So, I got convinced to start an email newsletter, old school styling. It will have different content to my regular blogging, and it will actually be less frequent. It’s more a behind-the-scenes, what’s that Seumas working on, kind of thing. Sign up below.
In today’s post, following on from the last, I’m going to walk through some initial semantic categories which Kemmer presents as mostly or typically used for middle-type situations. I had hoped to get through more categories, but it seems that will need a couple more posts.
I’ll provide some Greek and Latin examples, drawn from Kemmer, and from R.J. Allen’s work on Greek.
Kemmer starts with the Direct Reflexive. This is an event where one participant does the action to themselves.
e.g. Mike stabbed himself.
In English, we need to mark this with a reflexive form – Mike stabs implies that he stabs someone else (as a habit, probably).
In Greek (and Latin), actions that are normally performed on someone else (er, ‘stabbing’) take a reflexive marker. Allen gives this example:
ῥίπτει αὑτὸν εἰς τὴν θάλατταν (Dem 32.6) He throws himself into the sea.
But there are actions that are normally carried out on oneself that appear in the middle. These are “body action middles” including several sub-categories.
The first category are ‘grooming’ actions. Actions like dressing, bathing, shaving, decorating, etc.. Here we see typical middle-marking.
ornor to adorn (oneself)
perluor to bathe
κοσμοῦμαι to adorn
λοῦμαι to bathe
In all these, the participant is both acting upon themselves, but acting upon themselves using themselves. The sense in which you can distinguish ‘agent’ and ‘patient’ is low. For this reason, too, these verbs often lack an active. When you do find an active voice form, its usage is often contrastive – of course I might usually bathe myself, but I can bathe someone else. λοῦω v λοῦμαι shows that kind of contrast.
A second category involves various types of bodily movement. Between Kemmer and Allen you can see three sub-categories of this: change in body posture, non-translational motion, and translational motion.
- Changes in body posture involve actions like sitting up, standing, reclining. Again, here the agent is acting upon themselves, but in such a close unity that the difference between ‘agent’ and ‘patient’ is minimal, the event is unitary.
- Non-translational motion involves movement of the body but not along any ‘path’. Things like turning, twisting, bending, bowing, nodding, etc..
- Translational motion involves moving the body through space along a path.
κλίνομαι lie down (CiBP)
στρέφομαι turn around (nTrans-motion)
πορεύομαι to go (translational-motion)
Where there is an active form it often has a causative meaning:
ἵσταμαι to stand up/still > ἵστημι to cause to stand
στρέφομαι > στρέφω to turn (something else)
πορεύομαι > πορεύω to cause to go
What’s common about all these verbs is that encoded in the verb is the sense that the Initiator and Endpoint are the same, with low distinguishability, and generally these actions do not involve an external endpoint.
There are less examples of these in Latin, though I think some appear to fall into this category. For instance, the –gredior compounds, e.g. progredior, as well as proficiscor. orior (to rise) seems to me a borderline instance, though it may also fall into the “spontaneous process” category.
This is a good place to stop and talk about deponency for a minute. Is πορεύομαι ‘deponent’? Not by traditional definitions because an active form exists. But the middle form is so prevalent that it may as well be learnt as the primary form. It hasn’t ‘assumed’ an active meaning that has been left vacant by a defective paradigm. Within the ‘logic’ of the Greek language, it’s a typically middle form.
Whether any particular verb is middle only or not depends, in part, just on attestation. If we had no instances of πορεύω, we’d conclude it was deponent. But that’s not really true, is it? ἔρχομαι seems deponent because we don’t have active instances of it. Except for grammarians saying things like:
οὐδεὶς γὰρ λέγει ἔρχω ἢ εὔχω ἢ πέτω ἢ δέχω ἢ ὀρχῶ καὶ τὰ λοιπά, ἐπειδὴ τὸ σημαινόμενον κωλύει.
For no one says “I ‘go’, or I ‘pray’, or I ‘fly’, or I ‘receive’, or I ‘depart’ and the rest, since the meaning prohibits it. (Georgius Choeroboscus, Prolegomena et scholia in Theodosii Alexandrini canones isagogicos de flexione verborum.)
The meaning of ἔρχομαι prohibits an active meaning. That’s why there’s no active, not because an active form has disappeared and the middle has picked up the meaning, but because the meaning of the verb is itself middle in its meaning, and an active does not make sense. One supposes that speakers could have coined an active version of this verb with a causative sense, but they didn’t. That’s why this, and similar verbs, are better termed media tantum, ‘middle-only’, rather than deponent. They lack a morphologically realised active form.
So, what does this mean for deponency and terminology? It seems best to lay to rest the term ‘deponent’ if we mean “a verb that has no active morphology but uses a middle or passive form with active meaning”. That’s not accurate to these verbs, especially if conceived of as verbs that actually ‘set aside’ their active forms. It’s far better to conceive of these verbs as media tantum, i.e. verbs that only have middle forms, never active. And then, you have verbs that are primarily used in the middle, where the active is less common precisely because what the active is expressing is less usual. Some verbs prohibit an active form, others disprefer an active form.
Lastly, at least for today, cautioning students that ‘active in meaning’ is not the same as ‘active in English translation’. Because English does not exhibit a ‘middle-voice’ system, in translation the best options will often be an English intransitive active, or an English reflexive. That’s about the best way to render something in English, not about what the Greek means.
In the next post in this series, I will cover some more semantic categories, and then talk more specifically about the Latin middle-only verbs.
 R.J. Allen, “The Middle Voice in Ancient Greek. A study in Polysemy”, PhD Thesis. 2002. 65. There is a published version of this but frankly I don’t have a copy.
 A. Hilgard, Grammatici Graeci, vol. 4.2, Leipzig: Teubner, 1894 (repr. Hildesheim: Olms, 1965): 19: 27-28.
(Passio Sanctorum Scillitanorum)
1. In the consulship of Praesens (the second time) and Condianus, on the 14th Kalends of August, in Carthage, the following were led into the proconsul’s chamber: Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Donata, Secunda, and Vestia.
Saturninus the proconsul said, “You can gain the pardon of our lord emperor, if you return to your senses.”
2. Speratus said, “We have never done wrong, put forth no effort for iniquity; never cursed, but when we have received ill treatment, we gave thanks; because we heed our own emperor.”
3. Saturninus the proconsul said, “We also are religious, and our religion is simple, we swear by the genius of our lord emperor, and offer supplications for his health, which you also ought to do.
4. Speratus said, “If you lend your ears calmly, I will tell you the mystery of simplicity.”
5. Saturninus said, “I will not offer my ears to you, maligning our sacred rites; but instead swear by the genius of our lord emperor.”
6. Speratus said, “I do not recognise the empire of this world; but I serve that God instead, whom no human has seen nor is able to see with these eyes. I have committed no theft; but whenever I purchase anything, I pay the tax; because I recognise my lord, king of kings and emperor of all the nations.”
7. Saturninus the proconsul said to the others, “Cease to be of this persuasion.”
Speratus said, “It is a bad persuasion, to commit homicide, to speak false testimony.”
8. Saturninus the proconsul said, “Don’t participate in this madness.”
Cittinus said, “We have no one else whom we fear, except our Lord God who is in heaven.”
9. Donata said, “I shall honour Caesar, as Caesar; but I shall fear God.”
Vestia said, “I am a Christian.”
Secunda said, “I am precisely that which I desire to be.”
10. Saturninus the proconsul said to Speratus, “Will you persist to be a Christian?”
Speratus said, “I am a Christian”; and they all agreed with him.
11. Saturninus the proconsul said, “Do you desire some time for deliberation?”
Speratus said, “In a matter so just, there is no deliberation.”
12. Saturninus the proconsul said, “What are the things in your cases?”
Speratus said, “Books, and the letters of Paul, a just man.”
13. Saturninus the proconsul said, “Take a delay of 30 days, and think it over.”
Speratus said again, “I am a Christian”; and they all agreed with him.
14. Saturninus the proconsul recited a decree from a tablet:
“Speratus, Nartzlus, Cittinus, Donata, Vestia, Secunda, and others have confessed that they live according to the Christian rite, and since they have obstinately persevered despite being offered the opportunity of returning to the Romans’ way, it is decreed that they be punished by the sword.”
15. Speratus said, “We thank God.”
Nartzalus said, “Today we are martyrs in heaven: Thanks be to God.”
16. Saturninus the proconsul ordered the following to be said through a herald, “Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Veturius, Felix, Aquilinus, Laetantius, Ianuaria, Generosa, Vestia, Donata, and Seconda, are ordered to be led to death.
17. They all said, “Thanks be to God.”
And they were forthwith beheaded for the name of Christ.
I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be offering small-group classes in Ancient Greek, online, in 2019.
This post is something in the way of ‘advance notice’ and to float some possibilities.
I plan to start with a 10-week term beginning the week of January 21st.
Depending on demand, I will look at a couple of time slots, keyed either to the US evening, or to the Australian evening
I plan to offer at least one class that focuses on Active Greek in tandem with the AVN (Italian) Athenaze. That is a class that will require some homework and additional activity on your behalf. It’s designed to get you going with Athenaze at a solid clip, and will both leverage off the English supplements for Athenaze that we’re working on, as well as individual support from me.
If it seems like there is interest, I will look at also (a) a ‘conversational Greek’ for those who have some Greek but are beginners in conversation, (b) a possible text-focused reading-type group.
If I receive some interest, I’ll offer a similar Active Latin class in tandem with Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. It will be similar to the Athenaze class in terms of intent.
Class sizes will be small, with a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 6. This ensures you are part of a lively, engaged communicative context.
It’s not set in stone, but I’m looking to price these at USD$150 for 10 sessions. The Athenaze class will price marginally higher, because I plan to build it with more support and resources than just the class hour itself (audio recordings, homework, email support).
If you’d like to register some initial interest for these, feel free to send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If the times/courses don’t work for you, but you can get at least 2 other people together, I’m very open to running some other bespoke course for you.
There’s two types of modern expressions that present difficulty for speaking ancient languages:
- names for things they didn’t have
- expressions for things they didn’t say
In many cases (1) isn’t so bad. You just have to neologise. How do you say helicopter, television, mobile (=cell) phone, etc etc..? Even coffee, tea, present problems, but not insurmountable ones. For Latin, with its longer continual history, it’s often easier. For speaking ancient Greek modernly, various strategies can be used: adapting an ancient word with a similar meaning; using the Greek equivalent to a Latin word used for the same modern thing; deriving a (sometimes entirely fictive) ‘ancestor’ form for a contemporary Greek word.
The second issue is much more problematic. Consider the expression, “It’s interesting…”. In Latin, we can use phrases involving studium – studium me tenet, studium me excitat, and the like. Greek is, it seems, more tricky.
I asked my good friend Στέφανος about this, as I often do, and he proffered a few suggestions:
διαφέρει — it’s important
ἄξιον σπουδῆς — something worthy of zeal/esteem/effort
προσέχω τινὶ τὸν νοῦν, τὸν νοῦν ἔχω πρός τινα – expressions for paying attention to something.
None of these, as he recognised, quite fits. We want something for “here is a thing that is worth paying attention to/thinking about”.
But perhaps we can build off these. ἄξιον + infinitive makes a good impersonal structure for “worth doing X”. So…
ἄξιον τοῦ τὸν νοῦν προσέχειν – worth paying attention to
ἄξιον διαλέγεσθαι – worth talking about
ἄξιον ἐπὶ ᾧ νομίζειν – worth thinking on,
ἄξιον μελετᾶσθαι – worth contemplating
Take these out for a spin, let me know what you think.
We’re now six podcasts deep, and I thought I’d write a little this week about what it looks like for me to put together a podcast.
1: An idea
It takes a while for me to come up with ideas, which maybe isn’t a good sign! It needs to be something moderately interesting, and moderately within my speaking ability. I try to draw from things going on in the rest of my Greek-oriented life. So far that’s working okay.
Depending on my schedule, I spend some time talking to myself ex tempore on the topic, in Greek. Either while driving, or in the shower, or wherever. It’s often at this stage that I stumble across things I want to say but can’t. I make a note (mentally, usually) to address that.
3: ‘Practice’ part 2
On a Saturday or Sunday evening I sit down at the computer; I have some rough notes for the intro and outro, I get a Latin>Greek dictionary open, and I fake-record first. That is, I open up Audacity and hit ‘record’ and talk for around 10 minutes. The first version is always terrible, but it allows me to do what I did in the step above, but with more focus. I generally use the Latin>Greek dictionary to figure out things I don’t know (it’s easier and better than English>Greek).
I try not to do too many fake recordings if only because I get bored of myself. Usually 1 or 2 is enough, and then I record a proper version. I accept, immo, embrace the fact that it’s still well-short of perfect, but that’s okay, that’s part of the deal here.
5: And send
I rarely relisten to them, I will only get overly critical. So I just fill in the details and upload them directly.
And that’s it. Nothing marvellous or magical, just a very stripped-down process to get Greek audio out my mouth and onto the internet.
Most of my classics background involved a 4 year stint as an external student working almost entirely on Latin. I took intro Latin as an adult, and then 3 years of text-based classes. I wish I had kept better notes! It was still being done with postal services when I did it. But I did cover the gamut – Vergil, Cicero, Ovid, Horace, Lucretius, Tacitus, Lucan, Seneca, Livy, Pliny.
Since then, I haven’t had occasion to read extended selections of Latin, or even classical Greek, texts. But starting in a couple of weeks I have two high school students headed into their 12th year (I guess, Senior Year for you Americans), one in 2019, one in 2020. That means, as their tutor, I’m gearing up to cover:
- Livy, Book V
- Tacitus, Agricola
- Vergil, Aeneid 1
- Horace, selected Odes
- Catullus, selected poems
- Cicero, Pro Archia
- Homer, Iliad 3
- Euripides, Electra
- Thucydides, Book IV.
(I should mention, almost all of these are ‘selected portions’, but they are substantial portions in most cases).
That’s a fairly solid list! I’m looking forward to it, as it will force me to read some genuine literary Latin and Greek; I’ve never read extensive portions of Homer or of Greek drama really. Also, I really do enjoy reading texts. Who knows, maybe I’ll acquire some more private students along the way! Or maybe I’ll do some recordings or videos. Or blog post. Or… we’ll see.
Yes, but its (very-)sub-optimal, hard, and the results might be less than stellar.
But you might also have not that much choice. There are few Latin speakers in Australia. A few Gàidhlig speakers. Less ancient Greek speakers. Opportunities for communication events are limited. And what if your situation is even less tenable? The last native Manx speaker died in 1974, but there are an estimated 1800 speakers today? Plenty of indigenous languages have <10 speakers, and some are actually dead but well-recorded. I’m not even an educated amateur on language revitalisation, so I’m going to stick to talking about Greek in this post, but I suspect the principles are generalisable.
Comprehensible Input is still king. If you don’t have speakers giving that to you in conversation (and even if you do), you need to get as much rich , appropriate, language content as you can. So, read everything you can, work within your abilities as much as possible and resist the desire to tackle difficult texts unless you have to; rad aloud, to get your mouth moving. And get as much audio as you can – conversation material is best, soliloquies are okay; written literature being read-out is good but arguably not the best thing; oral exercises aren’t the worst thing either. Listen, comprehend, listen again.
Learn the basic of question and answer. This is easier than you think and the pay-off is great. If you can construct questions, you have a means of turning any text into a conversation piece. All you need is to get used to asking questions: start with sentence-type questions, then move on to the interrogatives (In English: who, what, where, when, why, how; Greek: τίς, τί, ποῦ, πότε, τί (διὰ τί, ἵνα τί), πῶς; and others…). Questions can be done in Greek, at the level of story, paragraph, sentence, even clause. This lets you (a) have a conversation with yourself, (b) have simple conversations with others, (c) compose simple sentences and stories that build off texts you’re already working with.
If you’ve come through a traditional grammar-translation curriculum, it’s also not that taxing to learn basic grammatical terminology, especially for Latin or Greek, since they are almost all Latin terms anyway and the Greek forms basically are equivalents. And that permits you to have grammatical conversations about texts too, if that’s what you love.
If you have friends, ahem, students, then start inflicting spoken Greek on them. Start easy, simple, and fun. Prepare well – script up as much as you can before hand so you have phrases to mind/hand. Doing some of the WAYK universal speed curriculum is a good way to do this. When I first did this, I would keep a cheat-sheet handy. It’s no shame to say, “hey, we’re all trying to do this thing, and this little reference sheet is to keep us speaking Nice Pure Attic not some degenerate barbaric language, ahem, Koine.”
Related to the above, develop a habit of note-taking when you are trying to say something and can’t find the right word or structure. And then after a session of whatever, take that list and figure out how to fill in the gaps. I use English > Greek, and Latin > Greek lexica for that, or go away and find the right syntax structure, or ask a friend.
Talk to yourself about whatever you can. If you don’t have other people to talk to, and even if you do, you need to talk to yourself. Why? Because you’re the conversation partner who is always available, and who always understands what your trying to say. Talk about things around you, talk about things you have vocabulary for. Just get talking.
Lastly, look and pursue opportunities to talk with others, or at least listen to others talking. There’s audio resources (not much, let’s be honest), videos on youtube, there is spoken Greek out there to listen to. There’s also a weekly online chat that is freely open: https://latinandgreekchats.weebly.com you don’t even need to speak. I’m never there (alas) as it’s a terrible time for my schedule. And lastly, yes, you can sign up to classes. CKI, which I mentioned in the last post, also I see that BLC is starting to run some classes in Koine not just Hebrew. There’s also some conversational Greek offered through Telepaideia, again terrible for my schedule so I can’t tell you what they’re like from experience.
I don’t have a repository of links for communicative ancient Greek; there’s one here (http://www.latinteachertoolbox.com/ancient-greek.html) but it’s a little out of date. Perhaps its time to make a repository, there’s not lots of material, but there’s stuff out there, and its often a matter of scouring the internet for it….
Did you ever have communicative Greek training with a more fluent speaker? If not, how did you get to this point? Do you have a post on what you did? Despite the apparent contradiction, do you think it’s possible to therefore get to a certain point of speaker fluency on ones own?
Firstly, let’s remind ourselves that I’m not that great a speaker. I’m past the Tarzan stage, but there’s plenty I can’t do with the language. But I can hold soliloquies with myself on familiar topics with familiar vocabulary. And I can have basic conversations about texts or concrete things.
So, I don’t want to overplay the experience I’ve had with others, but nor do I want to underplay. I had to think this over, and I did do about 50 hours all up in group classes with Halcomb over at Conversational Koine Institute, about 5 years back now. I do think that was incredibly useful for me, but I don’t think it contributed a huge amount overall to reaching this level of speaking. It did show me something of what was possible, about the same time I was experimenting in Mongolia with some basic Where Are Your Keys approaches, and trying my hand at an ill-fated Ørberg conversion.
Other than that, I did work through the self-study materials by Randall Buth at the Biblical Language Center. That I did, prior to the above work with Halcomb, and I found it helpful to (a) transition my pronunciation mostly to a restored Koine, even if I have vestiges of Erasmian or a lingering overrealised aspiration problem. It also (b) helped me to cement down quite a few fundamental phrases.
Thirdly, I do do some regular online chats with a more advanced speaker. That too probably didn’t get me to this point, and we’ve only clocked about 10 hours together, but it’s incredibly useful to me. I think there’s great advantage in speaking to people above you and below you in communicative proficiency.
Fourthly, though, there’s just a long familiarity with the language and with Koine texts. I started learning Koine in 2003, and can’t think of a year since when I haven’t been doing something with the language. And since at least 2007 I’ve been advocating, exploring, researching, and experimenting with more active/communicative/living approaches to historical languages. And I’ve had the experience of learning other languages as ‘live’ ones, and working on speaking Latin, and this all is fuel for the fire. Even if a tonne of my language exposure has been to written texts, it’s still exposure, and to the extent that that has been sufficient input for acquisition, it can create spoken output.
Fifthly, apart from the language I’ve gotten from being a student of others, I’ve worked at speaking more Greek to those under my tutelage, as best I can and as much as possible. This, too, is a context for learning how to speak, even if I am not learning more language per se. The more I can speak with students, both (a) the more I get to put my own communicative competencies into practice, and (b) I realise the gaps in my own language. Gaps that can be filled by going away and figuring out what to put in them (perhaps ironically, in the heat of conversation my brain regularly reaches for a Latin expression if it doesn’t have a Greek one to hand).
Do I think someone could get to a certain point of speaker-fluency on one’s own? Yes, but with considerable difficulty, non-ideally and non-optimally. It’s taken 15 years for me to get to this point, and I reached the point where I could teach certain classes in Mongolian in 2, and preach in 2.5 years (not in anyway linguistically or literary sophisticated, but genuinely Mongolian sermons composed in Mongolian idiom). It shouldn’t take 15 years to get to this level of spoken Greek. I do hope that I will get a lot more fluent a lot more quickly in the years to come. And I hope it won’t take the next generations of learners as much time or effort to reach the level that I have so far attained.
Obviously quite a bit of the education I’m involved with is theological. I think some of the concern I express in this post pertain to non-theological contexts and colleges, but mutatis mutandis.
The issue is this: when a student can pursue an entire theological degree online, via distance, you lose a significant part of the embodied formation of that person. They aren’t living in your institutional community, being shaped by daily interaction with faculty and other students. So you don’t know how they’re being shaped as persons, or necessarily what kind of person they are or will turn out at the end to be. This, I think, is one of theological educations big distance problems.
And, sure, I understand the push-back – that people ought and can be involved in other communities, their local church one for instance, and that they can interact online with faculty and students. But, this latter factor is a mediated one, and in my growing experience is inferior for it. It’s not without reason that 2 John 12 says “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” It’s a reflection on technology and mediated presence, and while every NT epistle bears witness to the value of mediated communication, I don’t doubt that each of those authors would prefer to deliver messages themselves.
The more higher education degrees get reduced to content delivery, and also are modularised, the more incohesive that education process becomes. It becomes parcelled and packaged, and its integration in the pastoral and spiritual formation of the individual becomes weakened.
At the same time, this ‘package it up and sell it’ approach affects institutions too. Once you have a top-notch scholar produce materials for a course, you’re set – they’ve done the work once and at best you keep paying them a licencing fee. Sure, you will probably want to revisit and update that course every now and again, but it’s certainly a different course-construction dynamic and cost than, say, hiring an assistant professor and letting them develop over the years. Meanwhile, the ground-labour of these courses is mostly done by adjunctified and casualised labour – highly educated workers who have unstable positions, incomes, zero prestige, and receive no ‘credit’ for this grunt work. And since we’re replicating a model in which stars produce courses and adjuncts service them, there’s no path from adjunct to professor, and there’s no motive to create one. You can just run a course with more students, with more adjuncts, and that’s that. I think in the long run that is going to create issues. What does it mean, on either end, that Esteemed Professor XYZ ‘taught’ a student, if they simply followed pre-set materials. There’s no educational relationship on the Professor end. There might be a perceived relationship on the student end, but that’s a mirage. And then the Adjunct side, in which the adjunct has not ‘taught’ anyone either. They’ve oiled a machine.
Not that I have any solutions. I also happen to think that distance/online education is an unstoppable juggernaut in our society. The horse has bolted, and we need to figure out how to catch up and ride that brumby for all its worth. But the one thing we can’t do is uncritically and thoughtlessly embrace technological changes without reflecting on, and deliberately practising, in light of their social and personal effects.
Even though I have negative free time, lately I’ve been trying my hand at new things.
Firstly, I’ve put up a few videos on youtube. They are a ‘talk-through’ of the Greek text of Melito’s On Easter, 1-2. There’s one where I talk through it in English, and one entirely in Greek (the context of my talking is not identical though!). This is similar to what I do with some online classes, and it’s not that far removed from what I do with students more interested in working on a text than entirely communicatively. Later this week there’ll be a similar video on Romans 5:1-5. I hope to do more of these kinds of videos, particularly if people find them helpful.
Secondly, by the time this post goes up, the first episode of my podcast ὁ διὰ νυκτὸς διάλογος should be posted. It’s rough, in so many ways, but I would rather be cutting some rough DIY Greek podcasts in my metaphorical basement, than waiting for perfection. Again, my hope is to do many more, and trust that they’ll improve over time. If you want to improve my dismal album art, by all means help me out!
Are there other things that might be worth giving a go? I’m honestly open to suggestions at the present. Anything that will help people get more Greek in their lives, and will develop my own skills both as a Greek-communicator and as a teacher. And propagandist.
I not-infrequently talk about different types of encountering language with the following schema:
Is when you’re in a literal classroom with books, and you’re learning ‘about’ foreign language, as something far, far removed from you, as this exotic and abstract ‘other’, that you can hardly imagine. And L2 words exists as ‘things’ that you treat as objects, and manipulate as facts, and you put the right ones in the right order on a test and you get a number and feel good about yourself.
This is when you drag a dead piece of language into the lab and analyse it to death (again, because it’s already dead). You get a sentence or phrase and you cut that sucker open and look at its innards and try to figure out which part does what and how does it work.
At the Zoo
Where you go to see animals, and they’re alive! But they’re in enclosures, and they’re mostly tame (but not domesticated), and there’s a safe distance between you and the language, and you can look and observe but the whole environment is artificial.
Out of Safari
Now things are getting exciting! You’re out in a jeep, and driving really fast, and you’ve got a guide who tells you where to go and what to look for, and is savvy enough not to lead you into any really difficult language that would overwhelm you. So it’s still a curated experience, tailored to your level, but the language is alive and wild.
Dropped in the Jungle
You’re the real Bear Grylls. You get air-dropped into a language immersion environment where everything is in the language, and no-ones curating anything. You might be hitting easy language and its all fun, you might get dropped into some complex discussion of hypothetical worlds based on the latest avant-garde Danish film that everyone watched with Esperanto subtitles at the underground cinema last week.
Notes: feel free to add elements, reconfigure, reuse this analogy. Suggestions welcome. Also, I certainly don’t think these are stages to be worked though, just different experiences people can have.
This week in my meandering series, let me talk variously about other distance education environments I’ve experienced.
I did the mainstay of my Latin studies as an external student at the University of New England (in Australia, not those other New Englands in other former colonies). A four year sequence of 10 subjects, ab initio, right through to Horace and Prose Composition (Not that Horace is the pinnacle of Latin, I am just pretty sure it was one of my final year classes and Horace wasn’t my favourite either). This was the 00s and UNE was well entrenched in DE delivery. Courses consisted of (a) mailed out booklets, (b) mailing assignments back in for marking, (c) an optional residential week in Armidale. So it was more like a self-directed course of study with some external support and feedback. The residential schools made a huge difference though. You’d trip off to Armidale for a week, do a bunch of intensive latin classes, covering the same material but in person, and stand around in the cold while Tesoriero smoked a lot. I went to most of them. I think in the later years, email discussion became a feature!
Anyway, technology has moved on, and so has my Latin. But this worked for what it was worth, primarily because I was a highly motivated and disciplined self-learner.
I took 3 years of online classes in Gaelic with an institution, which was valuable though also frustrating (hence I won’t name them!). The teacher was high-quality, the classes were a group Skype, and 3 hours long, so they involved a great deal of Gaelic input, but the quality of materials was non-optimal. That is, we worked through some deadly boring explicit grammar instruction, were expected to learn contextless series of model sentences, do partner exercises that were “say one line, your partner will correspond with the translation”, which is more like a code-word exchange than language practice. I confess, it did do good things for my Gaelic, but I think with more effective language pedagogy, it could have been much more effective.
Right now I adjunct for another college that is doing theology via DE probably as well as I’ve seen enacted. Courses are high quality, with a structured weekly sequence of video materials by faculty or scholars, set readings, discussion forums, exercises assessed and non-assessed. I’m still not 100% convinced this is optimal for theological-formation of students, but it’s the best I’ve seen in a DE mode. I also haven’t seen their introductory language offerings, but my understanding is that it’s all explicit-grammar driven. Which you know my feelings on.
One-to-one online language tutoring is obviously a thing I’m into. Firstly, just the technological marvel of being in an age where one can connect to a speaker of Latin, Greek, Gaelic, even Mongolian, around the globe, and have a audio-visual conversation in almost real-time, mirabile! I’ve seen both sides of this equation, as student and teacher. I do feel there are drawbacks, notably the loss of physical embodied presence and shared realia. There are a host of things one could do in person that one cannot do when stuck behind a screen and one’s visual field is limited to the scope of the webcam. But the benefits seem to outstrip that. A lot depends on quality of teacher, no doubt. I recall one tutor that I had several years back who was really not good at all. I think I’m still developing in this area, and the dual challenge of developing as a teacher, and developing myself as a Latin and Greek speaker. (current students, no need to comment!)
I’ve also done some shorter group-courses online, on both sides. With mixed feelings. Conversational turn-taking is much harder to manage in a conference call, which means effective group size needs to stay relatively low. But all the groups I’ve been have been relatively small anyway (Greek and Latin being pretty niche markets). It certainly helps to spread the cost, which I think is great (for both sides of the equation). And it creates some communicative possibilities (3rd persons, plural forms) in a conversation that are less easily constructed in a one-to-one. I wouldn’t mind teaching more like this, but the start-up effort of (a) getting a quorum, (b) finding a timeslot suitable to keeping a quorum, (c) looking professional enough and not just a random Australian language hack, all hold me back.
Well, semester 2 at various institutions here is under way, and I feel like some reflections upon distance education are in order. This might be part one of several…
I might begin by talking about this semester. Last semester, regular sufferers of his blog will recall, I taught a small greek class in person. “In-person” was exciting, because this is actually how I’d like to teach most of all. But students had the option of being in-person or watching records (or even joining via video conference), so the mixed-modality was a bit… wearying.
This semester I’m teaching a follow-on course, but all my students are distance. Now, let me caveat here and say (i) I fully support distance educaion options, I’ve studied quite a few things by such, and obviously I do a whole bunch of other teaching at distance, (ii) I have no particular issue with these students or this college.
But, it does raise some issues. Now I’m essentially running a fully online, asynchronous course. Which means that I’m recording video lectures, and providing support via an online learning system. This is, hmm, frustrating. Not least because I can’t see anyway to bring my primary language-pedagogical convictions to bear.
We can’t do ‘communicative’ greek if you’re at home watching videos and I am system-constrained to produce powerpoint slides with video+audio. And it calls to mind a whole host of other issues for me. Issues related to the economies of scale, the value of this kind of teaching, the increasing prevalance of both distance-ed and modularisation among, particularly, seminaries, which means a loss of cohesive, integrative, pastorally-minded courses of study that involve spiritual formation of leaders, to piece-meal delivery of content-focused units that assemble into a ‘degree’.
I suspect there *are* ways of doing communicative focused materials with video, indeed I have a friend producing TPRS-esque stories with no-one present and doing it well. But there’s so much lacking in this kind of teaching.
And so then we’re just back to explicit language, aren’t we? Which, of course, I can do, but it’s missing a very soulful piece of me as a language educator.
I’m sure I didn’t come up with this idea, and I know we’re not the first, but ever since emails started circulating prior to Rusticatio Australiana, a few of us discussed playing an RPG. In this post, I’m going to write a bit about that experience, and the lead up, and thoughts on its utility for language development. I’ve also included some separate thoughts from our Magistra Ludi, at the end of this post.
Pars Prior (If you don’t know anything about Role Playing Games)
If you don’t really know anything about RPGs of the table-top variety, get thee to Wikipedia. RPGs are a lot of fun, they can be played with various styles, of drama, in various settings, with a focus that leans anywhere from the more tactical, to the more interpersonal and social.
Pars Secunda, getting it organised
Three of us discussed this prior to the Rusticatio, sharing a bit of our experience with gaming, with various systems, etc.. Based on that discussion we reached a rough consensus that we’d play 5th ed. D&D, which was at least known to 2 of us. I’ve never played 5th ed, but I’ve played enough systems, and enough D&D, that I can play almost anything at the drop of a hat.
Logana, one of our number, took on the challenge of translating/writing in Latin a brevarium of rules and providing key terms in Latin. It was excellently done. And indeed, if not for Logana, I think this wouldn’t have come off because I am notiorously busy and work to deadlines.
Pars Tertia, apud Rusticationem
So time was unfortunately short on our end at Rusticatio itself. We had hoped to do an initial session in the first “sessio elegendorum”, but Logana herself was on kitchen duty. eheu. We successfully enticed (?), perhaps invited, 2 others to join us, neither of whom had played D&D before. So then we had a triple challenge – 2 players who’d never played before and had to have both rules and core RPG concepts explained, the challenge of Latin, given that this was the first latin speaking experience for most of us (praeter me, fortasse; res non certa est); and the challenge playing in latin itself.
For the most part, creating character went straightforwardly, with not a few one-word English glosses supplied. So, it really can be done, with minimal English and minimal experience. Though, I will say, that (a) having your more experienced players also (b) be more capable Latin speakers, is incredibly helpful.
Pars Quarta, the actual playing.
So in that first session, well, post cenam huius noctis, we played a very brief set-up encounter, in which we met a priestess of Diana, who tasked us with hunting a monstrous boar in the local region. (The setting, scilicet, was a fantasy version of ancient Rome). But time and the scheduled events defeated our plans to play further.
This left us with playing on the final night (et, iterum vae mihi, est causa quia in QD non intravi. nihil refert, ut intellexi, sine me non tam bene alii ludere possent, sed non quia ego tam necessarius eram). We preceded through about 3 encounters, and killed the boar. That’s the short of it.
I would say this: the Magistra Ludi (GM/DM) bears the heaviest load here, because she has to (i) know the game well, (ii) be apt at description and improvisation, (iii) does the bulk of the talking, (iv) generally needs to be better at speaking latine than the players need to. Not through any fault of their own (don’t mistake me, this is not a criticism), our 2 new players were not the most confident latin speakers. But that gives me hope, because they didn’t need to be either. They understood well enough, and responding to options, engaging in answers to questions, is easier than being the one who ‘sets the parameters’.
So, in this regard, I have to give a lot of credit to Logana, I think she did remarkably well, given that she also said beforehand that she has GM’d, but she is not usually a GM. In my own role-playing career, I’ve had the same person GMing in our group for 20 years. I don’t GM except very, very rarely.
Pars Quinta: reflections
I’ve already mentioned some of the difficulties above. It seems to me that the GM/ST, Magister/rae Ludi bears the major burden, in terms of both game and language. But that’s also heartening, in that if you wanted to use this as a form of language development/acquisition, the person who is ‘leading’ the session probably should be the person with stronger language. They can shape not only the game, but the language, to fit the participants. In our case, the relative non-confidence of some of our speakers gives me confidence that this could be done with other less-confident speakers.
Though, overall I’d say that RPGing in Latin is really an activity for upper intermediate and up users of a language. Though, if the understanding is there, then the output needed from a player can be simplified tremendously to simple responses to direct questions, if needed.
Another difficulty is that most game systems are complex. Core rulebooks run to hundreds of pages, often with complex terminology and plenty of words neither found, nor apt, nor relevant to classical languages. D&D and other ‘historically’ oriented, even if fantasy, games, have some advantage here. Other genres, e.g. Shadowrun, are going to be much harder to pull off. An advanced science cyberpunk genre with magic? In latin? hmmm.
Thirdly, unless you want to rely upon either an English (or other) rule-set, there are copyright issues lurking somewhere in antris tenebrosis. It might, perhaps, be better to pursue a game system with an open-license.
One of the greatest benefits to me, it seems, is that an RPG solves the problem that “role playing” a scenario in a classroom has. As BVP often points out, pretending you’re a waiter and a customer, but sitting in a classroom, is not a communicative activity or task. It’s not real.
RPGing is not real either, but there’s a difference. Because you are engaged in ‘being’ your persona, and you (ought to!) care about the game, the world, the characters, the story, and the outcomes. So you are playing for something. Not ‘to win’. Sure, it’s ‘pretend’, but it’s a real kind of pretending, if I can put it that way.
Which means you can explore all sorts of settings and situations and therefore language that you might never do in a meaningful way in the ‘classroom’. A seduction scene, fighting monsters, espionage, diplomacy, bartering, the list goes on an on. And more adept players can drive that too, by directing their characters in various ways to do various things. A good GM will facilitate that and not railroad them to play only and exactly the story prepared.
And, in terms of grammatical forms, it definitely gives a chance to exercise a wide range of them, including those not as frequent in literature, which is itself excellent ‘practice’.
I think RPGing in an L2 has great facility for promoting language proficiency, especially in the upper levels of that. But, it relies on two things – people actually need to enjoy playing! RPGing of the table-top variety is still quite a niche activity. Although, the overlap of nerdiness that enjoys Latin, and enjoys RPGs, is higher than the average population, I’d guess. Secondly, it relies, as I’ve said, on a fair degree of facility in the language by the GM. The more facility the players have, of course, the more complex both the language, and the game, can be; but the GM’s ability is something of a ‘cap’, since so much rests with them.
For the future
I’d really like to see more go on with this, and do more myself. I wonder, if due to copyright issues, it might be worth pursuing Latin versions of OGL games, e.g. Pathfinder, OSRIC, Traveller, etc..
I know others have played D&D in Latin before, and I’d love to hear just some general thoughts, feedback, reflections, and suggestion from them as well.
And now, a word from our Magistra Ludi, because I thought it would be quite useful to hear from (a) someone that’s not me, (b) the person who ran the game.
Sententiae Magistrae Ludi Nostrae
The experience of running a game of Sepulchra et Serpentes in Latin was definitely very challenging – things that run very smoothly when you’re speaking your first language slow down a lot when there are language barriers all around the table. The whole thing took a lot longer than I expected and I did have to cut some of my planned content, but that was partially due to bad luck with our free time arrangements. But on the other hand, when I first floated the idea months ago it was very much a terrified hypothetical, so it’s pretty great that we managed to pull it off.
I made a few particular decisions which I think kept the whole thing manageable. Firstly, I chose a system that I know very well, and came up with specific translations of all of the key words beforehand. Because of this, I could answer rules questions off the top of my head using my own list of semi-technical terms, which streamlined the process a lot. However, I would probably revise some of those key words now, because some of them proved a little awkward in use.
I picked a setting for which I already had a lot of vocabulary – the countryside, the forest, and the religious sites therein (inspired by my reading of Ovid’s Fasti, actually). That meant that even if I didn’t know all of the words, I wasn’t trying to work out terms for the kinds of things the party would find in a typical ‘dungeon’. Although I couldn’t do the amount of description I would normally want in a game like this, I think I managed a few nice touches with what I had.
I also made the wise decision to keep the story very simple. ‘Religious figure engages the party to slay a beast’ is not exactly highly original material, but it gets the story rolling and gives the players a clear goal. I’m not the most experienced DM either, so the simple storyline made me feel more confident operating in an unfamiliar language.
In future I would like to push for more characterisation and role-playing among both players and NPCs – because the fun of RPGs isn’t just in hitting things with a sword, but in creating characters and relationships. Obviously improvisation is hindered by the language barrier, but I hope that as we all improve at Latin everything will become more fluid.
Long-term sufferers of my blog know of my strong interest in Where Are Your Keys and all its applications. I knew that Evan had had a good deal of involvement with our American Latinist friends for a period, and was interested to see how this manifested at Rusticatio.
Here’s a short index of Techniques that were either taught explicitly or evidenced in other ways. With comments from me on how they were used/introduced.
Accent adjustment. This was briefly explained early on, and primarily used by our leaders for a couple of specific adjustments. They would sometimes use it on each other to tweak what someone said. Occasionally, Nancy would slip into ecclesiastical pronunciation, and it could be used to bring her back! And then it was sometimes used to indicate to a participant the need to tweak their pronunciation
Again. Iterum. Incredibly useful. Didn’t catch something, need it again? Iterum is the technique you need. Ubiquitous and with wide up-tak.
Backwards build-up (Rassias). So, I wonder if this didn’t come into WAYK from Nancy, because I know Nancy started off herself in spoken Latin with a lot of Rassias. We did Rassias type stuff in a large group, with Nancy modelling question/answer and then using substitution patterns and drawing on participants. She would very often build a sentence backwards for us. This TQ was never formally discussed.
Full & Full-check. Sat? These were explained early on, up front, explicitly. And that, I think, is tremendously helpful in teaching participants to be aware of their own affective filters and status, and measure both themselves and others for ‘full’.
Full sentences. Another one that wasn’t explained, but certainly in the all-in sessions Nancy would generally model and expect full sentences.
How fascinating. Mirabile! This, like Full, was taught explicitly, early, and modeled by leaders well. I think it’s a hard one to ‘catch on’ to using because people find that although it does dispel awkwardness, it also takes a bit of intentional awkwardness to embrace it.
Let it go. Mitte difficiliora. Probably the third of the main techniques taught explicitly and early. I didn’t see it in use a lot, but it came out from time to time as need.
Mumble. Taught semi-explicitly, but not quite as a technique per se.
Set-up. Explained, but not often utilised and not well reinforced. I feel like that to have seen this in use would have required a bit more explanation of how to do Set-Up and how effective it can be in language hunting/teaching.
Slower. Lentius. Similar in some ways to ‘Again’, and about the same in terms of implementation and uptake.
I didn’t notice any other TQs in use, though I did notice some subtle WAYK sign usage at times (and, scilicet, signs are themselves a technique, though each sign is not itself a technique). For example, at one point Annula said sed (‘but’) complemented with the sign for it, but without knowing that that was the sign, you could easily miss it.
Overall, I appreciated the presence and utility of WAYK at Rusticatio and it’s helped reinforce the value of it to me.
I recently had occasion to complete a (modern) language placement test. The test was composed of 20 sections, each asking me to manipulate given sentences and change the forms to other ones (e.g. the equivalents of present to past, one structure to another, and so on). It wasn’t an overly taxing test, though it did take a bit of time, but in terms of assessing my language ability, I would rate the test itself a fail.
Firstly, because I didn’t need to understand the messages in the text in order to manipulate them. Indeed, there was vocab in there that I didn’t recognise. But whether I could or couldn’t understand the texts, was irrelevant to the task, which was transform structure to structure. That only required an explicit grasp of particular grammatical forms.
Secondly, there’s no guarantee I can reproduce this level of grammatical correctness in speech. In fact, I know that when I speak I am producing all sorts of errors in these forms. I would like to ‘fix’ that, but I doubt that explicit instruction in grammar will help that because I explicitly know all this grammar. “You should know this by now”; “we’ve been over this grammar X times, why are you still saying it wrong”; “You can explain this grammar, why can’t you produce it in speech?” – these are all things (some) teachers say, and they are all predicated on wrong beliefs.
I like explicit grammar. I love learning about linguistics. I think there’s a small, but non-zero place for it in language education contexts. But I’m pretty convinced that manipulation of forms does not lead to acquisition – not to communicative ability but also not even to real-time correct use of forms.
The course you are enrolling in is a traditional language course. Almost nothing we do this semester will contribute to language acquisition. This course is focused on language as an artefact, and so we will be discussing grammar, analysing syntax, memorising morphology, rote-learning vocabulary associations with our L1, and translating sentences back and forth as a form of practice, with no attention to the communicative meaning or purpose of those sentences (if they had any).
We will definitely not be using language to communicate, develop any communicative ability, learn to read effectively, to understand or communicate in our target language. In fact, less than 5% of what we do in the course will be useful if that is your hope, and the ability of the other 95% of our explicit teaching to contribute to you acquiring the language is slim to none.
The memorised explicit knowledge you can expect to gain in this course will primarily be useful in taking tests on explicit knowledge, taking further courses of the same kind, or vaguely pursuing linguistics somewhere down the track. Otherwise it will be quickly forgotten.
The problem with an acquisition-based program in a seminary setting is time.
A standard, seminary-type language course represents a 2-semester sequence in which students get drilled through a traditional grammar explanation of the language, with some practice on translating Greek passages to English, and are expected by the end of those 2 semesters to be able to translate easier portions of Greek into English, and explain the grammar of those texts (Mark, John, being likely candidates). Then you let them loose on upper level exegesis courses with the expectation that they’ll manage to translate more difficult texts in the NT corpus, because if you know a finite-grammar, you can translate finite-texts.
I’m critical of this for various reasons, which are not new here: acquisition vs. knowledge, the linguistic validity of a grammar course divorced from modern linguistics, and questions about ultimate attainment and ongoing utility. In my view, if this is really the approach one wishes to take, you should offer a 1 semester course in “The linguistics of NT Koine Greek” and cram it all in there – because if you’re teaching content, you can just teach content. You can stop pretending that this equips students to read the New Testament in Greek in any proficiency-based sense.
But, I do acknowledge that there is a very significant hurdle for adopting a acquisition-driven Comprehensible-Input-based approach. And that is time. The driving determiner of how far a student will get, disregarding learner internal constraint, is basically time. Well, quality and quantity of input. Assuming we can provide quality input, then it becomes a quantity question.
Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of the episodes of “Tea with BVP”, a second-language acquisition radio-show/podcast that ran for 3 years. There’s a lot of good content on it, and a lot of pointers to other things. As part of my follow-up, I have been reading “Setting Evidence-Based Language Goals” (Foreign Language Annals 49 3 (2016):434-454) by Goertler, Kraemer, and Schenker, which examines target benchmarks for the German program at MSU (where Bill VanPatten also is, and which runs on CI-based principles).
The study looked undertook a review of and after review, the benchmarks (using the ACTFL proficiency guidelines) were revised to (after years of college study):
- Intermediate Low
- Intermediate Mid
- Intermediate High
- Advanced Low
Correlations with CEFR are difficult, but AL comes out as somewhere between B1 and B2, with IM at A2, and IH at B1. Table 2 of their study also presented different sets of ‘hours’ recommendation for different levels. MSU classes mean that students receive:
The study reviewed previous benchmarks and outcomes, and then determined the current outcomes of current MSU students.
If you break down the hours in class by semester, that’s 50 hours a semester, raising to 75 in 3rd and 4th year. About 3-4 hours contact across a 12-14 week semester, up to 6 in the upper levels.
No seminary is going to run this. No seminary is going to run a 4hr a week, 4 year Greek program. Not unless they radically change their outlook on language acquisition and goals. Which is basically why I suspect that acquisition of Greek is not going to get very far in seminaries.
It also continues to highlight the problematic nature of 4 contact hours, across a standard semester. You just can’t get a student, ab initio, to very high levels of proficiency in a 4 year course. Which isn’t just a problem for biblical languages programs, it’s a problem for classics courses that want ab initio students reading high-level literature.
There’s only one solution to this: more hours. More hours of comprehensible input. The hours estimate for Advanced Low at MSU was 500 + study abroad. The (probably less reliable) hours estimates of Liskin-Gasparo for Advanced Mid is 720, A-High and Superior is 1320. I don’t think, based on the modern languages data, that you can really get college students beyond Int-High with a few reaching Adv-Low, within a 4-year sequence, and to achieve that in a classical languages program is going to require a committed, and skilled, teaching-team.
I can only imagine 4 solutions at the programmatic level:
- you teach based on CI-principles at the high school level, allowing you to get 4-600 hours in before your students even reach college.
- you raise the contact hours for language majors and make it an all-consuming degree (i.e., nothing but language, ‘content’ courses in the upper years taught in language, and no electives, and turn ‘expected’ hours into contact ones. or else you provide enough reading and audio material that all the ‘expected’ hours can be spent on input).
- you push expectations of higher level proficiencies into the grad-schools.
- you push for 1-2 week intensives to supplement term-teaching.