Aubrey on the Middle Voice (1)

This is a series of posts blogging my way through the very recent MA thesis of Rachel Aubrey on ‘HELLENISTIC GREEK MIDDLE VOICE: SEMANTIC EVENT STRUCTURE AND VOICE TYPOLOGY’ available here. I’m not a linguist, but I do my best to help non-linguists understand linguistic content. In this post I cover only the very first introductory section.

Aubrey’s introduction neatly highlights the problematic approaches to the middle voice in Greek (the thesis focuses on Hellenistic Greek, understandably, and I will shorten this to ‘Greek’ throughout except where other periodisations are required). Primarily, the middle voice is ‘multifunctional’ (1) and so resists attempts at ‘simple generalizations’ (1). In particular, standard approaches in traditional NT Greek grammars are rooted in a classical (and grammarian) tradition (not a linguistic one). Two problems in particular stand out: portraying the middle in terms of an active-passive dichotomy, and focusing on morphosyntax as a descriptive (and even diagnostic) framework.

The consequences of such an approach, Aubrey writes, are a neglect of a typological approach; an oversimplification of middle semantics, either by (a) discretely compartmentalising usages, or (b) too simplistic generalisations). The outcome of these consequences, in turn, is a dual failure of NT Greek grammars in both typology and paradigm.

Aubrey’s approach (2) is (a) typological, (b) contrasts active-middle counterparts, (c) uses ‘semantic transitivity’ as a lens to understanding.

What’s semantic transitivity? At least so far as I understand it, the analysis is going to consider transitivity as a ‘scale’, rather than the binary that English oriented grammar often works with (transitive vs intransitive), so that we are considering transitivity as a spectrum of ‘action directed upon an entity’. In particular, we are interested in transitivity as encoded in the meaning of verbs, and the presentation of event types, rather than the morphosyntax per se.

Aubrey then moves on in the introduction to outline the thesis structure itself. That is, a review of current approach to the Greek middle (chapter 1), language typological considerations (chapter 2), a diachronic perspective (chapter 3), before presenting her own unified approach (chapter 4).

She also highlights in the introduction some of the benefits of this work. In particular, a much better framework for putting to rest (6 foot under), the notion of deponency, but also providing a language-specific account which handles the idiosyncrasies of the middle voice, in a way that reflects languages with middle voices, not the framework of an active-passive voice language.

Personally, I’m really looking forward to reading this thesis in depth. Having read both Kemmer and Allen’s work on the middle voice, and having heard enough hints about Aubrey’s thesis, I strongly expect this to be the newest and hottest treatment of the middle voice in Greek, and if widely read, set to reshape the way we understand, and teach, voice in (Hellenistic, at least), Greek.



(You can find some of my previous posts and treatment of the middle voice here, as well as my read through of Michael Aubrey’s thesis on the Greek perfect form here.)

Reflections upon Camus’ The Plague (II)

Reading on in Camus’ The Plague, one has opportunity to reflect more and more upon the portrayal not only of the plague and its effects on Oran, but also upon the humans.

I spoke last time about the way in which Camus treats the quarantine as a form of exile. Exile in which we are at home. And that exile changes hue over time. We are, here, perhaps in the third week of quarantine? What will it feel like after two months, four, six? Longer? Camus writes of how the plague, ‘would seem to them like the very shape of their lives and when they would forget the existence that they had led in the days before’.

One of the other things Camus speaks about, is the way that the plague is an abstraction. It lacks concreteness. It cannot truly be ‘fought’, it doesn’t submit to reason. It doesn’t yield to love. It just is. Not that this causes, or should, call for a resignation. In the end, it is just another sickness. It robs us of futures, of hope, of life. But it is a madness or a cowardice to simply resign to it. This, perhaps, plays into to Camus’ heroic-anti-heroism, e.g. in the character of Dr. Rieux, who does nothing but his job, conceives of doing so as nothing but simple what one does, and yet understands that his ongoing fight is a series of temporary victories, in fact an ‘endless defeat’ (in conversation with Tarrou). Camus and I differ, of course, at a profound level on theological convictions. And yet, there is much I appreciate here. All the victories of hope and life in this world are temporary in the face of death. There is, for me, only one victor over death.

How does one fight plague? Here, perhaps, there is both a parallel and disjunction between Camus’ Oran, and our world. We are living in a global pandemic which exists in a globalised world that has more communication (in the sense of ‘traffic’) between place and persons than ever before. The level, breadth and speed, of international exchange is unparalleled in history. At the same time, we understand covid-19 far better than anybody understood most epidemics throughout history. We have a fairly clear grasp on how it’s transmitted. Even the plague of Camus’ Oran is functionally mysterious to most people. So our public health measures are logical. Abstract, but logical. Social distancing, globally, on this scale, has never been practiced before.

And yet, even as we’re socially distancing, the level of communication we are capable of, via electronic means, is also unprecedented. Camus writes convincingly of the way in which, at first, people forget the ones they miss and love. At first they are shadows, but ‘they realized later that these shadows could become still more fleshless, losing even the details of colour that memory kept there’. We lose both memory, and hope. For most of us, we are connected, via text, audio, video chat. It is possible to sustain those relationships.

I want to propose, though, that our experience is a different form of ‘cut-off’. And that is because we are still very much incarnate beings. We have and are bodies. And while mediated communication is a good, it is also a mediated good. We communicate through glass and wire. Our exile has become the ache of staring and talking through a pane, hands pressed against the glass, never touching. Perhaps this will make the ache greater, not less.

Pandemic is endlessly boring. It’s not heroic. And it’s not defeated by heroism. Perhaps you’ve seen the quip on social media, that treating front line health workers as ‘heroes’ lionises them as ‘self-sacrificial martyrs who are choosing to risk their lives for the rest of us’ while obviating the need to pay them decent salaries and provide them with decent conditions. How correct. Ask them, and they don’t identify as heroes. They’re just doing what any human would do in their shoes. Which is the only thing to be done. And the only thing to be done for the rest of us is… follow protocols, stay at home, do the mundane, go on living, and refuse to surrender to despair. This is how we minimise how many die. Without a resurrection hope, that is our endless temporary victory, our series of repeated defeats. For myself, there is a hope beyond death. For Camus, there is a hope despite death. An unheroic heroism.

How I write greek-greek definitions

There’s an excellent Latin<>Latin dictionary available online, Forcellini. But there isn’t a good Ancient Greek one.

There is Emiliano Caruso’s Monolingual Dictionary of Ancient Greek, which is hard to get, and expensive, but good from all I hear. But also entirely physical.

So, there’s a gap here, isn’t there. It would be useful, incredibly useful, to be able to provide Greek definitions of Greek terms, especially for learners wanting to use more L2 and less L1.

I’ve done some work on this piecemeal before, but now I’m tackling it a bit more systematically, to fit in with both data work with James Tauber, but also teaching with Athenaze. So I’m working through the Italian Athenaze, trying to generate slides for vocabulary items, that include (a) pictures, (b) a Latin gloss, (c) English gloss, and (d) Greek definition.

But how does one write a Greek definition?

Here’s some of my tricks:

(1) Getting a good sense of the word, using GE (Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek), LSJ.

(2) Looking at a number of comparable English terms in the Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary. And seeing how they compose simple definitions.

(3) Making use of Latin>English and English>Greek lexica to get a sense of other Greek words I’ll need to write a definition.

(4) Checking on the usage of those other Greek words, to make sure I’m not misusing those in the definition.

(5) Writing the definition.


Here’s a very brief sample of the kind of stuff I’m working on, just on the definition side of thing:

βίος ὄνομα τὸ ὑπάρχειν ζῶντος, ἢ ἀνθρώπου ἢ ζῴου
οἶκος ὄνομα τόπος ἢ οἴκημα ἐν ᾧ ὅστις οἰκεῖ ἢ βιῶ
ἥλιος ὄνομα ὁ ἀστὴρ ὃς τὴν γῆν φωτίζει τε καὶ θερμαίνει
σῖτος ὄνομα σπέρμα τι ἐκ οὗ ἄνθρωποι ἄλευρα, ἔπειτα ἄρτον, ποιοῦσιν
γεωργός ὄνομα ἄνθρωπος ὃς τὴν γῆν γεωργεῖ ἢ κλῆρον ἔχει ἐν ᾧ ἐργάζεται
κλῆρος ὄνομα (1) ὃ κατὰ τύχην νέμεται. (2) μέρος χώρᾱς κατὰ κλῆρον νέμεται
ἀγρός ὄνομα μέρος τῆς χώρᾱς ἐν ᾧ ἄνθρωπος σῖτον ποιεῖ ἢ ζῷα φύλαττει
αὐτουργός ὄνομα ἄνθρωπος ὃς αὐτὸς κλῆρον ἑαυτοῦ γεωργεῖ
λίθος ὄνομα ὕλη ἢ σύστασις σκληρά, ἣ ἐν τῇ γῇ κεῖται
μόσχος ὄνομα βοῦς νεός
πόνος ὄνομα τὸ ἐργάζεσθαι, χαλεπῶς καὶ πολὺν χρόνον

Two great audio resources for using Athenaze and LGPSI

I try to, in general, avoid just plugging things for the sake of plugging them, but I want to take the chance to promote the works of two acquaintances of mine who are doing some great audio-recording work, and really encourage you to consider supporting them if it would help you in your own Greek studies.

Firstly is David Ring, aka Magister Circulus

He has been doing some great video work on his youtube channel, including some excellent videos of my own LGPSI (I made a short playlist of the first four that he has done so far). Over on his patreon account, he has posted a lot of great audio CI material, including starting work on Athenaze material – read-throughs of each chapter, including with circling, paraphrasing, vocabulary pre-teaching, question and answer exercises. There’s only a couple of chapters up so far (2, 3, 17), but no doubt there will be more.

Secondly, the ἄοκνος Luke Ranieri

Apart from recording lots of Latin material, has also been doing some Greek. This includes some Koine pronounciation recordings of LGPSI, as well as Koine recordings of Athenaze, as well as Attic videos of Athenaze on his youtube channel.


As someone who has done some Greek recording, and is also trying to produce various materials, I know that it’s hard work, the feedback and reward is low, and time required is considerable. But these are two great sources of audio materials, to which I’d both direct you, and suggest considering supporting them if you can.

Reflections upon Camus’ The Plague (I)

I’ve been re-reading Albert Camus’ The Plague and I wanted to share some thoughts.

Camus begins by establishing the very ordinariness of Oran. Indeed, the mundanity and blandness of its existence is brought to the forefront. And it takes a bit of a slow build before the plague itself breaks out on the novel. But when it does, it comes quite rapidly in the end. How accurate to our own times, perhaps to most times, the slow accumulation of evidence, the reluctance to call it a plague by authorities, given all that that name invokes, and the general malaise of attitude.

What has most struck me, upon re-reading, is the way Camus captures the very moments that the ‘shutdown’ takes effect.

There have been as many plagues in the world as there have been wars , yet plagues and wars always find people equally unprepared

However much we foresaw covid-19 coming upon us, and some saw further than others, collectively it came as a shock. Even a week before we started laying down severe public health measures, it was possible to think of it as something distant. And in fact, we go on trying to think of it as ‘distant’, even when it is very present. A plague, or a pandemic if you prefer, it hard to fathom, and so we fail to fathom it.

A pestilence does not have human dimensions , so people tell themselves that it is unreal, that it is a bad dream which will end. But it does not always end and, from one bad dream to the next, it is people who end…

It’s also very interesting the way Camus portrays the feeling of being in quarantine. He describes it as a kind of exile, or being in prison. And I think this is accurate. Exile as the exclusion from the places where we once where, places us in a new ‘place’, away from the past. Exile too, stretches out before us, while at the same time cutting off the future. Exile is an interminable state, in which one does not, cannot know, whether return is possible. He writes:

In short, from then on, we accepted our status as prisoners; we were reduced to our past alone and even if a few people were tempted to live in the future, they quickly gave it up, as far as possible, suffering the wounds that the imagination eventually inflicts on those who trust in it….

People give up trying to think or imagine when it will end, because once you have that fixed idea, “oh, it will last 3 months”, and then begin to realise that there’s no reason to suppose that it will, indeed it could last 9, 12, 18, 24, 48 months, or in fact change human society indefinitely, your original fixed-time hope is shattered, and the resolve it gave you washes away like sand castles in the tide.

Thus they endured that profound misery of all prisoners and all exiles, which is to live with a memory that is of no use to them. Even the past, which they thought of endlessly, had only the taste of remorse and longing

We must adapt to live in such times. In exile,

But, though this was exile, in most cases it was exile at home.

Of vlogs and twitch I sing

I feel like every single comment I make could start with hisce diebus, such as they are under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Such as it is, I’ve started two small content initiatives that might interest you.

Firstly, I’ve started vlogging on my personal youtube channel.

Every night I record a short, live to air, video just talking about quidlibet. Mostly about my day, or about things I’ve been reading The content is on the personal side, and you will get Coronavirus-related content. But also just interesting things I might have been reading or discussion. So, a mixed bag. The trick is that, every day I record a different language. So, you can also just bookmark individual playlists if you prefer:

Ancient Greek

You can expect a video in one of these pretty much every day?

Secondly, I’ve started twitch-streaming some gaming content where I’ll talk (and respond to chat comments) in Latin. It’s an experiment, and I don’t have a schedule set yet, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m mostly trying to take things I love doing and build on them.

Thirdly, I’m have in mind some more content here, particularly ‘reading notes’ – just the kinds of notes I take as a read along different works. You can expect to see some notes on Camus’ The Plague pop up in the near future, for example.

I have other things I’m trying my hand at too, but I have always had a problem with over-promising, so let’s just leave it at that until other things actually get done and released.

Guide to new and upcoming courses (Spring 2020)

I’ve got a lot on the boil, as usual, and some other new things to share in the upcoming days. In this post I want to talk through briefly, the online video courses I have coming up, just so you don’t necessarily need to wade through the course-shop page:


I’m offering a new-section of Intro Greek 101 – starting from the very start, working with mostly Athenaze, and some of LGPSI.
Mondays, 9pm EDT, starting April 6th.

If you’re a bit further on with Greek, you can join in with Greek 102, picking up around Athenaze chapter 11. Sundays, 7pm EDT, starting April 26th.

Greek Patristics 2 is also in view, where we’ll read and discuss a selection of patristic authors from the 3rd and 4th century. Thursdays, 8pm EDT, starting April 30th.

For Latin, there’s Latin 102, a follow-on beginners’ Latin course, starting at chapter 14 of Familia Romana. Mondays, 8pm EDT, starting April 27th.

Theological Latin through the Ages 2 looks at reading and discussing Christian authors in the period 500-1000 AD. Thursdays, 7pm EDT, starting April 30th.

Latin via RPG is a brand new offering, with only 1 places left at present. We’ll play a medieval-fantasy type game based on the Fate system, all in Latin. Thursdays, 9pm EDT, starting April 23rd

Lastly, Pestilence and Plague in Antiquity is a special reading course, in which we’ll read accounts of plagues in Greek and Latin, and discuss in English. Sundays, 8pm EDT, starting April 19th.

New Course: RPGing in Latin

Salvete amici!

Recently I floated the idea on twitter of offering a Latin course that was entirely composed of playing an RPG in Latin. There seemed good interest, so let’s make this happen!

Here’s the pitch: We will run a game based on the Fate Accelerated rules. I’ll be at work pre-game to render important game concepts and jargon into Latin. Our game is also a ‘class’ – our aim is to use play to immerse ourselves in a communicative Latin language context that is not ‘the classroom’. It’s ‘the gamespace’. So it’s both a class and not a class. And our meta-purpose is acquisition, but our immediate purpose is the collaborative storytelling that is roleplaying.

We’ll meet for 10 weeks, for an hour each, just like my other regular classes. If it goes well, and if there’s interest, I’ll look at future versions of this class, possibly with an extended time-frame. And I’m willing to explore Ancient Greek.

Me: I’ve spent over two decades playing tabletop RPGs of various genres, and game-mastering them. I’ve also spent the last few years honing my latin speaking skills, including participating in D&D latine at the last two Rusticationes Australianae. I’m well placed to lead a group in the twin-challenges of RPGing, and Latin.

If you’re interested in signing up, it’ll be $200 USD for the course/game. I’ll take names, and then do a survey to arrange the best time (a US evening timeslot), and I’m currently looking to start sometime in April.

This is a unique learning + play opportunity, I hope you’ll join us.

Lord of the Rings quotations in Ancient Greek

For a sport of sporting fun, I recently solicited Lord of the Rings quotations on Twitter, which I rendered into Ancient Greek. I have a few outstanding requests yet to fulfil, but here’s a wrap-up of the lot (Greek follows the quotation)

I am not altogether on anybody’s side because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me. (Treebeard)
περιληπτικῶς πρὸς οὐδενὸς εἰμι, ὃτι οὐδεὶς πρὸς ἐμοῦ παράπαν, εἰ συνῆκας (ὁ Δενδρεοπώγων ὁ Ἐντ)

There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for
ἔστιν καλόν τι ἔτι ἐν τοῦτῳ τῷ κόσμῳ, κύριε Φρώδω, ὑπὲρ οὗ μάχεσθαι ἄξιόν

Fly you fools
φεύγετε, ὦ μωροί

The grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
τὸ προκάλυμμα τοῦ ὄμβρου τὸ ὀρφνόν παντάπασιν ὑάλινον γινόμενον ἀπεκυλινδήθη, ἐθεώρησεν οὖν αἰγιαλοὺς λευκούς, καὶ ἔτι ὑπὲρ οὓς. χώραν οὖσαν χλωράν, πόρρω, ἀνατέλλτοντι ὑπὸ ἡλίῳ θοῷ

Look to my coming on the first light of the fifth day, at dawn look to the east.
προσδοκᾶτέ με ἅμ’ ἠοῖ ἔρχομενον τῇ πέμπτῃ ἡμέρᾳ. ὑπὸ δὴ ὄρθρον, πρὸς τὴν ἀνατολὴν θεᾶσθε.

Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends.
πολλοὶ μέν εἰσιν ἄξιοι ὄντες θανάτου, οἱ δὲ τεθνήκοτες τοῦ βίου ἄξιοι. ἆρα καὶ σὺ, Φρώδω, τοῦτο δύνασαι δοῦναι; μὴ οὕτως σπούδαζε ὡς τοῦ θανάτου κρινῇς. οὐδ’ οἱ σοφώτατοι δύνανται προορᾶν πὰντα τὰ συμβαίνοντα.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.
οὐδὲ χρυσός ὁτιοῦν στίλβει
οὐδὲ παρασφάλλεται ὁστισοῦν πλανᾶται

I tell you, it’s no game serving down in the city.
εἶπά γέ σοι, οὐ παιγνία τὸ ἐν τῷ ἄστει κάτω στρατεύεσθαι – ὁ Γῶρβαξ

Then who would you take up with? A fat innkeeper who only remembers his own name because people shout it at him all day?
τίνι οὖν ὁμιλῇς; πανδοκεῖ τινι παχεῖ, ὃς τοῦ ὀνόματος αὑτοῦ μιμνήσκεσθαι μόνον δύναται ἀνθρώπων πρὸς αὐτὸν δι’ ἡμέρας βοῶντων

Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden! Fell deeds awake, fire and slaughter! spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
ἀνάστητε, ὦ ἱππεῖς τοῦ Θεόδενος
ἀμείλιχα γένοιντο, ἴδου,
ἔμπρησίς τε καὶ σφαγαί.
σεισθήσεται μὲν τὸ δόρυ,
ἀποσχισθήσεται δὲ ἡ ἀσπίς,
ἡμέρα τῶν τε ξίφων καὶ αἵματος
πρὶν ἄν ἥλιος ἀνατέλλῃ
νῦν δὲ, ὁρμᾶσθε
εἰς Γωνδόρα ὁρμᾶσθε

Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened. Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us
Φρώδω· ἐβουλόμην ἄν μήδεποτε τὸ δακτύλιον πρὸς ἐμὲ ἐλθεῖν. εἴθε μὴδεν τούτων γένοιτο.
Γανδᾶλφος· καὶ δὴ καὶ πάντες οἱ ταύταις ταῖς ἡμέραις ζῶντες οὕτως ἐθέλομεν.
οὐδὲ τούτοις διακρίνειν ἔξεστιν, ἀλλ’ ἅρα ἡμῖν τὸ βουλούεσθαι πῶς χρώμεθα τῷ χρόνῳ τῷ ἡμετέρῳ ὡς κάλλιστα.

And there stood Meriadoc the hobbit in the midst of the slain, blinking like an owl in the daylight, for tears blinded him; and through a mist he looked on Éowyn’s fair head, as she lay and did not move; and he looked on the face of the king, fallen in the midst of his glory.
οἷος τῷ τῆς μεσημβρίας φωτὶ γλαύξ,
τοιοῦτος ἑστήκως ἐν μέσῳ τῶν τεθνηκότων σκαρδαμύσσει,
δακρύων τὰ ὄμματα ῥυόντων, Μηρίαδοξ, ὁ ὅββιτος.
τῆς ἐκεῖ κειμένης καλὴν
διὰ ἀχλύος ἐθεᾶται
τὴν κεφαλήν τῆς Ἠωύνης,
οὐδέποτε κινεῖται αὑτή.
τὴν τε καὶ ὀψά εἶδον
τοῦ βασιλέως μέσῃ τῇ δόξᾳ

We swears to serve the Master of the Precious. We will swear on — on the Precious!
ὄμνυμι ἡμεῖς… ὄμνυμι γοῦν τοῖς τοῦ προτίμου δεσπόταις πείθεσθαι. ὀμοῦμαι δὲ … ἐπὶ τοῦ προτίμου

One does not simply walk into Mordor
ἁπλῶς εἰς τὸν Μωρδῶρα βαδίζει οὐδείς

Po-tay-toes! Boil em, mash em, stick em in a stew.
πα-τά-ται. ἑψῆσαι, πολτοποιῆσαι, θεῖναι ἐν ζωμῷ

“What’s ‘taters’, precious?”
τί δύναται τὸ «τάται», πρότιμέ μου

Fool of a Took, throw yourself in next time and rid us of your stupidity!
ἀσώφρονε Τούκ. εἰς αὖθις σαυτὸν ῥίψον διαλύων ἀπὸ ἡμῶν τὴν ἀμαθίαν

In winter here no heart could mourn for summer or for spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lórien, there was no stain.
χειμῶνος οὖν ἐνθάδε ὄντος οὐδὲ τὸ ἔαρ, οὐδὲ τὸ θέρος ὀδύρεσθαι δυνατόν ἐστιν. μῶμος μέν τις, νόσος δέ, δυσμορφία δέ οὐδαμοῦ τε καὶ οὐδαμῶς φανεῖται ἐν τινὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς φύοντι. οὔκουν ἐστὶν κατὰ τὴν χώραν τὴν Λωρίαν οὐδὲν μιάσματων .

There are some things it is better to begin than refuse, even if the end may be dark
τέλους καὶ καταμελαίνοντός περ ἐστιν ἔτι ἃ ἀμεῖνα ἀρχέσθαι ἢ ἀρνεῖσθαι

Living or dark undead, I will smite you if you touch him
ἢ ζῶν ἢ νεκροζῶν σκοτεινός, εἰ ἅψει αὐτοῦ, ἔγωγε κατακόψω σε.

He stood a moment as a man who is pierced in the midst of a cry by an arrow through the heart; and then his face went deathly white; and a cold fury rose in him, so that all speech failed him for a while. A fey mood took him.
ὥσπερ ἄνθρωπος βοῶν βέλῳ τὴν καρδίαν κατακεντηθείς, οὕτως ἑστήκει λεπτόν τι προσώπου τότε δὴ γενόμενου ὠχροῦ, χειμών τις ἔνδον ἠγέρθη ὥστε χρονόν τινα πολλοῦ ἐδεῖ λέγειν, αἰνόμορος παραχρῆμα φαίνεται.
[in retrospect and after discussion, I’d probably render ‘fey’ differently if taking a second shot at this one]

Elen siluva lúmenn’ omentielvo
ἐπὶ τῇ τῆς συναντήσεως ὥρᾳ φανεῖ ἀστήρ

Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,’said Gimli. ‘Maybe,’said Elrond,’but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.
«ἄπιστός ἐστιν» φησὶν ὁ Γίμλι «ὅστις φράζει ἐρρῶσθαι, ὅταν ἡ ὁδὸς σκοτίζηται» «ἴσως,» φησὶν ὁ Ἔλρονδ, «ἀλλὰ μὴ ὀμνύσθω ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ βαδίζειν ὅ τὴν νύκτα ἀρχομένην μὴ εἰδώς.»

A! Elbereth Gilthoniel!
silivren penna míriel
o menel aglar elenath,
Gilthoniel, A! Elbereth!

ὦ Ἔλβερεθ Γιλθόνιελ
αἰγλοφανῶς κατακλίνεται λιθόλαμπρον
ἔκ οὐρανῶν φέγγος φωστήρων,
Γιλθόνιελ, ὦ Ἔλβερεθ
[Elbereth I would render in Greek as something like φωστηράνασσα and Gilthoniel as ἀστεροφληγοῦσα, both of those as compounds I coined from the apparent constituent elements of the Sindarin names.]

The fetishization of native-speaker status

Recently I was reading an article on the dynamics of language choice, use, and (perceived) ownership between Irish-language majors (i.e. university students) born in the Gaeltacht, hence presumed or actual native speakers, and those not, hence ‘learners’.[1] It’s a fascinating article and well worth a read, and it caused me to reflect somewhat on the way ‘native speaker’-status is fetishized among the language communities I engage in.

Before I get into that though, I want to bring in a set of distinctions mentioned in the article, but formulated by Ó Giollagáin.[2] This is a more nuanced typology of speakers, which I present here though perhaps not entirely accurate to the source:

Native speaker: a fluent speaker who acquired the language from infancy in a familial/community setting.

Neo-native speaker: a fluent speaker who acquired the language from infancy from parents who are co-speakers but not native speakers. (e.g. the parents learnt the language and then used it together in the home.

Semi-speaker: a speaker who received some degree of bi- or multi-lingual input in the family context, as from one parent speaking fluently and productively, and where the semi-speaker emerges with a range of ability, e.g. from passive bilingualism, through to competent speaker ability.

Second Language speaker (L2 speaker): someone who learnt the language as an L2, not from infancy, but speakers it with a high degree of competency. (e.g. a CEFR C2 speaker)

Learner: someone who is not a highly competent speaker of the language, but is somewhere along the learning trajectory. (e.g. a CEFR A1-B2 speaker)


I think that’s an incredibly helpful typology which avoids the very simplistic dichotomy of native vs non-native, even the trichotomy of native / non-native fluent / learner, which is often what I see people employ. Though even Ó Giollagáin’s typology could be nuanced further. These are singular categories and one really needs to reckon with multi-faceted continuums.

One of the things that O’Rourke’s article does well is that in the introduction its literature review points to a good body of material that problematises the idea of ‘native speaker’ as a clear, monolithic entity. That is also an important thing to do.

So, all this by way of introduction today. My own thoughts got more of a kick start when I heard someone refer to a very prominent contemporary Gàidhlig singer, and fluent speaker as, ‘oh, she’s just a learner’, echoing a comment from this person’s own language teacher.

People, I find, generally fetishize native speakers. They are the ideal representation of an L speaker, whose language is considered pure, uncriticisable, inerrant, and more valuable. This happens across languages. It effects, for instance, hiring practices. A native English speaker, in many places, will be a preferred candidate than a non-native fluent speaker, even when the former has no teaching skills or experience, and the latter is a trained language educator. Despite the reality that a fluent L2 speaker has the experience of learning the language as an L2 like their students will, their status as speaker is often denigrated.

Indeed, although ultimate levels of language attainment for an L2 speaker may be indistinguishable from a native speaker, the simple knowledge that someone is a non-native tends to mean, that that person will always be perceived as an inferior speaker, even when no difference in speech can be detected. It means their errors are more likely to be pointed out, than when a native speaker ‘misspeaks’. It means they will continue to be compared against native speaker speech as a benchmark, and the highest compliment they can receive is ‘oh, they speak as good as a native’.

One even finds this kind of fetishization among language communities without native speakers. I am a participant in the micro-cultures of active Latin speakers, and active Ancient-Greek speakers. There are no native speakers of these languages. There are some highly competent speakers of these languages. Those speakers tend to be lionised for their ability. Linguistic competence is treated as a status feature, and the perceived difficulty of learning to speak those languages probably heightens that. While it may be impossible to avoid language proficiency as a status feature, when language proficiency becomes a status competition, and speakers compete to assert their status via proficiency displays, this is deeply problematic for both communication, and for the language acquisition process.

Moreover the idealisation of what a native speaker of Latin might be like, the dream of creating neo-native speakers, and the fetishization of that as an ideal speaker, continues to deeply plague a community that is at heart not dedicated to Latin language revitalisation (e.g. the aim of Latin speakers is rarely, if ever, to create a new living language community, like Hebrew did, and see it evolve. If contemporary Latin evolved it would become a new Romance language, defeating the reason many people learn Latin in the first place – lingusitic continuity with a 2700 year-old language community).

While I personally think we will never jettison the idea or ideal of native speakers, I think a growing linguistic meta-awareness of the complexity and complication of the term, and its role as an ideal, can serve to mitigate its sociolinguistic effects, especially the deleterious ones. Replacing the idealisation of native speech with competent speech broadens the base of language content that is ‘worth’ consumption. It jettisons the idea of ‘authentic’ content as only that produced by native speakers for native speakers. It recognises that linguistic competence is not a product of birth, but of acquisition, whether as an L1 or L2. At the same time, an awareness of the ways in which learners, and competent speakers, native or not, perceive and use linguistic competence as a value holder for status, may allow for self-regulation of communicative exchanges to discourage language as performance and competition. On the proficient side, to recognise that one doesn’t need to demonstrate and prove one’s own proficiency as a power-play to others; on the less-proficient side, to dismiss (and dare I say, ignore and sideline) speakers whose communicative acts serve primarily to assert their own dominance.

[1] Bernadette O’Rourke, ‘Whose Language Is It? Struggles for Language Ownership in an Irish Language Classroom’, Journal of Language, Identity & Education 10:5 (201): 327-345

[2] C. Ó Giollagáin ‘Scagadh ar rannúcainteoirí comhaimseartha Gaeltachta: gnéithe d’antraipeolaíocht teangeolaíochta phobal Ráth Chairn.’ Irish Journal of Anthropology, 6 (2002): 25–56.

Last week to sign up for courses starting Februrary

I just wanted to take this chance to remind you that if you were thinking of joining one of my online video-conference classes, they are starting next week. I’m particularly pleased to say that the following courses will be running:

Greek 101 : Introductory Greek

Latin 101 : Introductory Latin

Greek 212 : Greek Patristics

Latin 211: Theological Latin through the Ages (0-500)

If you have any questions about these, please get in touch.



Necantes in Nomine

I did a Latin version of Rage against the Machine’s Killing in the Name of

Here’s an audio: (apologies for not having vocals as good as Zach’s)

Here’s my lyrics:

necantes in nomine

qui sunt in vigilibus… cruces iidem incendunt
qui sunt in vigilibus… cruces iidem incendunt
qui sunt in vigilibus… cruces iidem incendunt
qui sunt in vigilibus… cruces iidem incendunt

necantes in nomine
necantes in nomine

iam tu facis quod iubent
iam tu facis quod iubent
iam tu facis quod iubent
iam tu facis quod iubent
etiam tu facis quod iubent
etiam tu facis quod iubent
etiam tu facis quod iubent
etiam tu facis quod iubent
etiam tu facis quod iubent
etiam tu facis quod iubent
iam autem facis quod iubent te
uel iam facis quob iubent te!

eos necari approbatur
insigni gerendo, albi electi
necatos esse approbatis
insigni gerendo, albi electi
eos necari approbatur
insigni gerendo, albi electi
necatos esse approbatis
insigni gerendo, albi electi

qui sunt in vigilibus… cruces iidem incendunt
qui sunt in vigilibus… cruces iidem incendunt
qui sunt in vigilibus… cruces iidem incendunt
qui sunt in vigilibus… cruces iidem incendunt


necantes in nomine
necantes in nomine

iam tu facis quod iubent
iam tu facis quod iubent
iam tu facis quod iubent
iam tu facis quod iubent

etiam facis quod iubent 

(sub manu es nunc) etiam tu facis quod iubent
(sub manu es nunc) etiam tu facis quod iubent
(sub manu es nunc) etiam tu facis quod iubent
(sub manu es nunc) etiam tu facis quod iubent
(sub manu es nunc) etiam tu facis quod iubent
(sub manu es nunc) etiam tu facis quod iubent
(sub manu es nunc) etiam tu facis quod iubent

eos necari approbatur
insigni gerendo, albi electi
necatos esse approbatis
insigni gerendo, albi electi
eos necari approbatur

insigni gerendo, albi electi
necatos esse approbatis
insigni gerendo, albi electi


futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam
futuere, quod iubes non faciam


MALS, some reflections

MALS (the Macquarie Ancient Languages School) has been running for almost 40 years now, a 1 (at times 2) week intensive school offering, initially Ancient Greek, but now and for some time a range of ancient languages. It typically runs both a summer and winter course.

I first attended MALS over 15 years ago, I’d say. There was a blessed period in which Scottish Gaelic was offered, and it was my first exposure to Gàidhlig in a live, conversational mode. I learnt a lot from those experiences. I also, over the years, took a number of Greek courses here.

Since 2015 I’ve been tutoring with MALS, taking Intermediate/Advanced Biblical/Patristic Greek. In that time I’ve had the pleasure of teaching a considerable range of texts not normally available to students of Greek, due to the lack of helps. Those have included : the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity (in its Greek version), selections of Josephus, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, the gnostic Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Gregory Nazianzus’ Oration 29, Gregory of Nyssa on the Divinity of the Son and the Spirit , the Shepherd of Hermas, Melito’s On Pascha, and this week Esther and selections from Chrysostom’s Letters to Olympias.

That’s a considerable range of texts! I had to go through my archives to confirm what we’d read. It’s been a real pleasure to work through these with students, though my classes are always incredibly small. My section often fails to meet minimum numbers and runs purely by the goodwill of the organisers.

Why is it that, given that this is perhaps the only opportunity, in Australia, to read non-New Testament and non-classical texts, outside pursuing a higher research degree, that there are so few students? I don’t know, to be honest. Of course, every individuals circumstances are different, but there are indeed few opportunities to read and study these kinds of texts, in Greek, unless your Greek is already so excellent as to not need help.

I hope that MALS continues to grow and run in strength for many years to come. Greek aside, it is also one of the few places one can learn other, less commonly taught, ancient languages.


How movable is movable nu?

A question arose from someone about while reading LGPSI, about the distribution between ἐστί and ἐστί(ν), specifically they noted that I sometimes (perhaps more frequently than expected), violated the general rule that movable nu appears before a subsequent vowel. Now, I happen to know intuitively that that rule is by no means hard and fast, but since the question was raised, I was intrigued enough to ask, how much is that rule breached rather than followed. I was also motivated by the desire to make sure that LGPSI doesn’t merely reflect grammars, but reflects usage patterns.

So, as with all such useful questions, I knew who could not only probably tell me, but also help me understand the process of how to answer such questions, James Tauber. He helpfully shared with me snippets of his own code that could be brought to bear, and then ran the data himself on the SBLGNT.

Now, the SBLGNT is a modern edited text, so the results it provides probably say something more about the editor, than they necessarily do about ancient texts. That suggests to me that there’s good room to ask the same kinds of questions at a manuscript level, and also at broader corpus levels.

Looking at strings of characters and where movable nu, and movable sigma (e.g. οὕτως vs οὕτω) occur, yields some of the following data.
Of 162 instances of words that could end with either movable nu or sigma but do not (e.g. they are movables that end with a vowel), they are followed by a word starting with a vowel only twice only twice, and those are Luke 16.16: μέχρι Ἰωάννου, and Acts 1.15 εἴκοσι)· Ἄνδρες.

Of 5081 numbers of movable nus that do occur, 1480 occur before a vowel, 749 before a vowel with rough breathing, with no intervening punctuation. The presence of a subsequent vowel appears to be no barrier to the presence of a movable nu. Whereas the absence of a movable nu and/or sigma does appear to require a consonant-initial to follow. (Numbers exist too for when punctuation intervenes, which doesn’t contradict the overall pattern).

Similarly, perhaps, a movable sigma occurs 188 instances in which there is no following punctuation, 107 times of which have a following consonant – suggesting that like movable nu, a subsequent consonant does not deter a movable sigma.

But, all that said, ἐστι (whether ἐστί or ἔστι), occurs but 6 times in the SBLGNT, which may suggest something. Does it suggest more about Holmes’ editing of the SBLGNT, or about movable nu usage in the New Testament corpus? The only way to answer that would be more data analysis.

For now, and for my own purposes, I’ll be less worried about ἐστίν before consonants, and perhaps a little more conscious to use ἐστί only before consonants…

Chrysostom, the twofold nativity

An excerpt from Homily II in Matthaeum (PG 57)

∆ιὰ τοῦτο διπλῆ γέγονεν ἡ γέννησις, καὶ ἐοικυῖα ἡμῖν, καὶ ὑπερβαίνουσα τὴν ἡμετέραν. Τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἐκ γυναικὸς γεννηθῆναι ἡμῖν συνέβαινε· τὸ δὲ μὴ ἐξ αἵματος, μηδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς ἢ ἀνδρὸς, ἀλλ’ ἐκ Πνεύματος ἁγίου, τὴν ὑπερβαίνουσαν ἡμᾶς καὶ τὴν μέλλουσαν προανεφώνει γέννησιν, ἣν ἡμῖν ἔμελλεν ἐκ Πνεύματος χαρίζεσθαι. Καὶ πάντα δὲ τὰ ἄλλα τοιαῦτα ἦν. Καὶ γὰρ τὸ λουτρὸν τοιοῦτον· εἶχε γάρ τι τοῦ παλαιοῦ, εἶχέ τι καὶ τοῦ καινοῦ. Τὸ μὲν γὰρ ὑπὸ τοῦ προφήτου βαπτισθῆναι, τὸ παλαιὸν ἐδείκνυ· τὸ δὲ Πνεῦμα κατελθεῖν, τὸ νέον ὑπέγραψε. Καὶ καθάπερ τις ἐν μεταιχμίῳ στὰς, δύο τινῶν ἀλλήλων διεστηκότων, ἀμφοτέρας ἁπλώσας τὰς χεῖρας ἑκατέρωθεν λαβὼν συνάψειεν· οὕτω καὶ αὐτὸς ἐποίησε, τὴν παλαιὰν τῇ καινῇ συνάπτων, τὴν θείαν φύσιν τῇ ἀνθρωπίνῃ, τὰ αὑτοῦ τοῖς ἡμετέροις.


Therefore the nativity is rendered twofold, both like unto us and surpassing ours. For being born of a woman conforms to our birth, but not by blood, nor the will of flesh nor man, but by the holy Spirit, manifests in advance the birth to come, that surpasses us, which he was about to bestow to use by the Spirit. And everything else was like this too. For the washing is of this sort: for it held something of the old, and something also of the new. For his being baptized by the prophet, displayed the old; the Spirit descending traced out the new. And just as if someone standing in the interval, between two other people standing apart, stretching out and taking the hands of both, unites them, thus also he himself, conjoining the old with the new, made the divine nature join with the human one, his with ours.

Greek question and answer patterns

I’ve been trying to do some work to write up the kinds of things I aim to do in live classes, which is mostly to develop questions in Greek (or insert appropriate language here) about the text, as we go. I’ve adapted a lot from the TPRS method of circling, and here below I demonstrate with a very small portion of text from the Athenaze textbook, how you can frame a whole range of questions even on the simplest material. The questions are arranged in ‘levels’ which are somewhat arbitrary, but give something of a schema to work up from and to.


ὁ Δικαιόπολις Ἀθηναῖός ἐστιν. οἰκεῖ δὲ ὁ Δικαιόπολις οὐκ ἐν ταῖς Ἀθήναις ἀλλὰ ἐν τοῖς ἀγροῖς· αὐτουργὸς γάρ ἐστιν. γεωργεῖ οὖν τὸν κλῆρον καὶ πονεῖ ἐν τοῖς ἀγροῖς. χαλεπὸς δέ ἐστιν ὁ βίος· ὁ γὰρ κλῆρός ἐστι μῑκρός, μακρὸς δὲ ὁ πόνος.

Questions (with some answers)
Level 1 (Yes/No)

ἆρα Ἀθηναῖός ἐστιν ὁ Δικαιόπολις;    ναί, Ἀθηναῖός ἐστιν ὁ Δικαιόπολις.

ἆρα οἰκεῖ ὁ Δικαιόπολις ἐν τοῖς ἀγροῖς;   ναί, ὁ Δικαιόπολις ἐν τοῖς ἀγροῖς οἰκεῖ.

Level 2: Either/Or

Q: πότερον Ἀθηναῖος ἢ Λακεδαιμόνιός ἐστιν ὁ Δικαιόπολις;

A: ὁ Δικαιόπολις ἐστιν Ἀθηναῖος. οὐκ ἔστιν Λακεδαιμόνιος.

Level 2b: Leading yes/no questions

Q: μὴ Λακεδομόνιος ὁ Δικαιόπολις;

A: οὐ Λακεδομόνιος ὁ Δικαιόπολις, ἀλλὰ Ἀθηναῖός ἐστιν.

Level 3: Substitution with who/what/where/when/why

τίς ἐστιν Ἀθηναῖος;   ὁ Δικαιόπολίς ἐστιν Ἀθηναῖος.

τίς ἐστιν ἡ πόλις τῷ Δικαοπόλιδι;   Ἀθηναῖός ἐστιν ὁ Δικαιόπολις.

τί ἐστιν ὁ Δικαιόπολις;    αὐτουργός ἐστιν. ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν. Ἀθηναῖός ἐστιν. ὁ Δικαιόπολίς ἐστιν αὐτουργός τε καὶ Ἀθηναῖός.

τίνα γεωργεῖ ὁ Δικαιόπολις;     τὸν κλῆρον γεωργεῖ.

τίς ἐστιν μικρός;               ὁ κλῆρός ἐστιν μικρός.

τίς ἐστιν μακρός;             μακρός ἐστιν ὁ πόνος.

ποῦ οἰκεῖ ὁ Δικαιόπολις;            ἐν τοῖς ἀγροῖς οἰκεῖ.

τί ἔχει ὁ Δικαιόπολις;      κλῆρον ἔχει.

τί ποιεῖ ὁ Δικαιόπολις;    τὸν κλῆρον γεωργεῖ; πονεῖ ἐν τοῖς ἀγροῖς.

ποῖός ἐστιν ὁ βίος;          χαλεπός ὁ βίος.

ποῖός ἐστιν ὁ κλῆρος;     μικρός ἐστιν.

Level 4: Asking for details not in the reading

ἆρα ἐστιν ὁ Δικαιόπολις νεανίας, ἢ οὔ;

μὴ ἦν ὁ πατὴρ τοῦ Δικαιοπόλιδος αὐτουργός;

πότερον πολίτης ὁ Δικαιόπολις ἢ δοῦλος;

τίς ἡ πατρίς ἐστι τῷ Δικαιοπόλιδι;

ὁ Δικαιόπολις μόνος οἰκεῖ ἐν τοῖς ἀγροῖς;

Level 5: Asking for student details/responses (personalisation)

ἆρα σὺ εἶ Ἀθηναῖος, ἢ οὐ;

ἆρα σὺ εἶ αὐτοργός;

πότερον Ἀθηναῖος εἶ ἢ οὔ;

μὴ γεωργεῖς;

οὐ ἔχεις κλῆρόν τινα;

τίς ἡ πατρὶς σοι;

οἰκεῖς ἐν τοῖς ἀγροῖς; ἐν τῇ πόλει; ποῦ οἰκεῖς;

(the same again, but in the 3rd person, in 2nd plural, in 3rd plural, with students, with known and unknown responses.)

Level 6: Conditionals

εἰ Ἀθηναῖος ἐστιν ὁ Δικαιόπολις, τίς ἡ πατρίς αὐτῷ;

εἰ Λακεδομόνιος ἦν ὁ Δικαιόπολις, ποῦ ἂν ᾤκει;

(I would generally start with conditionals closely tied to the text. But you can make them further and removed.

There are other things you can do: use of synonymous words, phrases, structures. Switching around constructions (active <> middle), etc etc. But this is just a sample.

Courses for 2020: Now available

After some consultation, I’ve finalised a list of courses for 2020. They are now available on the Online Courses page. Each of these courses will have carry on courses across 2020, for four terms of 10 weeks each. (e.g. Greek 101, 102, 103, 104 carry you through an entire introductory Greek sequence)

In short, I am offering introductory and intermediate classes in Latin and Greek, conducted almost entirely in the target language, and covering a broad range of texts. If you have any questions about the suitability of a course, or details about enrolment or course delivery, please get in touch with me about it and I’ll be happy to address any questions or concerns. All my courses run off US Eastern time, so you will need to adjust as appropriate for your own time zones. Courses start the first week of February and will run in 10 week blocks, 4 times across the year.


(all times US eastern, starting Feb 2nd)


7pm   Greek 101: Introductory Greek 1
8pm   Latin 201 Readings in Classical Latin: Caesar, De Bello Gallico
9pm   Greek 201 Readings in Classical Greek: Lysias 1


6pm   Latin 251 Latin Composition and Translation studies
7pm   Latin 101 Introductory Latin 1
8pm   Greek 221 Biblical Greek 1: Esther
9pm   Greek 251 Greek Composition and Translation studies 1


7pm   Latin 211 Theological Latin through the Ages 1 (0-500)
8pm   Greek 212 Greek Patristics 1

Audit Options

Interested in a particular class but not able to make the scheduled live interactions? This year I’ll be introducing an audit-option. You will gain all access to class materials and extra-class support, as well as video recordings of the class sessions. However, if I don’t have enough interest in an actual class, I cannot provide an audit option. Moreover, I strongly advise class participation if possible.

Individual Tutoring

I’ll be continuing to offer individualised tutoring in Greek and Latin. This is ideal if (a) you want personalised instruction, (b) you want to work on something not offered in a class. We can tailor our work together to meet your needs. It can range the spectrum from fully communicative to traditional grammar/translation. I’m happy to work on any text in Ancient Greek (up to the Byzantine period) or Latin.

Custom Pair or small group Tutoring

Individual tutoring isn’t for everyone, I know. But perhaps the classes I’m running aren’t your thing. If you’ve got a friend or two, and want to do some customised tutoring but in a small group or pair, I’m very open to this format. Tutoring work in a pair can work exceptionally well by introducing a third person to interact with, as well as cutting the price significantly on your end.

The Steadman Challenge Reading Group

I’m full of initiatives at the moment. The idea for this one came from a friend, to be honest. “What if you read all the Geoffrey Steadman editions of Greek texts??” That’s some solid Greek reading there in a very help format. That was the idea, and now the reality: we started a google group for those interested in working through 18 texts in the Steadman edition (17 volumes, with two texts in one) over 18 months. In December we’re reading Crito, followed by Lysias 1 in January. Then it’s on to a full volume (of various lengths a month) a month.

I realised that I had shared this on twitter, but there are perhaps others who would like to join us. The google group/email list is mostly for support, a little bit for asking questions on difficulties. So it’s more of a loose coalition of reading-together, but it will do your Greek a world of good.

The Intermediate Koine problem

You may have heard of ‘the third year problem’. It’s the problem of getting through two years of Latin, through ‘all the grammar’, and working out what to teach school students in order to transition them to ‘genuine’ Latin. It’s not really that simple a problem either, because getting from a grammar background to genuine unadapted texts as taught in upper high school is a tremendously difficult problem.

Anyway, there’s a similar problem that besets most students who have come out of a theological background and want to read broader Greek. Let’s call it the ‘intermediate Koine’ problem. Most seminary students these days, if they are fortunate ones, get 2 semesters of grammar, and then 1, 2, 3 or perhaps 4 ‘exegesis’ courses in which they are expected to work through a New Testament book in Greek. Which, in theory, might leave them with a 6 semester series of Greek courses, but that is definitely the upper end. (well, I must confess, I did 1 year of grammar, followed by 3 years of texts, so 8 courses really).

But my experience of moving into Patristics was… probably not very standard. I was already doing Latin, and I started taking a couple of Classical Greek classes on the side, went to some short courses, and read a lot of extra Greek. And then I tackled Chrysostom in my Masters.

I have met more than a few students interested in Patristics, or even just some broader Greek reading, who don’t know who to bridge the gap between their seminary-Greek and broader Greek literature. (Classical Greek students normally don’t have this same problem. They have other problems though, so don’t let them get too snobbish about it).

Here’s my generic advice if you’re in this situation:

  • The New Testament is relatively easy Greek. Take advantage of that and make sure you’ve read it all. And familiarity with the NT and with the LXX is going to serve you well if you do go onto the Fathers, because they are all familiar with it. It’s their Bible.
  • But most of the Fathers were educated in Greek, and they are generally writing in higher registers than the NT, and they are often imitating a more classicising style.
  • For which reason, you are well advised to spend some time working through a Classical Greek textbook. It will fill in the gaps that a NT grammar left out, broaden your vocab and exposure to Greek, and give you some more tools in the bag for difficulties.
  • At the same time, you want to start reading more broadly. The Apostolic Fathers are a very good set of texts to transition with, because they are building on the New Testament in style and vocabulary, are moderately more difficult, but much will be familiar. If you’re after something more generic to read, Xenophon or Lysias are good choices. Between those two, I prefer to recommend Lysias.
  • Ultimately, the main factor that is going to contribute to crossing the rather long intermediate plateau, is a commitment to reading more and more Greek. So don’t be afraid to go where your interests lie. Motivation to keep reading and understanding is important in the long run, to keep you in this game for the long run.

Sore Thumbs in Subcorpus vocabulary

Lately James Tauber and I have been collaborating (him doing lots of work, me coming up with new things to do) on vocabulary data.

My particular driving interest was how to structure the writing of LGPSI to introduce vocabulary, from the start, that will build students towards a strong basis for reading post-introductory texts. Instead of a pure frequency approach, LGPSI has as its broad focus providing just more and more and more exposure to the most frequent words. At some stage I hope to utilise specific lemmatisation work on LGPSI itself to improve the text’s own introduction of vocabulary, but my major focus at the moment is thinking how the larger arc of the text serves a long-term goal of Greek learners.

The subcorpus we selected deliberately aims at both the New Testament, and some post-beginner prose texts (selections from Plato, Lysias, Xenophon, Thucydides, Herodotos, and a small amount of Demosthenes and Isocrates), as the most likely ‘second contact’ for Greek learners. In this post, I want to reflect a little on ‘sore thumbs’ – when we look at the frequency data of the subcorpus as a whole, but notice a discrepancy between those sub-subcorpora. In the notes below, I’ll simply give the percentage point at which a word occurs in terms of coverage, for the subcorpus, and for the GNT.

Exhibit A:

Words common in broader Greek, but relatively absent in the New Testament.

δή (50.97%, 94.65%)

The first word that we encounter that’s relatively common in our subcorpus but not the GNT is δή. And what I’d say is that it’s emblematic of the fact that the broader and richer particle usage in Greek is not reflected in the GNT. This is one challenge for students moving from NT Koine to broader Greek – encountering and mastering a range of particles.

(see also τοίνυν, ἦ, οὐκοῦν and οὔκουν

(54.88%, 85.14%)

Using ὦ in vocative address is relatively uncommon in the GNT.

τοιοῦτος (56.28%, 80.18%)

The ‘extended’ set of qualitative and quantitative demonstrative-type adjectives are under-represented in the GNT.

ἐπεί (58.01%, 83.07%)

This one surprised me (as did a few), simply because I have become rather use to ἐπεί

οἴομαι (60.19%, 97.34%)

With only 3 NT occurrences, this is a high-frequency non-GNT word that is remarkable absent in the GNT.

βούλομαι (60.5%, 83.8%)

Similarly this one. This makes me suspect that the GNT has some systematic preferences, e.g. θέλω in place of βούλομαι. Students transitioning from NT-only Koine to broader Greek would benefit from just some advance notice on these.

οἷος (62.16%, 90.42%)

Similar to τοιοῦτος above.

ὥσπερ (62.63%, 84.15%)

For a word that I use conversationally quite a bit, I was again surprised by its infrequency. I have a hunch this is perhaps reflected in a preference for ὡς.

ὅδε (66.3%, 91.36%)

The nearest demonstrative is drastically under-represented in the GNT, probably reflecting its disuse among contemporary speakers. It would be interesting to compare this with a broader Koine corpus.

πολέμιος (66.47%, n/a)

This is the first, but not the only word, that is reasonably frequent in our subcorpus, but appears zero times in the GNT. (σφεῖς is the next most common one).

μάλιστα (67.34%, 91.41%)

Another reasonably common word (and useful conversational one!) dramatically absent in GNT.

τυγχάνω (67.42%, 91.97%)

χρή (69.94%, hapax)

Remarkable that this is a hapax in the NT (James 3:10)

ἀφικνέομαι (70.23%, hapax)

Again remarkable to me, having become used to so many people ‘arriving’ in various places. (Rom 16:19)

I could go on, to be honest. But one of the things this brings home to me is that those who learn with only NT Greek, need to have their sense of Greek ‘normed’ a bit against a broader Greek corpus. Not necessarily this corpus, but nevertheless ‘broader’ Greek. How can you have a sense of Greek usage if your only reading material is the GNT corpus?

Secondly, it sets some bench marks for my own writing. The vocabulary data James is generating lets me check my own tendencies, which very often are shaped by what I’ve been reading lately! To ask the question of, “is this word relatively common, or uncommon?” And to shape the vocabulary introduction in LGPSI around benchmarks of 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000 lemma.