July Courses at the Patrologist

We’re about 4 weeks away from the start of a new term here, and I’d like to highlight a few of the offerings I’m running this coming term. You can view all current offerings on the Online Courses page.

Firstly, I am running my usual slate of introductory Greek and Latin courses. In particular, I’m starting a new cohort group of Latin and Greek beginners from 101, so this is a good chance to start one of those language from the very beginning with me. Students are also welcome to jump into the other 4-5 Greek/Latin courses running.

I’m offering a fairly unique course looking at the Book of Common Prayer in Koine Greek this term. This class will be run in a my simple q&a style, and we’ll be spending some time looking at this remarkable document, and seeing how protestant worship was (rarely) and could be done in Koine. Our focus will be the services of Morning Prayer and the Lord’s Supper.

I’ll once again be offering an RPG in Latin, this time Vampire in the court of Justinian. Vampires who survive our Carthage game are welcome to advance their timeline. Others welcome to join space-permitting, or if there’s enough demand I will run a second group.

In advanced Latin, I’ll be running a read and discuss group on Augustine, reading one homily which focuses in on his trinitarian theology.

Lastly I’ll be running an intermediate to advanced class reading some of Lucian’s Dialogues.

On the desire to speak about matters grammatical

Part of an ongoing series on objections to communicative methods

In my last post on these three inter-connected questions (those who don’t want to speak), I discussed the issue of those who object to the ‘content’ of communicative approaches – e.g. the desire not to speak about daily trivia. In this I turn to a similar but again distinct question – what is the ‘nature’ or ‘object’ of language instruction more broadly. Is the point of language instruction in historical languages to teach “grammar, and the analysis of language and texts along grammatical lines”? Or is it something else?

I want to say firmly that it’s something else – that the purpose of teaching a historical language is that students acquire that language as a language, with at least the concomitant proficiency in reading texts in that language, but preferably also some competency in listening, speaking, and writing.

If that is true, then we can ask a separate question about ‘grammar’ – or really two questions. Again, (1) what ‘is’ grammar, as it is taught, and (2) what place could, should, or must grammar have in our classes.

These are actually quite large questions. And the answers I give here may not be shared by all, but I’m articulating what I call “my considered and informed opinion”.

Grammar, as it’s typically taught and understood in classical languages, is a systematic description (descriptive!) of the language as it was used by its speakers and authors, as evidenced in a particular corpus of texts. It is language talking about language. And for that reason it’s incredibly useful, because one of the things that we might like to talk about is how language means. Having a vocabulary, and an understanding, of what nouns and verbs are, what endings are and do, how adverbs function, how clauses relate, etc., allows us to have conversations about how a language is working.

That’s why grammar is metalanguage – it involved a technical (domain-specific!) set of vocabulary useful to have if you want to talk about language itself. And most of our grammar is embedded in the history of Latin literature itself, since grammar as a field emerged among Latin and Greek authors.

But it’s very important to note that the analysis and study of language moved on from Latin grammar and philology to become Linguistics. We now call the systemic and scientific study of language(s) “Linguistics”, and the grammar traditions still incumbent in classics departments are often woefully ignorant of modern linguistics, carrying on with fossilised understandings of how languages work (often highly prescriptive), neglectful of how applying linguistics to Latin and Greek would yield, and already has yielded not only new insights, but in some cases overturn traditional categories and ways of talking. Traditional grammar is often quite bad grammar.

So, grammar is language for talking about language, and that’s quite a useful thing to have, especially since we are very interested in language! But what place should grammar have?

The Grammar-Translation method fundamentally operates on the maxim that if you teach people to understand grammar (and practice applying it in translation exercise), then they will learn the language. Several centuries of experience, and the work of modern SLA theory, strongly suggests that grammar is not the mechanism by which acquisition occurs. So we are left asking, “if grammar is not the mechanism by which acquisition takes place, what role could it have?”

I do think grammar can play a positive role in the language learning space, but before I get on to that let me qualify by saying, it is entirely possible to teach for acquisition without utilising or having a place for explicit grammar at all. Some teachers appear to have adopted that position, and it may be that you have learners who do not want to learn grammar. They don’t have to.

But you may also have learners who really do want to learn grammar in one form or another. So here’s a range of things that I think grammar can do, and you might want it to do.

  • Grammar can be a means of making things comprehensible.

Just like quickly glossing things in English can short-cut having a 20minute circumlocution to get across your meaning staying in language, having the tool of metalanguage can quickly and directly make something understood. This only works if you teach some grammar along the way, but it works. I’d rather use grammar to make something comprehensible in a sentence, than not.

  • Grammar allows you to talk about language use

Precisely because grammar is metalanguage, if you want to talk about language as a topic, if you want to talk about how language means, then this is a domain that learners need to acquire. I wrote in yesterday’s post about how I became quite domain-competent in talking about grammar in Mongolian – it’s because I (and my students) wanted to discuss language.

  • You can do grammar in the target language.

There’s no reason you can’t do grammar talk in the target language. Indeed, since students are likely learning a lot of this metalanguage vocabulary for the first time, doing it in the target language might be even more beneficial. So, in my Latin classes, we do talk about nomen, verbum temporale, modus coniunctivus, et cetera. While my Greek classes get subjected to questions like ἐπὶ τίνος πτώσεως ἐστιν αὕτη ἡ λέξις and the like. You can do communication about grammar in the language, thus creating more opportunities for comprehensible input.

  • You can equip students to access technical resources and secondary literature.

I was asked in a separate question about how I equip students to access various resources. If someone goes on to ‘higher’ study (caveats must apply), and to read technical commentaries, grammars, etc., etc., they will need to come to a mastery of traditional terminology. This is one reason I tend to work on grammar in both the target language and in English – if you’ve learnt both παρατατικὸς χρόνος and imperfect tense-form, you aren’t going to have a problem either discussing it in Greek, or reading a commentary talk about why something is imperfect.

  • You can sideline/background grammar.

One of the things I have tended to do now is to leave it to students to read information on grammar in English, or watch videos that I have produced (examples here), outside our main instructional time. Especially if they feel the need to get that kind of handle on the language (which many do), they can do that, it’s all there, but then we are freer in our limited instructional time to focus on operating in the language.

You don’t have to abandon grammar to do communicative methods, but you do need to let go of doing grammar as a primary mechanism for learners to acquire the language. If you want to teach grammar as the content and goal of language instruction, without acquisition, you are better off designing a course that is “Linguistics of Historical Latin” and adopting full-scale a linguistic approach to the language which presumes that none of your learners have, or will acquire, any facility in the language. That is totally fine. Indeed, I wish there were more places that in fact did that. There is a woeful absence of teaching Linguistics applied to historical languages.

But grammar? Yes, teach some grammar. Just teach it appropriately, and for its fit purpose, and without thinking it leads to acquisition directly, but as a means of talking about language for those who want to do so.

On the desire not to speak (about particular things)

This is a follow-on from ‘on the desire not to speak’, and a continuation of the longer ‘objections’ series. See here for parts one, two, three, and four. And today I want to talk about those whose objection to communicative methods is, paraphrasing Jeremy J. Swist, I don’t want to talk about daily trivia, I want to discuss literature. I’ve got four points on this.

You can talk about anything via a communicate approach. That is, the communicative method does not determine the content of your communication. There’s no reason that a communicative class has to spend its time in practicing how to order lattes in Latin, or asking the way to the bathroom in Ancient Greek. That’s a feature of a subset of modern language instructional material designed to give basic conversational competency to beginners, especially those who might travel abroad, and because those are situations those learners might face and want to have the language for. You are never going to be faced with those situations in Latin or Ancient Greek (unless you deliberately sign yourself up for an immersion event).

A class should talk about things its students want to learn. The method and practice of communicative teaching is about working in the language to make sure learners receive comprehensible messages, which should be interesting to the learners, because interest makes us pay attention and engage. So if you have a class full of people interested in reading ancient texts, the content of the communicative classes should orient itself to those texts. If you have a class full of people interested in discussing medieval philosophy, or South American botany, or contemporary geo-politics in South-East Asia, your classes should work to make that possible.

Language competency is domain specific. It is important to realise that while language structures (e.g. syntax) tend to be broad, competency, especially in vocabulary, is domain specific. To give an example, when I learnt Mongolian I had a real need (teaching) and interest is learning to speak about grammar and linguistics in Mongolian. So I became very familiar with that domain, and could talk about grammar in Mongolian. On the other hand, I didn’t do that much shopping for vegetables, and my competency to talk about various foods was very underdeveloped. The same is true in Latin and Ancient Greek – what you make the content of communication will also be the primary areas you develop vocabulary competency in.

A teacher should be broadly competent. I would say, then, that a teacher ought to be working on a broader competency than just talking about one field. When we talk about higher ‘levels’ of language proficiency, it does involve an ability to talk about a variety of topics. And as a teacher you ought to be shaping your communication to the learners you have, not the learners you think you should have. That requires breadth in order to be flexible. So, for teachers, I don’t think learning how to order lattes is as optional as it definitely is for students. I call this the latte test, by the way. Sure, there is no real reason to order a latte in Latin, but you should probably be able to.

On the desire not to speak

Part of my ongoing response to answers to Critiques and Comments to Communicative Approaches to Ancient Languages. See here for parts one, two, three.

What about students who have selected Latin or Greek because they want to take a foreign language that doesn’t require them to speak, or because they don’t want to talk about going to the shops on the bus, or because they want to analyse language in a linguistics-type manner.

I think these objections often come bundled, but really they need to un-bundled into three separate issues with three related but distinct responses.

  1. The desire not to speak
  2. The content of our classes
  3. The nature of our subject

In the rest of this post, I’m primarily going to talk about the first point here. I’ll deal with two and three in the next two posts.

I recognise that, especially in school and college contexts where “foreign” language credits are required, Latin (in particular) can be an attractive option for students who don’t want to be forced to speak.

And, I recognise too that, especially for children and youth, there’s generally an added aversion to speaking. Being forced to speak, being put on the spot to produce L2 content in front of other people, in environments that are performative, evaluative, and often competitive, is a set of affective features that multiply stressors.

Overall I think my response as an advocate of communicative practices, albeit one who does not typically deal with a lot of students uninterested in speaking, is threefold.

Firstly, it’s a structural problem at a larger level that “foreign” language credits are required, and so that students are forced to take a language. Now, I do think there are good reasons to have that problem – i.e. I don’t take issue with the idea that you might have a school/college system that has decided this is a feature of their programs. That said, it certainly creates a problem – students need to take a language, and they don’t want to take (a) certain languages, (b) any language. This is a problem that generally I have avoided by not having this kind of teaching job!

But recognising this is as a problem doesn’t identify a structural solution, nor am I even suggesting there is one. All it means is that students end up taking classes they don’t want to. And, where Latin (or Greek, but usually it’s Latin) is an option, you then particularly get students who take Latin because “it’s a dead language, and so they won’t make me speak it”.

If they rock up to day 1 of Latin, and it’s all spoken, then you have a different problem, but it is a marketing one. That can at least be solved by making it clear that you teach Latin communicatively (easier said than done). But it doesn’t actually get to the problem that I think is worth talking about:

How can communicative language teaching appropriately cater for learners who are not interested in speaking?

To which I want to lay down four foundations:

 

  • Comprehensible Input is necessary and (probably) sufficient for acquisition;
  • Output is neither necessary nor sufficient.
  • Compelling output doesn’t aid acquisition, and probably hinders it.
  • It’s okay to (partially) privilege reading (and writing).

 

1. CI drives acquisition. Whatever role you are prepared to grant to explicit instruction of grammar, from some to none, I’m firmly in the position at the primary and overwhelming driver of learners acquiring a mental representation of a language is their exposure to comprehensible messages in the target language (that are interesting and are produced in communicative contexts).

This comes with two corollaries. If INPUT drives acquisition, you don’t need learners to output to drive acquisition. There’s no acquisition based need to force or compel output. Students don’t need to write, let alone talk, to acquire Latin. They do need to read and listen though. They need to read and listen a lot.

This, by the way, is why I don’t mind doing the bulk of talking in my own classes.

Secondly, you can explicitly cater for students with apprehension about speaking by making this explicit and up-front. “In this language class I expect that you will acquire the language by attending to what I write and say and attempting to understand it.” Now, being lost in a sea of immersive incomprehensible language also raises people’s affective filters, so you need to work hard to make sure that it’s comprehensible, but setting the basis as “your job is to pay attention” is a much better foundation.

2. Output takes on a very different role then. Now, I have just said that OUTPUT doesn’t really lead to acquisition, but it can play three other important roles: (i) learners do need to output if they are going to develop output competencies. So, if students want to speak, they need to speak to improve speaking. But that is a distinct, but not discrete, output skill. And it’s still largely driven by the input. (ii) output can lead to input for other learners, (iii) output can also elicit input as other participants output (e.g. conversation!).

If you are specifically interested in catering to people from who output is going to cause stress, then I recommend working on developing output opportunities that can scale for confidence. At the high end is monologue speech with audience observation. Then working down through dialogue options, single Q&A with sentence answers, one word answers, written answers, through to comprehension-only multiple choice responses where the only thing you are checking is that a student comprehends a written text, through written text comprehension of multiple-choice answers. There are probably other ways too, but if you really want to make it possible for learners to acquire without production, it’s possible.

3. As soon as you force learners to output, you are putting them on the spot, and quite frankly most people don’t like that. Especially if it’s (a) public, (b) instantaneous, (c) spoken, (d) people are judging your correctness. So, really, you don’t want to do this to anyone who’s not wanting to do this. It’s why I don’t mind if students tell me before class (or even during class) that they’re just going to listen and observe.

That said, a teacher who is skilled and sensitive should be doing all they can to reduce the affective filter here – they should be encouraging production at a level that allows learners to respond with confidence, celebrating communicative success, facilitating negotiation of meaning when communication doesn’t quite work, and allowing minimal to no space for negative feedback. Explicit error correction doesn’t appear, according to the SLA research I’ve read, to have any concrete and long-term benefits on acquisition or on outputting correct forms. Even recasting does not appear to have strong positive effects.

4. As I’ve said elsewhere now, since most students of Latin and Ancient Greek are primarily interested in reading, that’s our main goal for most classes, even communicative ones. Which means you can still privilege reading in your class, provided reading is being driven by a communicative understanding – we read to understand messages in the target language, we don’t acquire language by analysis of grammar. That means actually a lot more reading, of (usually) a lot easier material, to make sure it’s comprehensible, and to increase the volume of comprehensible input.

It also means, especially for learners who have zero desire to speak, that you could shift your output activities to writing ones. Writing allows two feature that speaking does not – editing and time. You have time to ‘get it right’, and you can edit what you write. So, students who are feeling a strong negative response to speaking for those reasons can be further alleviated.

All this to say, I still think that a communicative language classroom for historical languages is the best way to go, and I would conclude (i) communication done well meliorates many of the factors of “spoken language” that learners find stressful, (ii) it’s possible to design and run communicative learning procedures that minimise, or eliminate, output, if that’s really a pedagogical necessity; (iii) my end goal for a student who came into a Latin class because they wanted to take a language class they didn’t have to speak in, would be to see them internalise Latin well enough to read it without translating, and be able to speak it if they wanted to.

Upper Level classes in communicative approaches

This is third in a series of answers to Critiques and Comments to Communicative Approaches to Ancient Languages. See here for parts one and two.

@consistam:

not a critique, but I’m curious about how proponents of communicative approaches handle the transition to upper level classes, where literary and historical analysis, secondary readings, etc., begin taking up more class time. Most of the conversations center around intro classes.

 

I’m going to split this up into three sections: what I’ve heard from others, what I do, what I can imagine.

It is true that a lot of the conversations about communicative approaches focus or centre on intro classes – that range of classes designed to bring learners to a point where they can read and understand texts for themselves. Let’s just pause and recognise that the notion of upper level classes (and I have college classics in view here) strongly revolves around the notion of “intro classes teach them grammar, vocab, and enough translation skills, beyond that they can read authentic texts with minimal help” which I consider patently false. Nonetheless, we do want learners to reach the point where they are reading texts and thinking about the content of those texts (among other things), not simply wrestling their way to an understanding of the words and sentences at a basic comprehension level.

So, as I understand it there are some camps of communicative proponents, in high schools, who have basically said, “given the time we have and the rate of acquisition, we cannot meaningfully get students to acquire enough Latin/Greek to read high register literary texts within our 2-6 years. So we aren’t aiming to.” I have reservations about that position, but I don’t think this is the post to go into them.

Among non-institutions, e.g. the various conventus, conventicula, summer schools, etc., at the intermediate and advanced levels you see courses offered that are basically, “we’ll read and discuss this in the target language”. But these tend all to be short-courses, not college-type upper-level classes. So let’s take a step sideways and think about what a ‘traditional’ college-type upper-level course looks like…

I don’t want to profile a particular course and professor, but using a mostly real example, a course in Greek Drama – we’ll read 3 plays in the original, then some others in translation, and you’ll read a range of secondary literature. Lectures will discuss historical contextualisation, literary features, etc. Students will read a great deal outside class both in and out of Greek, and write various types of papers.

At this point I have two thoughts: Firstly, if you’ve really, comprehensively embraced a communicative approach in your learning, as a student, and are at the point where you can read Greek Drama reasonably well, you should be able to handle a course like this on the Greek side, without much difficulty. A student with communicative competency and reading proficiency can handle being put in a non-communicative program.

My second thought, I’m going to delay until further down. Let’s talk about what I do at SeumasU instead. I don’t have that many ‘upper’ classes, partly due to student numbers. I have tried to offer 200 and 300 level courses – at the 200 level I envisage students who have covered most of the introductory language material, and have had some, though sometimes minimal, exposure to communicative approaches. We read simpler texts, and we work through them at a simpler level – I use the same q&a style that I mostly use in my intro classes, and we’re focused on understanding the texts at a comprehension level. But we’re still doing it mostly in the target language. So this is part of training students to read and comprehend *and discuss* while staying in language.

I’ve started to offer 300 level courses, where my expectation is that students (a) will prepare outside class, (b) can read the text with a degree of fluency, especially with pre-preparation, (c) we’ll read and discuss the text at a meaning and content level, not simply a comprehension level, though we’ll pause to unravel anything that’s not so easily understandable. That’s what I’ve done with Boethius last term, and with Ysengrimus this term. It’s still a long way short of the above college type course, but I’m also not teaching 2-3 hours of a course each week and expecting students to do 8-10 hours on their own over 14 weeks. Nor do I pull that kind of salary.

But could you teach an upper-level college course in the target language? Yes. Here let me draw on a parallel set of experiences. I’ve just finished taking a 200 level college course in Scottish Gaelic poetry from 1900 onwards, taught entirely in Scottish Gaelic. So here’s a college level course with target language texts, taught in the target language. Students need to be at a level where they can comprehend the lectures in the language, but naturally for those who are not natives, their output abilities are likely to lag behind. Much of the secondary literature, an overwhelming majority, is written in English. So that’s unavoidable, as it is in classics (not just English too!), but that reading can be done outside class hours, and it can be discussed in the target language. Assessments, both oral presentations, exams, and essay, all done in the target language.

I raise this example because it’s a minority language, very many of the students are non-native speakers, and even those that are native speakers may not have developed advanced literacy and academic skills yet in the language. And yet it’s possible.

Which circles me around to my delayed thought from above – one can envision an upper level course taught communicatively, if it were developed and supported appropriately. Both students and teachers would need to develop, gradually, the linguistic means and tools to discuss the range of critical, literary, and historical topics that you want to discuss in upper level courses. But of course, that is possible! Students, too, particularly need to be helped, very gradually, to write and express themselves in more complex ways and more academic ways than are often encountered in intro classes. Nobody wants to get to 200 level Latin and be asked to write a 2000 word Latin essay unless they’ve been given the chance to write 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, etc etc, word pieces along the way.

As far as I know, Polis Institute is one of the few places that really teaches some upper level courses in the target language. I don’t have any experience of them, but I know a few of their alumni are occasional readers, and I’d love for them to chime in.

Active Latin and Living Latin

This is second in a series of answers to Critiques and Comments to Communicative Approaches to Ancient Languages. The first post has had some very thoughtful and worthwhile responses so do go and read them. I have quite a few posts to come, so today I thought I’d tackle one that heads in a different direction somewhat:

Robert Low asked,

do you think there’s a useful distinction between active Latin (using spoken and written Latin in the learning process) and living Latin (using it as a modern conversational language)?

It’s an interesting question, and I think it opens up an illuminating consideration. I think I, and many, would quibble at exactly those labels of “active” and “living” Latin to describe those two things, but we can all see what Robert is asking with them, and let’s run with them for the sake of argument. First though, let’s take a step back and consider a few prior questions:

Before all, as I say often, we need to consider what sort of thing we mean by ‘knowing a language’, and what purpose we are learning/instructing for.

My starting point here, and I think it’s fair to say that it’s shared by many, is that our purpose is (usually) “to read historical texts”. That’s probably why most students sign up for Greek or Latin studies, no? Their particular interests may vary – Homer, Classical Greek Authors, Biblical Texts, Byzantine Medical Treatises, Medieval Legal Latin  – but the primary interest and motivation is to gain access to a body of literature and to be able to read that for themselves.

Now, that’s not the only purpose one can learn historical languages for, and perhaps we’ll circle back to that later. But let’s take my second question, what sort of ‘knowing a language’ do we mean? I mean “acquiring a language as a mental representation of a linguistic system in a way analogous to other languages that people acquire and speak”. I don’t mean, “having an externalised content-type knowledge of a language’s grammar”.

This matters so much. Because knowing the grammar of a language does not typically convey an ability to read in a language. But acquiring a language + having the specific skill of reading (and literacy + reading is much more readily learnt when picking up an L2 than L1) does carry that ability with it.

To circle back around then, I’d happily affirm without much doubt that most of those who advocate for communicative methods for historical languages do so because they (rightly) believe that doing so is a more effective way to get students to a point of acquiring enough language to read historical texts without translation. We can call that “Active Latin in the Learning Process”.

What about “Living Latin”? There is a contingent of people, smaller no doubt, who have an interest in using Latin for regular communicative purposes. Of course, there is variation within that group! Some enjoy writing in it, some enjoy contemporary fiction or poetry. Others enjoy speaking in it as a medium of everyday communication. (And there is an even smaller group of people worldwide interesting in using Ancient Greek in this way).

I would conjecture (and feel free for readers to comment on this!) that most of us in this category hold two beliefs about this: (1) that it’s an enjoyable hobby, (2) that it is also a very useful means of ongoing improvement in acquiring a broader and deeper grasp of the language.

That is, it’s not that you ever really finish the learning process, and can thus dispense with active Latin – learning Latin is an endless process, if you keep going, and practising living Latin in your life with other speakers is a highly effective way of advancing in Latin ability. So apart from the enjoyable hobby side of it, it remains a part of pedagogical acuity. Once you’ve reached a point where you can hold a conversation in Latin with without great difficulty, regularly conversing in Latin is one of the most useful things you can do to continue to develop your facility in the language (the other being extensive comprehensible reading).

Granted, every now and again you meet an idealist, usually a naïve novice I dare say, who wants to see Latin revitalised as a language of shared-location community usage + intergenerational transmission. That’s not a position or dream I hold or share, and I think that’s outside most people’s prospect for historical language pedagogy.

I do want to circle back to the idea that there are other purposes for learning Latin beyond reading historical texts. Latin has had a long, protracted afterlife. We have far more Latin from post-antiquity than antiquity. Most of those authors acquired Latin as a second, learned (in both senses) language. There’s no intrinsic reason that has to have ceased – Latin invites us to be fellow authors even today. For myself, I delight that some people want to speak Latin, and author new Latin texts, even into this new millennium. That, certainly, is a goal of “Living Latin” in the communicative sense, and long may it prosper.

Ancient Greek Listening Project

Inspired in large part by the Latin Listening Project launched by Justin Slocum Bailey, I think it’s high about time we had an Ancient Greek one. So I’m starting one. There’s been more and more listenable material in Ancient Greek lately, what I’d like to see is more widespread, short clips by various speakers addressing common topics or questions. I hope to lead the way with a list of topics and questions, and providing regular short clips of myself speaking. If it takes off, I’ll be happy to curate a list of videos here (on a separate page perhaps).

λέγωμεν δή!

 

 

Communicative Approaches aren’t fast enough?

This is the first in a series of answers to Critiques and Comments to Communicative Approaches to Ancient Languages (which is a mouthful and I won’t repeat it like that. Essentially, I asked people on twitter for some of their best critiques of Communicative-Approaches, and received a number of critiques, but actually more comments and questions. I intend over the coming weeks to provide my own reflective answer on each of them. There’s no particular ordering to my answers, by the way.

@Ludovic47101295 writes:

The one I see the most (merely as a language student fascinated by pedagogy) is that CI isn’t fast enough at getting students to the level needed to pass some external test.  For example preparing for the AP Latin test in the US.
I want to start my answer here just be recognising that many teachers of historical languages (by which I mean Latin, Ancient Greek, and similar ‘classical’ or ‘ancient’ languages) work within systems in which they have little choice about this – they are teaching students who will face those exams, and they necessarily must accomodate the way they teach to those exams. For them, this is a given.
But if we take a step back, we ought to be asking some prior questions: what are we testing? and what are we testing that for? Because if we look at AP Latin, or the GCSE, or other similar end-of-high-school exams, the content of those exams is very revealing. You could boil down the exams to the following types of questions and tasks:
1. Analysing morphology of words
2. Commenting on syntax structures in sentences
3. Translating texts
4. Writing longer comment answers on the contents of ancient texts.
Or, to whit, Grammar, Translation, and Commentary. So, which came first, the testing of Grammar-Translation or the teaching of Grammar-Translation? Students who are going to get tested on G-T need to be prepared for that, but the really prior question should be – what ought to be the outcome of language instruction?
If the answer to that question isn’t “grammar + translation”, then we’re teaching and testing the wrong thing.
And here’s what I would say – that shouldn’t be the primary aimed-at outcome of language instruction. Now, that’s partly a philosophical position about language instruction, but if you think that acquiring a language is meant to be the point, so that students come out of a program with an ability to read, e.g. Latin, as Latin, and understand Latin texts in Latin, without needing to translate, then both the teaching and testing superstructures that exist are misguided.
There’s a fundamental distinction that CI-based approaches adopt, following Krashen, but widely held in a lot of SLA – that there’s a difference between knowledge of a language (an external, content-type knowledge of a language), and acquisition of a language (an internalised, more-skill-like competency in a language). Those two things may be related, or not; they may impact each other, or not, but they are two separate things. Teaching for acquisition but testing for knowledge is bad pedagogy. Teaching and testing for knowledge but expecting acquisition is likewise bad pedagogy.
With all that said, I think the ‘speed’ objection is possibly true in the short term, but false in the long term. That is, if you have a bit of a lead time, and enough instructional time, a communicative approach should produce someone with a better ability in the language, and then you can teach some grammar/knowledge about the language they have already acquired, and the student will end up more than capable of handling the current crop of traditional exams. So I do think that teachers who have students who will face the traditional grammar/translate/comment exams can get away with communicative teaching, if they have a long enough program and are prepared to adapt some of their teaching towards the inevitable gravitational pull of the test. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We made it that way.

Interviews with Latin content creators (6): Alexius Cosanus

A brief note this week, introducing you to the superb work of Alexius Cosanus:

Magister latīnitātis sum in scholā classicā Vestōniāna, quae in Tennēsiā locāta est. Italus sum ex illā terrā tūscolatīnā, quae Maremma vocātur. Operam dēdī praesertim antrōpologiae et linguisticae, quārē minus mē classicistam quam linguistam dīxerim. In pāgellā meā poeticā (https://www.facebook.com/AlexiusCosanus) pauca, ex numerō multōrum carminum, quae scrībō, nōnnumquam pūblicō. Nūper coepī cūrāre canālem in tūtubulō, in quō latīnē loquēns varia et nōnnumquam vāna trāctō magnā, tamen, cum dēlēctātiōne. (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUwo90gVjngKWvhVU2kexXA).

Interviews with Greek content creators (5): Claire Mieher

I’m so pleased to present this next in my series of interviews with Latin/Ancient Greek content creators, with Claire Mieher:

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

I grew up in Western Massachusetts and lived exclusively in the Northeast until moving West for graduate school. I’d say my household was a pretty creative and nerdy environment; both my parents have creative hobbies, and they encouraged curiosity from a young age. I wouldn’t say I was an avid reader as a young kid, though. Until my early teens, I wanted to be an artist or musician.

I was always interested in languages, which became clearer when I started taking Spanish in middle school, and a year later, when I started taking Latin. Since then, I have added a number of languages (most recently Sanskrit), but I am most comfortable with my proficiency in Latin and Greek. I was initially trained in both languages using grammar translation methods. I will admit that I actually enjoyed what I saw as the “puzzle” aspect of learning them, until I started reading authentic texts and realized I wasn’t really reading at all; I was parsing. About 5 years ago, I was introduced to active Latin methods, which have completely changed the way I approach ancient language teaching and learning.

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

Before I started learning Latin (and Greek), and even many years into my ancient language education, I saw them as challenging, dead, impossible to speak, and like I said above, puzzles to be solved. While I enjoyed the challenge, there have been more than a few moments in my language-learning journey where I’ve nearly given up and concluded that the languages were just too hard for me, or that I would never reach the level of proficiency I hoped. As I learn more, I continue to have moments like this where I realize how much I still don’t know, but they have become more motivating than discouraging, because I have a much better sense of how to get from where I’m at to where I want to be.

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

I’d say my language-learning journey with both languages can be split into three parts: the initial “I’m learning a new language, this is new and awesome!” phase; the intermediary “I have no idea what I’m doing” phase, and where I’m at now.

I started out with Ecce Romani (which I haven’t touched since high school) and Athenaze (which I re-read frequently). The first authentic texts I read in Latin were Caesar, Cicero, and Virgil; in Greek they were Plato and lyric poetry. Those middle years are a bit of a blur, since I don’t think I retained much of what I was reading.

But to be honest, I didn’t start taking my own language learning seriously until a couple years ago, when I started grad school. For a long time I had tangentially participated in spoken Latin circles, but I hadn’t applied the pedagogical strategies I was experiencing passively to my own active learning. In the past year, I have been listening to as much Latin and Greek as possible, I’ve joined a couple Latin reading/speaking groups, I’ve taught Greek to high schoolers, I’ve taken a few classes in spoken Greek (with our friend Andrew Morehouse) and I’ve started to produce much more output in Latin and Greek, thanks in large part to your Greek composition course. All of this, along with re-reading and re-listening to podcasts, has helped immensely.

I struggle sometimes to balance the grad school expectation of preparing intensive-reading translations for class with my desire to improve my output and extensive-reading skills. I feel like I’m constantly engaged in two separate educational pursuits, and I don’t always have time for both. But I’ve noticed significant improvement in my language skills, which has motivated me to continue my work outside of school, and to apply some of those strategies to my schoolwork.

For me, the turning point in my language-learning journey was realizing that I can use creativity to encourage myself and others to keep studying these languages. I’ve found that the combination of creative work and language learning recreates the sense of novelty I felt when I first started learning these languages, which is exciting, energizing, and indispensable to language learning.

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

So far, I’ve produced some Greek and Latin poetry, Greek prose, and a couple videos. I’m still learning how to compose metrical verse in Latin, so I’m hoping to continue with that for a bit and attempt some Greek verse composition soon. Much of my Latin poetry is inspired by 17th century naturalist and painter Maria Sibylla Merian and her book Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, which I just finished reading with a wonderful group of women. So, up until now, I’ve composed mostly nature poetry in a variety of meters about caterpillars and frogs.

In terms of prose, I am working on a longer Greek prose project which tells the story of Penelope and Odysseus’ initial encounters, betrothal, and marriage. I use Attic Greek with some Homeric vocabulary interspersed. I am hoping to publish it eventually in novella form.

I’m also hoping to produce more videos—probably more songs and other chronicles about my frogs. I particularly enjoy the creative process of working on song translations, and I welcome any suggestions!

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

I’ve collected most of my work on my website. I also post my videos and shorter poems on twitter as I create them. You can find my videos on my YouTube channel as well.

 

 

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.