. What G-T is teaching you to do is: okay, I have a text in front of me, I don’t understand it, but I can apply (i) syntax + (ii) morphology + (iii) vocabulary = a translation. That is, people who practice G-T are applying a set of rules they’ve learnt, to translate a text in order to understand its meaning.

That, while we’re here, is very different from using grammar, or better yet linguistics, to analyse and discuss what a text is and does and how it means. This is why it’s really useful to get students to do some linguistic analysis on a native language – because they already know what the utterances mean, and so you can use the analysis to look at various parts of language.

So, you apply your G-T to understand a text, and you translate it, and then you understand its meaning. You’ve turned an incomprehensible input into a comprehensible one. Which means it’s now become primary linguistic data and your ability to process it as linguistic data for acquisition is engaged. But it took you X amount of time to do it this way.

Those who do tons and tons of G-T work – an undergrad program, grad school, work their way through a monstrous US college program’s PhD reading list, etc.. keep repeating this process over and over. And they (a) get very good at G-T, no doubt. Because that’s an explicit knowledge system and a skill, and they are practicing it constantly, but (b) they are also providing themselves with tons and tons of input.

Which explains why, in terms of SLA, they do end up with implicit acquisition.

That’s my general hypothesis. I don’t have any research on this, I’m just extrapolating from basic principles. And because it looks like G-T led to acquisition, and the other reasons I mentioned at the top, it’s very hard to dislodge this idea.

In a few posts time I’m going to talk about “what to do about grammar teaching”. Not that I have any definitive answer, but I have some suggestions. In the meantime, let me just ask:

What if input that leads to acquisition was not simply the by-product of the teaching methodology, as in G-T, but the core content of the learning methodology, so that acquisition was the goal, not an accident?

Online courses, starting in April

If you haven’t seen them yet, I am offering a number of small group classes starting shortly in April:

Athenaze A’ – Italian Athenaze from the beginning, Tuesday US Eastern 7pm

Athenaze B’ – Italian Athenaze from chapter 7, Monday US Eastern 7pm

Conversational Greek B – storytelling and other conversational Greek, Thursday US Eastern 9pm.

Lingua Graeca PSI – an beginner’s greek class using my graded reading LGPSI as a starting point. Monday US Eastern 9pm.

Lingua Latina 1 – a beginner’s Latin course, using Lingua Latina per se illustrata. Monday US Eastern 10pm.

Lingua Latina 2 – a continuer’s Latin course, using Lingua Latina per se illustrata, starting at chapter 14. Thursday US Eastern 8pm.

I reserve the right to cancel a course with less than 3 students. I’m also open to running other possibilities, especially if some of these don’t reach minimums.

If you’re in Australia and want to pay me directly in AUD, send me an email and I’ll invoice you directly.

 

But didn’t you do grammar-translation?

I get this a lot, of variations on it. Yes, it’s undeniably true that I studied Greek and Latin via grammar translation methods. I did 5 years of Latin at university, all G-T. And I was taught Greek via G-T. And at the end of 5 years of Latin I wondered why I couldn’t read anything, and at the end of 4 years of Greek I was fine with a New Testament and lost without it.

And now I’m quite a few years down the track, and people both ask me, “well, aren’t you at the point where you are because you did grammar-translation and then you went on from there?” I think this is really a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc, and it’s a logical fallacy. But to recognise that you need to come to terms with at least one thing.

In all sorts of contexts I keep telling people that it’s entirely possible to learn ancient languages without learning ‘grammar’. And they don’t believe me. Which is understandable, because (a) most people have very little idea about how languages are acquired, but (b) most people think they understand how languages are learnt. (b) is really quite problematic precisely because people thing, ‘well, you learn some grammar, and some rules, and some vocabulary, and you get better and faster at internalising those things’. And, more often than not, this corresponds to their experience of language learning situations.

This is also compounded because people generally think learning a first language is radically different to a second language. Which, it isn’t. It’s a little bit different but the process is mostly the same.

So, let me bring you to a conversation I had recently with some Latin learners. This is an abstraction of a real conversation.

Me: You don’t need to know what an ablative is to learn Latin.
Them: what??
Me: well, you don’t. most native latin speakers probably didn’t have a specific notion of ‘ablative’ that they learnt.
Them: Ørberg doesn’t even introduce the ablative for a hundred pages or so.
Me: Except, chapter 1 of Familia Romana is full of ablatives!
Them: what? oh yeah, I didn’t even realise.
Me: Exactly. You understood in Italiā just fine, because it was comprehensible in context. You didn’t need to be told what an ablative was beforehand.

 

How is this relevant? Well, if you circle around to the initial point here, it’s that it’s not only entirely possible to acquire a language through comprehensible input, it’s that acquisition and explicit grammar instruction are such different processes that result in entirely different outcomes, that even if you do explicit grammar instruction, it doesn’t necessarily help language acquisition.

And, we have a whole field of research that supports this. That’s the whole field of Second Language Acquisition. And, at the very least the vast bulk of that research suggests that explicit grammar instruction aids very little to zero the process of acquisition. I’m very happy to concede that it may help somewhat, although some linguists in this field would say “no, not at all, at best it doesn’t hinder”, but well, let’s be generous at this stage.

That’s why I advocate for Communicative Language Teaching and for acquisition – because I read introductory material in SLA, and then I went on and read research papers, and I keep reading as much research as I can find time for. I’m interested in teaching in a way that produces acquisition rather than explicit knowledge, because I’ve experienced both, and I believe genuine acquisition is a more worthwhile goal, that sees students reading texts without translating, with direct access to the language, and understanding with fluency.

However, I do teach grammar. Sometimes, for some contexts:

  • When I have students who need grammar for their courses and employ me to help them learn grammar to pass a grammar-based exam.
  • When I have learners who have already done grammar, and find it useful to use grammar as a meta-language to illuminate things in a text. That’s precisely what grammar is useful for – talking about Ideally this can be done in the target language – then you’re both talking about language while still getting input in the language.
  • People often like to have grammar, in either language, so that they have an explicit knowledge of what they are figuring out implicitly. It is affectively helpful for them to feel like they know what’s going on. I’m fine with that, because I think ‘feeling like you are understanding’ is important for learners.
  • When I have learners who want to be equipped to deal with commentary-type material that uses grammatical meta-language. In this case, I am training learners to acquire a competency in a different area – how does one learn the explicit knowledge of language required to engage in conversations about explicit knowledge of language. To the extent that that’s a goal, that can be taught. It’s not acquisition though and it doesn’t lead to acquisition.

There are good reasons to teach grammar, so that’s why I sometimes do. At the end of the day though, neither research, nor my experience on both sides of grammar-translation and communicative-language-teaching (with historical and contemporary languages, as a teacher and a learner), suggests or supports that G-T leads to acquisition.

Maybe the key to teaching the perfect is not to teach it

As I’ve been working on Lingua Graeca Per Se Illustrata, I’ve had more of a chance to reflect on Ørberg’s methodology in LLPSI, but also principles of SLA, how to sequence a text, and how to shelter vocabulary and/or morphology for students. It also helps that there’s a current, live, and invested group of students currently being subject to the first draft of LGPSI.

If you’ve read LLPSI you’ll know that Ørberg puts off introducing any tenses beyond the present until pretty late: Chapter 19. Then he starts piling them on in a flurry. Which, is fine for what he set out to do and the principles he’s working in. Though, expecting that students can do a chapter, see every future perfect in context, understand them, and then know them, is not a principle or assumption I work with.

Now, what to do with the Greek perfect? It’s a relatively infrequently occurring tense. It’s difficult for students to pick up the nuance of its aspect. It’s often delayed, nay, relegated, to well into the final stages of a grammar-based curriculum.

What if one, er, I, just didn’t “teach” the perfect. Rather, just found an appropriate part of the course to start slipping them in, in contexts that made sense and usages that were perfectly normal. And when students say, “oh, what’s that verb form” you just say, “it’s a perfect, you can understand it to mean X” and move on.

And then when you’ve had another 20 chapters of LGPSI expanded universe, you can throw a table at them so they feel better about it.

Honestly, these days I try to teach grammar only when students ask for it, or to make them feel better about it. Because I know that the benefits, if any, of explicit grammar instruction are minimal to none for the outcome of implicit language acquisition.

So, no, LGPSI is unlikely to have a chapter that’s just “here’s a whole bunch of perfects”. Because ancient Greek speakers didn’t use perfects like that. And modern learners can’t get a robust enough representation from one chapter of input-flooding.

Re-conceiving the middle voice for Greek and Latin students (II)

In today’s post, following on from the last, I’m going to walk through some initial semantic categories which Kemmer presents as mostly or typically used for middle-type situations. I had hoped to get through more categories, but it seems that will need a couple more posts.
I’ll provide some Greek and Latin examples, drawn from Kemmer, and from R.J. Allen’s work on Greek.

 

Kemmer starts with the Direct Reflexive. This is an event where one participant does the action to themselves.

e.g. Mike stabbed himself.

In English, we need to mark this with a reflexive form – Mike stabs implies that he stabs someone else (as a habit, probably).

In Greek (and Latin), actions that are normally performed on someone else (er, ‘stabbing’) take a reflexive marker. Allen gives this example:

ῥίπτει αὑτὸν εἰς τὴν θάλατταν (Dem 32.6)[1]   He throws himself into the sea.

But there are actions that are normally carried out on oneself that appear in the middle. These are “body action middles” including several sub-categories.

The first category are ‘grooming’ actions. Actions like dressing, bathing, shaving, decorating, etc.. Here we see typical middle-marking.

ornor               to adorn (oneself)
perluor            to bathe

κοσμοῦμαι      to adorn
λοῦμαι             to bathe

In all these, the participant is both acting upon themselves, but acting upon themselves using themselves. The sense in which you can distinguish ‘agent’ and ‘patient’ is low. For this reason, too, these verbs often lack an active. When you do find an active voice form, its usage is often contrastive – of course I might usually bathe myself, but I can bathe someone else. λοῦω v λοῦμαι shows that kind of contrast.

A second category involves various types of bodily movement. Between Kemmer and Allen you can see three sub-categories of this: change in body posture, non-translational motion, and translational motion.

  1. Changes in body posture involve actions like sitting up, standing, reclining. Again, here the agent is acting upon themselves, but in such a close unity that the difference between ‘agent’ and ‘patient’ is minimal, the event is unitary.
  2. Non-translational motion involves movement of the body but not along any ‘path’. Things like turning, twisting, bending, bowing, nodding, etc..
  3. Translational motion involves moving the body through space along a path.

κλίνομαι          lie down (CiBP)

στρέφομαι       turn around (nTrans-motion)

πορεύομαι       to go (translational-motion)

Where there is an active form it often has a causative meaning:

ἵσταμαι            to stand up/still           > ἵστημι           to cause to stand

στρέφομαι                                              > στρέφω        to turn (something else)

πορεύομαι                                              > πορεύω to cause to go

What’s common about all these verbs is that encoded in the verb is the sense that the Initiator and Endpoint are the same, with low distinguishability, and generally these actions do not involve an external endpoint.

There are less examples of these in Latin, though I think some appear to fall into this category. For instance, the –gredior compounds, e.g. progredior, as well as proficiscor. orior (to rise) seems to me a borderline instance, though it may also fall into the “spontaneous process” category.

This is a good place to stop and talk about deponency for a minute. Is πορεύομαι ‘deponent’? Not by traditional definitions because an active form exists. But the middle form is so prevalent that it may as well be learnt as the primary form. It hasn’t ‘assumed’ an active meaning that has been left vacant by a defective paradigm. Within the ‘logic’ of the Greek language, it’s a typically middle form.

Whether any particular verb is middle only or not depends, in part, just on attestation. If we had no instances of πορεύω, we’d conclude it was deponent. But that’s not really true, is it? ἔρχομαι seems deponent because we don’t have active instances of it. Except for grammarians saying things like:

οὐδεὶς γὰρ λέγει ἔρχω ἢ εὔχω ἢ πέτω ἢ δέχω ἢ ὀρχῶ καὶ τὰ λοιπά, ἐπειδὴ τὸ σημαινόμενον κωλύει.

For no one says “I ‘go’, or I ‘pray’, or I ‘fly’, or I ‘receive’, or I ‘depart’ and the rest, since the meaning prohibits it. (Georgius Choeroboscus, Prolegomena et scholia in Theodosii Alexandrini canones isagogicos de flexione verborum.[2])

The meaning of ἔρχομαι prohibits an active meaning. That’s why there’s no active, not because an active form has disappeared and the middle has picked up the meaning, but because the meaning of the verb is itself middle in its meaning, and an active does not make sense. One supposes that speakers could have coined an active version of this verb with a causative sense, but they didn’t. That’s why this, and similar verbs, are better termed media tantum, ‘middle-only’, rather than deponent. They lack a morphologically realised active form.

So, what does this mean for deponency and terminology? It seems best to lay to rest the term ‘deponent’ if we mean “a verb that has no active morphology but uses a middle or passive form with active meaning”. That’s not accurate to these verbs, especially if conceived of as verbs that actually ‘set aside’ their active forms. It’s far better to conceive of these verbs as media tantum, i.e. verbs that only have middle forms, never active. And then, you have verbs that are primarily used in the middle, where the active is less common precisely because what the active is expressing is less usual. Some verbs prohibit an active form, others disprefer an active form.

Lastly, at least for today, cautioning students that ‘active in meaning’ is not the same as ‘active in English translation’. Because English does not exhibit a ‘middle-voice’ system, in translation the best options will often be an English intransitive active, or an English reflexive. That’s about the best way to render something in English, not about what the Greek means.

In the next post in this series, I will cover some more semantic categories, and then talk more specifically about the Latin middle-only verbs.

[1] R.J. Allen, “The Middle Voice in Ancient Greek. A study in Polysemy”, PhD Thesis. 2002. 65. There is a published version of this but frankly I don’t have a copy.

[2] A. Hilgard, Grammatici Graeci, vol. 4.2, Leipzig: Teubner, 1894 (repr. Hildesheim: Olms, 1965): 19: 27-28.

Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs (a translation)

(Passio Sanctorum Scillitanorum)

1. In the consulship of Praesens (the second time) and Condianus, on the 14th Kalends of August, in Carthage, the following were led into the proconsul’s chamber: Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Donata, Secunda, and Vestia.
Saturninus the proconsul said, “You can gain the pardon of our lord emperor, if you return to your senses.”

2. Speratus said, “We have never done wrong, put forth no effort for iniquity; never cursed, but when we have received ill treatment, we gave thanks; because we heed our own emperor.”

3. Saturninus the proconsul said, “We also are religious, and our religion is simple, we swear by the genius of our lord emperor, and offer supplications for his health, which you also ought to do.

4. Speratus said, “If you lend your ears calmly, I will tell you the mystery of simplicity.”

5. Saturninus said, “I will not offer my ears to you, maligning our sacred rites; but instead swear by the genius of our lord emperor.”

6. Speratus said, “I do not recognise the empire of this world; but I serve that God instead, whom no human has seen nor is able to see with these eyes. I have committed no theft; but whenever I purchase anything, I pay the tax; because I recognise my lord, king of kings and emperor of all the nations.”

7. Saturninus the proconsul said to the others, “Cease to be of this persuasion.”
Speratus said, “It is a bad persuasion, to commit homicide, to speak false testimony.”

8. Saturninus the proconsul said, “Don’t participate in this madness.”
Cittinus said, “We have no one else whom we fear, except our Lord God who is in heaven.”

9. Donata said, “I shall honour Caesar, as Caesar; but I shall fear God.”
Vestia said, “I am a Christian.”
Secunda said, “I am precisely that which I desire to be.”

10. Saturninus the proconsul said to Speratus, “Will you persist to be a Christian?”
Speratus said, “I am a Christian”; and they all agreed with him.

11. Saturninus the proconsul said, “Do you desire some time for deliberation?”
Speratus said, “In a matter so just, there is no deliberation.”

12. Saturninus the proconsul said, “What are the things in your cases?”
Speratus said, “Books, and the letters of Paul, a just man.”

13. Saturninus the proconsul said, “Take a delay of 30 days, and think it over.”
Speratus said again, “I am a Christian”; and they all agreed with him.

14. Saturninus the proconsul recited a decree from a tablet:
“Speratus, Nartzlus, Cittinus, Donata, Vestia, Secunda, and others have confessed that they live according to the Christian rite, and since they have obstinately persevered despite being offered the opportunity of returning to the Romans’ way, it is decreed that they be punished by the sword.”

15. Speratus said, “We thank God.”
Nartzalus said, “Today we are martyrs in heaven: Thanks be to God.”

16. Saturninus the proconsul ordered the following to be said through a herald, “Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Veturius, Felix, Aquilinus, Laetantius, Ianuaria, Generosa, Vestia, Donata, and Seconda, are ordered to be led to death.

17. They all said, “Thanks be to God.”
And they were forthwith beheaded for the name of Christ.
Amen.

Online small group classes in Greek (and Latin) for 2019

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be offering small-group classes in Ancient Greek, online, in 2019.

This post is something in the way of ‘advance notice’ and to float some possibilities.

Starting? 

I plan to start with a 10-week term beginning the week of January 21st.

When?

Depending on demand, I will look at a couple of time slots, keyed either to the US evening, or to the Australian evening

What?

I plan to offer at least one class that focuses on Active Greek in tandem with the AVN (Italian) Athenaze. That is a class that will require some homework and additional activity on your behalf. It’s designed to get you going with Athenaze at a solid clip, and will both leverage off the English supplements for Athenaze that we’re working on, as well as individual support from me.

If it seems like there is interest, I will look at also (a) a ‘conversational Greek’ for those who have some Greek but are beginners in conversation, (b) a possible text-focused reading-type group.

If I receive some interest, I’ll offer a similar Active Latin class in tandem with Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. It will be similar to the Athenaze class in terms of intent.

Size? 

Class sizes will be small, with a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 6. This ensures you are part of a lively, engaged communicative context.

Cost? 

It’s not set in stone, but I’m looking to price these at USD$150 for 10 sessions. The Athenaze class will price marginally higher, because I plan to build it with more support and resources than just the class hour itself (audio recordings, homework, email support).

Interested?

If you’d like to register some initial interest for these, feel free to send me an email:  thepatrologist@gmail.com

 

If the times/courses don’t work for you, but you can get at least 2 other people together, I’m very open to running some other bespoke course for you.

Greek for ‘that’s interesting’…

There’s two types of modern expressions that present difficulty for speaking ancient languages:

  • names for things they didn’t have
  • expressions for things they didn’t say

In many cases (1) isn’t so bad. You just have to neologise. How do you say helicopter, television, mobile (=cell) phone, etc etc..? Even coffee, tea, present problems, but not insurmountable ones. For Latin, with its longer continual history, it’s often easier. For speaking ancient Greek modernly, various strategies can be used: adapting an ancient word with a similar meaning; using the Greek equivalent to a Latin word used for the same modern thing; deriving a (sometimes entirely fictive) ‘ancestor’ form for a contemporary Greek word.

The second issue is much more problematic. Consider the expression, “It’s interesting…”. In Latin, we can use phrases involving studiumstudium me tenet, studium me excitat, and the like. Greek is, it seems, more tricky.

I asked my good friend Στέφανος about this, as I often do, and he proffered a few suggestions:

διαφέρει — it’s important

ἄξιον σπουδῆς — something worthy of zeal/esteem/effort

προσέχω τινὶ τὸν νοῦν, τὸν νοῦν ἔχω πρός τινα – expressions for paying attention to something.

 

None of these, as he recognised, quite fits. We want something for “here is a thing that is worth paying attention to/thinking about”.

But perhaps we can build off these. ἄξιον + infinitive makes a good impersonal structure for “worth doing X”. So…

ἄξιον τοῦ τὸν νοῦν προσέχειν – worth paying attention to

ἄξιον διαλέγεσθαι – worth talking about

ἄξιον ἐπὶ ᾧ νομίζειν – worth thinking on,

ἄξιον μελετᾶσθαι – worth contemplating

 

Take these out for a spin, let me know what you think.

Podcasting: my process

We’re now six podcasts deep, and I thought I’d write a little this week about what it looks like for me to put together a podcast.

1: An idea

It takes a while for me to come up with ideas, which maybe isn’t a good sign! It needs to be something moderately interesting, and moderately within my speaking ability. I try to draw from things going on in the rest of my Greek-oriented life. So far that’s working okay.

2: ‘Practice’

Depending on my schedule, I spend some time talking to myself ex tempore on the topic, in Greek. Either while driving, or in the shower, or wherever. It’s often at this stage that I stumble across things I want to say but can’t. I make a note (mentally, usually) to address that.

3: ‘Practice’ part 2

On a Saturday or Sunday evening I sit down at the computer; I have some rough notes for the intro and outro, I get a Latin>Greek dictionary open, and I fake-record first. That is, I open up Audacity and hit ‘record’ and talk for around 10 minutes. The first version is always terrible, but it allows me to do what I did in the step above, but with more focus. I generally use the Latin>Greek dictionary to figure out things I don’t know (it’s easier and better than English>Greek).

4: Recording

I try not to do too many fake recordings if only because I get bored of myself. Usually 1 or 2 is enough, and then I record a proper version. I accept, immo, embrace the fact that it’s still well-short of perfect, but that’s okay, that’s part of the deal here.

5: And send

I rarely relisten to them, I will only get overly critical. So I just fill in the details and upload them directly.

 

And that’s it. Nothing marvellous or magical, just a very stripped-down process to get Greek audio out my mouth and onto the internet.

On a kind of return to classics…

Most of my classics background involved a 4 year stint as an external student working almost entirely on Latin. I took intro Latin as an adult, and then 3 years of text-based classes. I wish I had kept better notes! It was still being done with postal services when I did it. But I did cover the gamut – Vergil, Cicero, Ovid, Horace, Lucretius, Tacitus, Lucan, Seneca, Livy, Pliny.

Since then, I haven’t had occasion to read extended selections of Latin, or even classical Greek, texts. But starting in a couple of weeks I have two high school students headed into their 12th year (I guess, Senior Year for you Americans), one in 2019, one in 2020. That means, as their tutor, I’m gearing up to cover:

  • Livy, Book V
  • Tacitus, Agricola
  • Vergil, Aeneid 1
  • Horace, selected Odes
  • Catullus, selected poems
  • Cicero, Pro Archia
  • Homer, Iliad 3
  • Euripides, Electra
  • Thucydides, Book IV.

(I should mention, almost all of these are ‘selected portions’, but they are substantial portions in most cases).

That’s a fairly solid list! I’m looking forward to it, as it will force me to read some genuine literary Latin and Greek; I’ve never read extensive portions of Homer or of Greek drama really. Also, I really do enjoy reading texts. Who knows, maybe I’ll acquire some more private students along the way! Or maybe I’ll do some recordings or videos. Or blog post. Or… we’ll see.

(Italian) Athenaze Supplement Project

I’m keen to revisit my idea from some time ago, about a collaborative project providing English-language supports for using the Italian edition of Athenaze, for those without any Italian.I’ve set up a Google Drive folder, and it’s basically ready to go. I have in mind particularly the following three (non-copyright-infringing) tasks:

1. vocab list per chapter with English glosses

2. commentary style notes on constructions, references to page and line.

3. grammar explanations that map to the chapters but do not translate the Italian material

If you’d be interested in helping out/getting involved, send me an email and I’ll send an invite.

Can you bootstrap a speaking ability when you have limited communication options?

Yes, but its (very-)sub-optimal, hard, and the results might be less than stellar.

But you might also have not that much choice. There are few Latin speakers in Australia. A few Gàidhlig speakers. Less ancient Greek speakers. Opportunities for communication events are limited. And what if your situation is even less tenable? The last native Manx speaker died in 1974, but there are an estimated 1800 speakers today? Plenty of indigenous languages have <10 speakers, and some are actually dead but well-recorded. I’m not even an educated amateur on language revitalisation, so I’m going to stick to talking about Greek in this post, but I suspect the principles are generalisable.

Comprehensible Input is still king. If you don’t have speakers giving that to you in conversation (and even if you do), you need to get as much rich , appropriate, language content as you can. So, read everything you can, work within your abilities as much as possible and resist the desire to tackle difficult texts unless you have to; rad aloud, to get your mouth moving. And get as much audio as you can – conversation material is best, soliloquies are okay; written literature being read-out is good but arguably not the best thing; oral exercises aren’t the worst thing either. Listen, comprehend, listen again.

Learn the basic of question and answer. This is easier than you think and the pay-off is great. If you can construct questions, you have a means of turning any text into a conversation piece. All you need is to get used to asking questions: start with sentence-type questions, then move on to the interrogatives (In English: who, what, where, when, why, how; Greek: τίς, τί, ποῦ, πότε, τί (διὰ τί, ἵνα τί), πῶς; and others…). Questions can be done in Greek, at the level of story, paragraph, sentence, even clause. This lets you (a) have a conversation with yourself, (b) have simple conversations with others, (c) compose simple sentences and stories that build off texts you’re already working with.

If you’ve come through a traditional grammar-translation curriculum, it’s also not that taxing to learn basic grammatical terminology, especially for Latin or Greek, since they are almost all Latin terms anyway and the Greek forms basically are equivalents. And that permits you to have grammatical conversations about texts too, if that’s what you love.

If you have friends, ahem, students, then start inflicting spoken Greek on them. Start easy, simple, and fun. Prepare well – script up as much as you can before hand so you have phrases to mind/hand. Doing some of the WAYK universal speed curriculum is a good way to do this. When I first did this, I would keep a cheat-sheet handy. It’s no shame to say, “hey, we’re all trying to do this thing, and this little reference sheet is to keep us speaking Nice Pure Attic not some degenerate barbaric language, ahem, Koine.”

Related to the above, develop a habit of note-taking when you are trying to say something and can’t find the right word or structure. And then after a session of whatever, take that list and figure out how to fill in the gaps. I use English > Greek, and Latin > Greek lexica for that, or go away and find the right syntax structure, or ask a friend.

Talk to yourself about whatever you can. If you don’t have other people to talk to, and even if you do, you need to talk to yourself. Why? Because you’re the conversation partner who is always available, and who always understands what your trying to say. Talk about things around you, talk about things you have vocabulary for. Just get talking.

Lastly, look and pursue opportunities to talk with others, or at least listen to others talking. There’s audio resources (not much, let’s be honest), videos on youtube, there is spoken Greek out there to listen to. There’s also a weekly online chat that is freely open: https://latinandgreekchats.weebly.com you don’t even need to speak. I’m never there (alas) as it’s a terrible time for my schedule. And lastly, yes, you can sign up to classes. CKI, which I mentioned in the last post, also I see that BLC is starting to run some classes in Koine not just Hebrew. There’s also some conversational Greek offered through Telepaideia, again terrible for my schedule so I can’t tell you what they’re like from experience.

I don’t have a repository of links for communicative ancient Greek; there’s one here (http://www.latinteachertoolbox.com/ancient-greek.html) but it’s a little out of date. Perhaps its time to make a repository, there’s not lots of material, but there’s stuff out there, and its often a matter of scouring the internet for it….

 

How did I get to this point of speaking Greek?

Our friend James helpfully asked:

Did you ever have communicative Greek training with a more fluent speaker? If not, how did you get to this point? Do you have a post on what you did? Despite the apparent contradiction, do you think it’s possible to therefore get to a certain point of speaker fluency on ones own?

Firstly, let’s remind ourselves that I’m not that great a speaker. I’m past the Tarzan stage, but there’s plenty I can’t do with the language. But I can hold soliloquies with myself on familiar topics with familiar vocabulary. And I can have basic conversations about texts or concrete things.

So, I don’t want to overplay the experience I’ve had with others, but nor do I want to underplay. I had to think this over, and I did do about 50 hours all up in group classes with Halcomb over at Conversational Koine Institute, about 5 years back now.  I do think that was incredibly useful for me, but I don’t think it contributed a huge amount overall to reaching this level of speaking. It did show me something of what was possible, about the same time I was experimenting in Mongolia with some basic Where Are Your Keys approaches, and trying my hand at an ill-fated Ørberg conversion.

Other than that, I did work through the self-study materials by Randall Buth at the Biblical Language Center. That I did, prior to the above work with Halcomb, and I found it helpful to (a) transition my pronunciation mostly to a restored Koine, even if I have vestiges of Erasmian or a lingering overrealised aspiration problem. It also (b) helped me to cement down quite a few fundamental phrases.

Thirdly, I do do some regular online chats with a more advanced speaker. That too probably didn’t get me to this point, and we’ve only clocked about 10 hours together, but it’s incredibly useful to me. I think there’s great advantage in speaking to people above you and below you in communicative proficiency.

Fourthly, though, there’s just a long familiarity with the language and with Koine texts. I started learning Koine in 2003, and can’t think of a year since when I haven’t been doing something with the language. And since at least 2007 I’ve been advocating, exploring, researching, and experimenting with more active/communicative/living approaches to historical languages. And I’ve had the experience of learning other languages as ‘live’ ones, and working on speaking Latin, and this all is fuel for the fire. Even if a tonne of my language exposure has been to written texts, it’s still exposure, and to the extent that that has been sufficient input for acquisition, it can create spoken output.

Fifthly, apart from the language I’ve gotten from being a student of others, I’ve worked at speaking more Greek to those under my tutelage, as best I can and as much as possible. This, too, is a context for learning how to speak, even if I am not learning more language per se. The more I can speak with students, both (a) the more I get to put my own communicative competencies into practice, and (b) I realise the gaps in my own language. Gaps that can be filled by going away and figuring out what to put in them (perhaps ironically, in the heat of conversation my brain regularly reaches for a Latin expression if it doesn’t have a Greek one to hand).

Do I think someone could get to a certain point of speaker-fluency on one’s own? Yes, but with considerable difficulty, non-ideally and non-optimally. It’s taken 15 years for me to get to this point, and I reached the point where I could teach certain classes in Mongolian in 2, and preach in 2.5 years (not in anyway linguistically or literary sophisticated, but genuinely Mongolian sermons composed in Mongolian idiom). It shouldn’t take 15 years to get to this level of spoken Greek. I do hope that I will get a lot more fluent a lot more quickly in the years to come. And I hope it won’t take the next generations of learners as much time or effort to reach the level that I have so far attained.

More thoughts on distance-education (3): formation, community, and its long-term effects on faculty staffing

Obviously quite a bit of the education I’m involved with is theological. I think some of the concern I express in this post pertain to non-theological contexts and colleges, but mutatis mutandis.

The issue is this: when a student can pursue an entire theological degree online, via distance, you lose a significant part of the embodied formation of that person. They aren’t living in your institutional community, being shaped by daily interaction with faculty and other students. So you don’t know how they’re being shaped as persons, or necessarily what kind of person they are or will turn out at the end to be. This, I think, is one of theological educations big distance problems.

And, sure, I understand the push-back – that people ought and can be involved in other communities, their local church one for instance, and that they can interact online with faculty and students. But, this latter factor is a mediated one, and in my growing experience is inferior for it. It’s not without reason that 2 John 12 says I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” It’s a reflection on technology and mediated presence, and while every NT epistle bears witness to the value of mediated communication, I don’t doubt that each of those authors would prefer to deliver messages themselves.

The more higher education degrees get reduced to content delivery, and also are modularised, the more incohesive that education process becomes. It becomes parcelled and packaged, and its integration in the pastoral and spiritual formation of the individual becomes weakened.

 

At the same time, this ‘package it up and sell it’ approach affects institutions too. Once you have a top-notch scholar produce materials for a course, you’re set – they’ve done the work once and at best you keep paying them a licencing fee. Sure, you will probably want to revisit and update that course every now and again, but it’s certainly a different course-construction dynamic and cost than, say, hiring an assistant professor and letting them develop over the years. Meanwhile, the ground-labour of these courses is mostly done by adjunctified and casualised labour – highly educated workers who have unstable positions, incomes, zero prestige, and receive no ‘credit’ for this grunt work. And since we’re replicating a model in which stars produce courses and adjuncts service them, there’s no path from adjunct to professor, and there’s no motive to create one. You can just run a course with more students, with more adjuncts, and that’s that. I think in the long run that is going to create issues. What does it mean, on either end, that Esteemed Professor XYZ ‘taught’ a student, if they simply followed pre-set materials. There’s no educational relationship on the Professor end. There might be a perceived relationship on the student end, but that’s a mirage. And then the Adjunct side, in which the adjunct has not ‘taught’ anyone either. They’ve oiled a machine.

Not that I have any solutions. I also happen to think that distance/online education is an unstoppable juggernaut in our society. The horse has bolted, and we need to figure out how to catch up and ride that brumby for all its worth. But the one thing we can’t do is uncritically and thoughtlessly embrace technological changes without reflecting on, and deliberately practising, in light of their social and personal effects.

Trying new things: podcasts and youtube

Even though I have negative free time, lately I’ve been trying my hand at new things.

Firstly, I’ve put up a few videos on youtube. They are a ‘talk-through’ of the Greek text of Melito’s On Easter, 1-2. There’s one where I talk through it in English, and one entirely in Greek (the context of my talking is not identical though!). This is similar to what I do with some online classes, and it’s not that far removed from what I do with students more interested in working on a text than entirely communicatively. Later this week there’ll be a similar video on Romans 5:1-5. I hope to do more of these kinds of videos, particularly if people find them helpful.

Secondly, by the time this post goes up, the first episode of my podcast ὁ διὰ νυκτὸς διάλογος should be posted. It’s rough, in so many ways, but I would rather be cutting some rough DIY Greek podcasts in my metaphorical basement, than waiting for perfection. Again, my hope is to do many more, and trust that they’ll improve over time. If you want to improve my dismal album art, by all means help me out!

Are there other things that might be worth giving a go? I’m honestly open to suggestions at the present. Anything that will help people get more Greek in their lives, and will develop my own skills both as a Greek-communicator and as a teacher. And propagandist.

 

 

Language learning as zoology, an extended metaphor

I not-infrequently talk about different types of encountering language with the following schema:

Schoolroom

Is when you’re in a literal classroom with books, and you’re learning ‘about’ foreign language, as something far, far removed from you, as this exotic and abstract ‘other’, that you can hardly imagine. And L2 words exists as ‘things’ that you treat as objects, and manipulate as facts, and you put the right ones in the right order on a test and you get a number and feel good about yourself.

Autopsy Lab

This is when you drag a dead piece of language into the lab and analyse it to death (again, because it’s already dead). You get a sentence or phrase and you cut that sucker open and look at its innards and try to figure out which part does what and how does it work.

At the Zoo

Where you go to see animals, and they’re alive! But they’re in enclosures, and they’re mostly tame (but not domesticated), and there’s a safe distance between you and the language, and you can look and observe but the whole environment is artificial.

Out of Safari

Now things are getting exciting! You’re out in a jeep, and driving really fast, and you’ve got a guide who tells you where to go and what to look for, and is savvy enough not to lead you into any really difficult language that would overwhelm you. So it’s still a curated experience, tailored to your level, but the language is alive and wild.

Dropped in the Jungle

You’re the real Bear Grylls. You get air-dropped into a language immersion environment where everything is in the language, and no-ones curating anything. You might be hitting easy language and its all fun, you might get dropped into some complex discussion of hypothetical worlds based on the latest avant-garde Danish film that everyone watched with Esperanto subtitles at the underground cinema last week.

 

Notes: feel free to add elements, reconfigure, reuse this analogy. Suggestions welcome. Also, I certainly don’t think these are stages to be worked though, just different experiences people can have.