Project: Shepherding a text from print to digital

One of my projects for 2018 is to take a text and shepherd it, or curate it, all the way through an open source pipeline from ‘print’ to ‘digital edition’. This is part of my 2018 year of digital humanities. Here I talk a little bit about the envisioned process.

The text I have in mind is quite short, just over 2000 words. It’s Gregory of Nyssa’s De Deitate adversus Evagrium (in vulgo In suam Ordinationem). I’ve done some work on De Deitate Filii et Spiritus Sancti and this will be a nice complement to that.

My checklist of things to do:

The Pipeline

Step 1: OCRing a print text
Step 2: Correcting the OCR output
Step 3: Create a TEI-XML version.
Step 4: PoS Tagging/Lemma tagging/Morph tagging
Step 5: Produce a translation
Step 6: Alignment
Step 7: Annotations and commentary

Then, voilá, open-sourced text freely available with useful data attached. Half of these things I don’t actually know how to do yet. Maybe more than half. That’s part of the fun. And, presuming it goes well, will make it a pilot project for future texts through a similar pipeline.

Can you teach a language with no native speakers via ‘immersion’?

A question I was asked recently on twitter.

Yes, but it depends what you mean by ‘immersion’ and what you think the goal is.

I don’t normally use the term ‘immersion’, because that normally, strictly, pertains to a method that involves full-time immersion in a language, so all day, all week. That’s simply not possible long-term, unless we set up little Latin-speaking (or Attic, or etc) villages. I suppose immersion is possible in short term venues like the SALVI Rusticationes

The goal, I would think, is also not to produce a new native speaking community. Though that is theoretically possible. See, the revival of Hebrew as a modern language, and also revival efforts of indigenous languages. But that’s not our goal for historical languages. If we revived a whole community of Latin speakers or Attic speakers, and allowed them to ‘continue on’ as a community and the language evolved, we would miss the point of learning ‘Latin’ or ‘Attic’, or ‘Koine’.

But there’s nothing inherent in Latin, or Koine, or Biblical Hebrew, that means they can’t be learnt as active, communicative languages. There’s nothing inherent in them that means people can’t become competent second-language speakers of these languages.

There’s a pedagogical challenge – how do you get people to this level, if few people are at that level? I think this requires careful research and considered pedagogy. We ought to take due effort to make sure that we are teaching language that is correct, as correct as possible, to what we know of the historical corpus. And we should recognise that teaching Ciceronian Latin, or Demosthenic Greek, or the like, is an artificiality. But it’s an artificiality that we already embrace in other methods anyway, and an artificiality that is desirable to the extent that we want people to read those kinds of texts and discuss those kinds of texts.

In terms of pedagogy, it’s about learning, and then using, those pieces of acquired language confidently and correctly. And perhaps the humility to say, “Well, I don’t know how to say X, Y, Z, let’s research together and get it right.”

Grammar/Translation, Communicative methods, and comparisons…

This is me picking up some pieces and adding nuance to one of my usual hobby horses, that is communicative approaches to ancient/classical/historical languages.

  1. Does Grammar/Translation ‘work’?

I think this partly depends upon what we mean by ‘work’. My main interest is developing students who can read effectively in their second language – without translating in order to understand, and mentally operating in the second language.

I don’t think G/T normally produces this for most students, or even most students who respond well to G/T. It seems to me that G/T produces primarily students who translate in order to understand (as opposed to translating messages they have already understood). I don’t deny, that some long-time practitioners of G/T end up being very competent readers. I’ll get back to that below.

  1. Are communicative methods better than grammar/translation?

It’s hard to make a proper comparison, because really this requires a controlled, data-driven study in Second Language Acquisition, and while there is obviously some work going on, on that question, I have yet to read a full-blown comparative study on the question.

However, everything I’ve seen in SLA suggests that G/T isn’t ‘the way to go’. And given that G/T dates back about 200 years, and has been largely abandoned in modern language programs, and the contrast between G/T products and modern language programs, I think we need to consider that pound for pound, G/T is not the best method.

  1. Is it far to compare seminary programs with classics programs?

No, not really. But that’s because a typical seminary program fits Greek grammar into a single year, and then (if you’re fortunate enough to have a robust program) 2-3 years of New Testament texts in Greek. This is ¼ to 1/6 of a program. And it’s focused on intensive, not extensive, reading; on analysing texts at a micro-level and exegeting for meaning; on accessing technical discussions at a verse-by-verse level.

A classics program is 3-4 years of language and literature in that language. If it’s a traditional classics program, that’s at best a 50/50 split (if you do nothing but lang and lit in Greek/Latin). Having done a full Latin sequence, I have a fair idea of what that looks like and produces. Yes, classics produces better readers, but largely because it’s a lot more exposure to texts in the target language.

And this, I’d contest, is ultimately why G/T produces readers – not a superiority of method per se. Translating is a way of making a target language message comprehensible, and sheer volume of comprehensible input is what produces language acquisition over time. G/T will do that. I’m just not convinced it does that as effectively as it could.

My main push-back to G/T is driven by the fact that G/T has this “grip” on both classics educators, and biblical language instructors. There’s a conservatism that thinks G/T is (a) the way it’s always been, and (b) the tried and true method, that (c) ancient languages are ‘different’ and cannot be taught communicatively, (d) etc., etc..

I have plenty of appreciation for grammar, for translation, for G/T methods, but I have no appreciation for traditionalist views that are ignorantly dismissive of alternatives, and critiques, of G/T.




Greek and Latin tutoring in 2018

Interested in some 1 on 1 tutoring in Greek or Latin in 2018?

I am looking to take on a few private students. I work individually with each student to develop a plan to meet their goals. We can work towards communicative proficiency, focus on reading, work within a traditional grammar-based approach, leverage of a textbook or course you’re doing, or tackle specific texts or genres you’re interested in.

I operate on a sliding scale based on your circumstances and timing of sessions is likewise quite flexible.

If this is something you’ve been thinking about, get in touch today and let’s work out some details. I’m also happy to do a short free consult to work out if this is the best path forward for you or not.

Just email me or fill out the form below and I’ll be in touch.


Lemma vs. Token frequency in John’s Gospel

In this post I discuss, in brief and embryonic form, the difference between lemma and token frequencies for John’s Gospel. At the bottom of this post you’ll find an unwieldy table. I haven’t quite figured out a good way to do tables.

Anyway, these days I’m doing lots of thinking about language teaching, reading and text based approaches, etc. etc.. And I thought it would be useful for my super-baby-coding skills to pull up a list of words in John’s Gospel sorted by frequency, both the lemmata, and the actual instances. That’s what’s on the table at the bottom (only covering the 100 most frequent lemmata, and then the 100 most frequent tokens sorted accordingly). The left-most two columns are frequency and lemma, and all the columns to the right of that are tokens.

About 5 words down things get interesting. It’s much more useful to learn εἶπεν and εἶπον than filling out the Pres.Act.Ind. paradigm of λέγω. Similarly, the two highest frequency forms of εἰμί are ἐστίν and ἦν. σύ is the most interesting, because it’s two highest tokens are actually the plural, which looks nothing like σύ. ἔρχομαι is also interesting, because I actually thought its aorists forms would turn up with higher frequency, but it’s ἔρχεται that is the star performer in John.

There’s much more to be done, but since I was messing around with this, I thought it would make a good little post between Christmas and New Year.


Freq Lemma Freq Token
2159 557 242 τοῦ 240 τόν 145 τό 141 οἱ 140 τήν 120 112 τῷ 107 τῶν 82 τῆς 82 τά 72 τῇ 55 τούς 37 τοῖς
813 καί 813 καί
751 αὐτός 171 αὐτόν 170 αὐτῷ 169 αὐτοῦ 99 αὐτοῖς 34 αὐτῶν
507 ἐγώ 129 ἐγώ 102 μου 99 με 40 ἐμέ 39 μοι 29 ἐμοί 26 ἐμοῦ
473 λέγω 122 λέγει 112 εἶπε(ν) 40 εἶπον 36 λέγω 34 ἔλεγον 26 εἶπαν
443 εἰμί 166 ἐστί(ν) 96 ἦν 54 εἰμί 26 εἶ
406 σύ 103 ὑμῖν 68 ὑμεῖς 60 σύ 47 ὑμῶν 37 ὑμᾶς 29 σου 23 σοι
279 οὐ 279 οὐ
270 ὅτι 270 ὅτι
239 Ἰησοῦς 193 Ἰησοῦς 26 Ἰησοῦν
237 οὗτος 61 ταῦτα 52 τοῦτο 49 οὗτος
220 ἐν 220 ἐν
201 δέ 201 δέ
197 οὖν 197 οὖν
182 εἰς 182 εἰς
165 ἐκ 165 ἐκ
159 ὅς 38 36 ὅν 30
155 ἔρχομαι 38 ἔρχεται
144 ἵνα 144 ἵνα
136 πατήρ 51 πατήρ 37 πατέρα 27 πατρός
118 μή 118 μή
110 ποιέω
102 ἀλλά 102 ἀλλά
100 πρός 100 πρός
98 πιστεύω
86 ἔχω
83 θεός 46 θεοῦ
80 οἶδα
79 τίς 47 τί
78 μαθητής 36 μαθηταί
78 κόσμος 26 κόσμου 23 κόσμον
78 ἀποκρίνομαι 57 ἀπεκρίθη
75 δίδωμι
72 ὁράω
71 Ἰουδαῖος 30 Ἰουδαῖοι 25 Ἰουδαίων
70 ἐκεῖνος 39 ἐκεῖνος
67 περί 67 περί
64 πᾶς
64 γάρ 64 γάρ
59 λαλέω
59 ἐάν 59 ἐάν
59 διά 59 διά
59 ἄνθρωπος 22 ἄνθρωπος
58 ἀκούω
56 τις 31 τὶς
56 γινώσκω
55 μετά 55 μετά
54 υἱός 26 υἱός
51 οὐδείς 26 οὐδείς
51 κύριος 32 κύριε
51 γίνομαι
50 ἀμήν 50 ἀμήν
49 εἰ 49 εἰ
45 λαμβάνω
43 πάλιν 43 πάλιν
41 πολύς
41 ἐμός
40 μένω
40 λόγος
40 ἀπό 40 ἀπό
38 εἷς
37 δύναμαι
37 ἀγαπάω
36 ζωή 23 ζωήν
34 Πέτρος 23 Πέτρος
34 παρά 34 παρά
34 ζητέω
33 μαρτυρέω
33 ἐπί 33 ἐπί
32 ὑπάγω
32 πέμπω
32 ἄλλος
31 καθώς 31 καθώς
31 ἡμέρα
30 ὡς 30 ὡς
30 ὅπου 30 ὅπου
30 κἀγώ 27 κἀγώ
30 ἑαυτοῦ
29 ἐξέρχομαι
28 νῦν 28 νῦν
28 ἀποστέλλω
28 ἀποθνῄσκω
27 ἐρωτάω
27 ἔργον
26 ὥρα
26 ἄν 26 ἄν
26 αἴρω
25 Σίμων
25 ὄνομα
25 ἀλήθεια
24 πνεῦμα
24 θεωρέω
24 ἄρτος
23 φῶς
23 Ἰωάννης
23 θέλω
23 δοξάζω
22 ἐκεῖ 22 ἐκεῖ
21 ὕδωρ
21 ὅτε


A language-learning autohistoria

In today’s post I rambling self-reflect on my history as a language learner. I don’t suppose that has a broad appeal as a topic of interest, but if you already know me, you might find it of interest. I sat down to write this out as part of a kind of “patient history” to diagnose where I’m “at” in this lifelong process.

High School

This was my first exposure to learning languages. In our years 7 & 8 we did 5 languages in rotation: French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese. I was good at all of them, except German and that was mainly because (as I distinctly recall), they held a test on adjectives the day I returned from a bout of illness and I simply hadn’t been taught the content we were tested on.

I went on to pursue Japanese in years 9-12 and sitting the exams for the HSC. I think I was a fairly average student at it, but I didn’t have a real sense of language possibilities beyond the classroom.


post high school included some attempt to learn Spanish from some independent course materials. My first purchase of “Teach Yourself Gaelic”, and a bit of Latin from Wheelock’s grammar. None of these led much of anywhere.


In 2002 I took a trip to Guatemala and spent a couple of weeks in 5hrs a day, 5 days a week language instruction. Spanish seemed relatively easy, grammatically, to pick up, and I progressed rapidly. I was only in central America for about 2-3 months, but I learnt enough Spanish to manage daily interactins, and even to start reading ‘Interview with a vampire’ in Spanish. This language ability mostly dissipated once I cam back to Australia, not least because I had nobody, and no reason, to maintain it.


In 2003 I enrolled in a Graduate Diploma of Humanities at the University of New England. the GDH required 8 units at post 100-level, and I had enrolled to study Latin, which meant 2 units at 100 level and then a further 8. UNE, being based in Armidale, was a pioneer in distance ed in Australia, and this was fairly true for Latin. My instructor was the larger-than-life Charles Tesoriero (1973-2005), and instruction took place via course materials that he had prepared, with us mailing in 6 assignments a semester, and longer essays, and exams. In the middle of each semester was a residential intensive, which was optional, but encouraged. It was a real delight, though, to travel up to Armidale and spend 2 weeks with Charles and my fellow students. I proceeded through all the Latin units with Distinctions and High Distinctions. I took a single 2nd year subject in Greek, as well as a prose composition unit with Paul Roche.


In 2001 I took a course of self-directed study towards a Licentiate in Theology, including the equivalent of first-semester Greek. This basically involved me studying Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek on my own, and sitting an exam. I did quite well, though not well enough to read Greek by myself. I was good on nouns, not so good on verbs (probably because Mounce delays them fairly late in his book). In 2003, while studying Latin, I also decided to go to seminary, and started meeting with a pastor at my church to do some Greek.

All of which put me in good stead when I went to seminary in 2004. I was enough ahead of the curve for NT Greek that I breezed through first-year. I learnt vocab through electronic flash cards, brute-forcing my way down very low on the frequency list. I blitzed grammar, and aced exams.


So, between 2004-2006 I was simultaneously taking Latin, Greek, and Hebrew courses. Hebrew I did fine at, but I was never a top student. I perhaps could have been, but I was doing too much. Indeed, I took on an additional external subject in Mandarin at one stage, attempting a full seminary load plus a 75% university load. I passed intro Mandarin, but did not continue.

2006-7: a turning point

In 2006 I finished up by GDH in Latin, and I was pretty deep into my NT studies, and pretty decent at Greek. I had begun listening to the early Latinum podcasts by Evan Millner, and reading and learning from discussions among Latin teachers online like Bob Patrick, John Piazza, Ginny Lindzey. This in turn led me to Ørberg’s Lingua Latina, and a fundamental question – why after 4 years of university Latin, did I still struggle to do anything more than translate with a dictionary in hand, and students of Modern Languages read their literature and discussed it in the target language? I began to read more and more in the area of Second Language Acquisition, and lean more and more towards ‘communicative methods’ (my usual term for what people call a whole range of things).

I became a ‘convert’ to Ørberg and started reading Familia Romana first of all. I likewise explored Randall Buth’s materials, and began trying to boot-strap my way into a better language proficiency.

In 2007, while in my final year of seminary, I also started (in theory) an MA in Classics as U. Sydney. That never became an MA, because a coursework MA there was terribly disorganised at the time. I enrolled in subjects that only existed in the system, only to turn up and be told no such class existed. I ended up taking 4 subjects – a classical Greek course, a historiography course, and 2 more Latin reading subjects, and then exiting with a Graduate Certificate. Not wasted learning, but perhaps not the most efficient use of my time.


During the next four years, my language studies continued relatively informally. I was still doing some formal Latin stuff in the first year at U.Sydney, and I did work on an MTh with a fair amount of Greek involved (Matthew, John, Revelation, and Chrysostom).

Thanks to summer and winter intensive schools, I did short courses in Latin and Greek most years, and had a chance to take some Gaelic in person. This really kicked-off my long dormant interest. I enrolled in online classes with the Atlantic Gaelic Academy, which were 3-hr group classes. Largely grammar-translation driven, but with much more oral participation than I’d have previously. I ended up taking 3 years with them, and it moved me from ‘grammar aware novice’ to ‘intermediate who doesn’t speak enough’. In 2011 I then moved to some private online classes, which weren’t bad but I was less than satisfied with the person who delivered them (he didn’t use a webcam and didn’t sound that engaged with me, and it seemed that he ‘counted’ some of our classes as being done even when cancelled (even when cancelled on his end).

I also had chances to tutor/facilitate Latin, and Greek, in a few small contexts. All in all, though, it was mostly self-directed studies and ongoing learning. I got better at reading, though slowly.


Mongolian adventures! In 2012 I moved (with my wife) to Mongolia. In the first year, I studied 1 to 1 with an experienced Mongolian language teacher, 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week (incidentally, this was also the first year of my PhD enrolment…). Although she had a textbook (written by herself), which a grammatical ‘bent’ (but not ‘grammar-translation’, thank God), the instruction was guided by the teacher, not the book. Actually, there were three instructors in our small school, and we would cycle between them. The head of school spoke decent English, and would start with beginners. The second spoke very basic English, the third barely above none.

So classes became Mongolian-only after about a week, and my fairly extensive knowledge of grammar across languages and basic linguistics helped me figure out a lot of things ‘going on in the background’. I learnt a lot in those classes, and progressed quite well.

In 2013 I started teaching, initially part-time (and still doing part-time language). I taught 2 classes to begin with, one with translator, but the other entirely on my own. Thankfully, I had a few students with excellent English, because I did often need in-class translation. Our class was Greek exegesis, and this made it relatively easier than it could have been – I knew the Greek text well, I had a Mongolian text to refer to, and I acquired the sub-field of ‘Mongolian grammar terms’ fairly extensively. All my exegesis classes were solo-taught, and by the 3rd semester in I felt pretty confident with that.

Moving into teaching, part-time, and then full-time, put me into an immersed environment, and my spoken Mongolian improved strongly. It was, however, pretty tiring operating in a foreign language most of the day. Highlights for my Mongolian were eventually preaching a number of times in Mongolian, and taking a mission trip with a group of students into the countryside.

Meanwhile, I kept on with other languages in various ways. I took another AGA Gaelic class at an advanced level. I started working on a literal translation of Familia Romana into Greek. I discovered the Conversational Koine Institute and did a sequence of 5 courses with Halcomb. Christophe Rico’s Polis book first appeared, and I began to be interested in his work. Where are your Keys came to my attention, and I first trialled that approach with a group of Korean high schoolers (the idea of Korean high schoolers taking a summer trip to Mongolia to practice English remains odd to this very day), and I started work on Patristic Readers.



At the end of 2014 we returned to Australia more permanently, so that I could work on completing my PhD.  This led to a few developments in my language learning. I started teaching summer and winter intensive weeks in Koine literature. That gave me a context for teaching texts at a high level and expanding some of my own reading. I started dong Gaelic sessions online (individually, and with a chat group). I also took on a role providing ‘tutor support for tutors’ in a local seminary, helping to provide training support for those who are working with struggling Greek students. I took on a number of jobs as a private tutor, mostly online, teaching Mongolian, Latin, and classical Greek. These have all been useful to me as a teacher, but also in reflecting on pedagogy. One of the things I’ve struggled with is how to do ‘communicative’ methods via webcam. I’ve dabbled in teaching some basic Greek via WAYK, and some Gaelic too.


So here I am at the end of 2017. I’m finally (in my life) looking at the chance to teach an intro Greek class, and get some classroom experience putting communicative approaches into practice. I’m still looking to develop my online-tutoring practices. I want to improve my own reading, and active/communicative abilities in Greek, Latin, and Gaelic (with some interest in improving Mongolian, French, German as well).


The Pilot and the Mechanic

(These are some notes I am drawing up for an Intro Greek class; the proximate source the analogy is Mike Aubrey over at It’s a very versatile analogy, when you put it to use; like all analogies, it has points of dis-analogy though.

Welcome to flight school! Before we get going in learning Greek, I want to talk about two type of learning, and the type of approach we’ll be taking in this course.

Languages are incredibly interesting things, and they can also do incredibly useful things. In this way, a language is a bit like a plane. Planes can fly, which is amazing, but it’s also what they were designed to do.

When it comes to learning a language, what do we mean? Researchers in the area of Second Language Acquisition (that is, learning any language that you did not learn by growing up with it from childhood) distinguish between (a) learning a language, and (b) learning about a language.

The first is actually acquiring the ability to use a language – to speak/hear/read/write the language. Many of you may know several language like this. Most of us learnt our first language like this. This is language acquisition.

The second is learning about how a language works. That is, things like grammar (the rules governing a language), or more broadly linguistics (the scientific analysis of language). This is language learning.

These two things are not the same. They are related, they can influence each other, but they don’t lead to each other directly. Language acquisition is like going to flight school, and language learning or Grammar, is like going to mechanical school.

A pilot knows how to fly a plane. They can take it up in the air and control it. They may not even really understand how their plane works on the inside, but they know how to fly it. So too with languages – people speak, read, understand, all the time, often without knowing how their language ‘works’, indeed they can even have lots of wrong ideas about how their language works, and still use it perfectly well.

A mechanic knows how the plane works. They understand the pieces, how they fix together, how it all functions. That’s a lot like being a linguist – a trained linguist understands how languages work, and often in detail how a particular language or group of languages works. They don’t need to speak those languages (and very often don’t!). But they might! A mechanic might also know how to fly a plane, but that’s not what it takes to be a mechanic. A pilot might learn about the mechanics of their plane, which is really helpful, but not the same as flying.

Pilots, Mechanics, and You.

A lot of ancient languages, including Koine Greek, have traditionally been taught using the ‘mechanic’ approach, for various reasons. This tends to produce people who are successful at analysing Greek passages. It is a very slow way of producing people who can read and understand Greek texts.

I take it that our goal here is primarily two-fold:

  • to learn to read Greek well enough to read the New Testament with some degree of fluency and ease (and other Koine literature).
  • to learn to analyse Greek in order to talk about the grammar of texts, and to interact with scholarly work on the New Testament (and other Koine literature).

The first is a flying goal, the second is a mechanical goal. You might lean more towards one or the other, you might find one or the other easier. You might find one or the other intimidating. Those are perfectly normal and fine reactions to have.

In this course, then, I’m trying to both teach you to fly, and teach you the mechanics of how planes work. That is, I’m going to be trying to teach you to understand Koine Greek as a proper, living language that you can not only read, but speak/hear/write a little bit (though our focus in the end will be reading). I’ll also be teaching you the nuts and bolts of how Greek works.

I expect that most of you want to be better pilots, and if you’ve ever studied an ancient language, I also expect that you think studying mechanics is the way to get there. That’s the biggest myth I want to dispel today – studying the blueprints of a plane does very little to help you fly it. So, too, the rate of return on studying grammar to understanding a language fluently is marginal. Not zero, but definitely not high.