Patristic Readers – Gregory of Nyssa’s Ad Simplicium

As promised, I have a new short pdf text up at Patristic Readers, it’s Gregory of Nyssa’s Ad Simplicium, De Fide.

I decided to tackle this short text after finishing up Ad Ablabium, partly because the latter is too short for a print volume by itself, partly because I thought it would prove a very manageable short text dealing with a related topic, i.e. continuing in the vein of Gregory’s Trinitarian theology. The Greek is not overly difficult, and the high amount of repetition should be of great benefit to students with less developed skills. I commend it to your reading leisure!

Patristic Readers – Gregory of Nyssa’s Ad Ablabium

Just now I’ve posted up and released a pdf version of my Patristic Readers edition of Gregory of Nyssa’s Ad Ablabium.


Altogether, the number of hours for this volume is not staggering, but it has taken quite some time. I’ve refined my process for Greek quite well, and when I’m on task and working I get through things at a decent pace. However, there are many gremlins that slow things down, and working on something like this is distracting for the doctoral research, so I suspect it will be a little while before the next volume. The next one will involve a Latin Father, and so there is also some more ‘set-up’ time on the Latin front as well.

I’m moving towards some print volumes, my hold-up remains cover design but I think we’re making progress there. I’ll let you know.


The Middle Voice (Greek): Thoughts and Pedagogy

Recently I’ve been thinking and reading more about the middle voice. It was first occasioned by some by-the-way comments in Aubrey’s thesis, p204-6. There he gives a typological table derived from Kemmer. Also, in some email exchange, he suggested I check out R.J. Allen’s doctoral thesis, “The Middle Voice in Ancient Greek. A study in Polysemy”, as well as Rachel Aubrey’s forthcoming thesis dealing with it.

I also had the chance to think about the middle in my “Methods” class, since the 1st year students are just hitting the issue of voice, and so I had the opportunity to interact with 2nd and 3rd years students and talk about the difficulty of teaching Greek voice.

I’m going to briefly summarise the typology of the middle voice that you find in Kemmer and Allen. Allen basically gives us 11 or 12 categories:

  1. Passive Middle: The Patient has subject status
  2. Spontaneous Process Middle: the subject undergoes an internal change of (physical) state.
  3. Mental Process Middle: The subject experiences a mental affectedness.
  4. Body Motion Middle: The subject causes a change of physical position to themself.
  5. Collective Motion Middle: The (plural) subjects move, i.e. gathering or dispersing.
  6. Reciprocal Middle: The (plural) subjects act so that A does to B what B does to A.
  7. Direct reflexive middle: The subject acts upon themself, usually in a habitual/customary action.
  8. Perception Middle: The subject perceives by means of the senses and so is both agent and experiencer.
  9. Mental Activity Middle: The subject acts within and upon their own mind, and so is both agent and experiencer (and possibly patient). This differs from 3 in that 9 is more reflexive, whereas in 3 the process may have an external stimulus.
  10. Speech act middle: The subject acts as speaker, but is involved also as beneficiary or experiencer.
  11. Indirect Reflexive Middle: The subject performs a transitive action but also functions as beneficiary of the action.
  12. At some point, Allen seems to treat δύναμαι as a distinct group.

I think having this kind of typology helps a student in their intermediate stages see how middles “involve the subject”, rather than the often place-holder explanations given in a beginner’s course. In each of these, except 1, you can begin to understand how the subject of the verb also takes a role as patient, experiencer, or beneficiary. This helps relate how these ideas are “middle” in the ‘logic’ of the Greek language.

It also helps to explain why deponency is a bad explanation for middle-only verbs. Middle-only verbs are ‘middle’ in the internal-logic of the Greek. We would call them middle verb-forms with middle ‘meaning’. It’s only in, say, English, that they are “middle in form but active in translation”. Translation and native-language meaning are two different things here.

One of the problems, pedagogically, is that when the middle voice is introduced in most textbooks, they have a fairly unclear way of explaining what to do with it. Basically, students are usually told: look at the active meaning of the verb, and come up with a way to ‘make it middle’. This doesn’t really help that much, I would say. It’s often better to (a) look up the word in a lexicon and check if there’s an entry for the middle, (b) consider the context of the word and how middleness might function, (c) if you’re a “think of the category” type person, having the kind of typology above would help you actually think through the various options.

The other thing about Allen’s thesis that’s nice is that it is about the diachronic changes in Greek, and he maps out some of the shift of the θη passive stem. I think it’s deadly confusing for Koine students in particular to talk about the passive as the passive. I can see now why it is that textbooks call this a passive stem; I would conjecture that it’s because when θη appears, it appears as a subset of the middle voice, but particularly expressing category 1, the true passive. But English learners function with an active/passive dichotomy, and so are more likely to overstate the passivity of the middle category. Learning/teaching that the passive is a subset of the middle helps to dislodge this idea.

On page 110, and 123, Allen has a couple of diagrams that show how, chronologically, the θη stem is ‘eating up’ other middle usages, a trajectory that continues beyond classical Greek, into the Koine period and beyond, until the middle gets devoured. θη is like the ‘cancer of the middle voice’ that cannibalises and colonises the other usages. Realising this for NT students is important because the passive marker isn’t distinctly passive and so does not necessarily carry exegetical significance. I think R. Buth made this point somewhere about ἐγείρω and the form ἠγέρθη(ν). (Sorry, I can’t recall where, and apologies if it wasn’t Buth). What’s the difference between Christ “being raised” and Christ “arose” (in the middle sense)? The θη doesn’t tell you which is meant. Exegetical restraint demands that you don’t try and make a theological point from a grammatical feature that won’t ‘bear that weight’.

What to do in the classroom? I’m still figuring that out. I think, personally, that I would go with these things though:

  • Teach two voices: Active and Subject-Reflexive.
  • Teach the passive as a subset of S-R.
  • Teach θη as an alternate middle stem, and give some reading material for advanced/interested students explaining its history.
  • Teach middle-only forms as just middle only, without making a big deal out of them.

Reading Aubrey’s Thesis (6)

Chapter 5 of Aubrey’s thesis returns to the stratosphere, as he takes the analysis done on the perfect in Koine Greek and then considers what this has to say/contribute to how RRG works as an approach for linguistics. Particularly, he wants to consider how the Bybee-Dahl approach of look at grams without prejudging meta-categories of aspect/tense/mood, can mesh with Bhat’s typology of looking at languages in terms of A/T/M prominence. An initial diagrammatic relaisation of that is given on p138. This realisation itself has problems, in that it is an idealisation. A more concrete, though still rather abstract, diagram of Koine Greek comes on p140.

p141 offers a diagram that goes back to typology of verbal operators in RRG. Can the approach to categories presented in Aubrey’s synthesis of Bybee-Dahl-Bhat be realised within this typology? Aubrey says perhaps not, and perhaps it’s not necessary anyway.

If you’re after some key pay-off for understanding Greek, p143 has some good material. Aubrey says that the perfect, like the future, is a peripheral category, and that as such they “are not inherently tense or aspect”. As far as this analysis goes, the perfect functions within the aspect system, because Greek is aspect prominent. The future appears ambiguous, because it almost doesn’t know whether it’s aspectual or temporal.

Chapter 6 is the Conclusion chapter, and if you’ve been lost, here is a chance to catch up. I’d like to emphasise the first sentence here, “The goal of this thesis was not so much to solve a problem, but to fill in a gap.” (p145) Aubrey’s thesis doesn’t ‘solve’ the Greek perfect, it seeks to expand the usefulness of RRG for certain areas of language description. But obviously this thesis has important implications for understanding Koine Greek. Indeed, note the sentence on p150 under “Possibilities for future research”, where he says, “If we evaluate the grammars of the past century in terms of Chomsky’s types of linguistic adequacy, they fail to even meet the standard of descriptive adequacy, much less explanatory adequacy.” ouch.

I won’t offer a read-through of the two appendices. Appendix A lists of all the verbs examined and their predicate classes. It is worth reading, because of the way it helps you understand that typology of predicate classes and how it relates to actual verbs and the actual research Aubrey has done.

Appendix B is probably of more interest to my general (minute) readership. It is an overview of the Greek verbal system. Why do you need to read this? Because probably all you have read is those inadequate grammars we mentioned above! The overview here is “independent of the traditional grammatical tradition in terms of categories and terminology” (p187) and so well worth your reading.


And that’s a wrap. Take home message: Greek perfects are resultative/completive grams operating in the aspect system. Or, to uncover Aubrey’s view of aspect from Appendix B (p199):

The Koine Greek verbal system has three aspects: perfective, imperfective, and perfect. The perfective aspect makes no reference to internal temporal structure and is contextually bounded in its interpretation. The imperfective refers to temporal internal structure that is incomplete. It is contextually unbounded. If it appears in a clause with a goal periphery, there is nothing to suggest the goal was achieved. Lastly the perfect aspect refers to internal temporal structure that is either completed (completive) or exists as achieved state (resultative). It is inherently telic and will either assign an endpoint to a situation or event or denote the resultant state of that situation or event. As such, the perfect is both telic and bounded.

Reading Aubrey’s Thesis (5)

Apologies that these come out slowly, I am mostly busy trying to get a paper written by month’s end. Here are links to the earlier posts: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Today we’re picking up at 4.2.3, which deals with “Gram-specific tests part II: Predicate classes”. Probably you’ve had a mental blank and have no idea what Aubrey is talking about. Basically what Aubrey does in this section is take the idea of “anteriors” (indicating a thing that happened prior to another thing, “resultatives” (indicating that an action with a goal (a telic predicate) has created a new state (result), and “completives” (indicating that an action has, you guessed it, come to its inherent end point).

In this section Aubrey goes through Greek perfects and looks at how they match up with these gram types: First he looks at State Predicates (verbs that indicate a state of being); he finds that generally they do not appear in the perfect. The main contrast he does find is Type IV grammatical contrasts (i.e. the difference in forms means that the event is conceptualised differently). In which the perfect indicates entrance into the state. he also finds some involve an “intensive usage” indicating that the participant “experience[es] the state to the highest degree” (p99). Verbs with a meaning of strong emotion are also found in the perfect with such an intensive sense. Generally speaking, these findings correlated with resultative and completive ideas.

The other set of atelic predicates (semelfactives and activity), are easier to talk about. Semelfactives basically do not appear in the perfect. Activity predicates generally only appear in the perfect as active achievements with an endpoint. I.e. you don’t get “marched” in the perfect, but you do get “marched to the city”. This is followed by some stuff about negative clauses which we will skip today.

The next section ( deals with telic predicates. i.e. verbs which involve or end with a change of state. Following the RRG typology, Aubrey looks through achievements, active achievements, and accomplishments. If you forgot what those are, you can revise them in my first post in this series.

Active achievements involve an activity that has a duration, and then a change fo state (the achievement) that is instantaneous. You find Greek perfects with this idea. You do not find Greek perfects (usually) with Activity predicates (the activity with a duration, but no change of state at the end of it).

I walked or I was walking are activities.

I walked to the park is an active achievement.

Aubrey finds that only when an activity is given a specific (object) or end point is it likely to appear in the perfect rather than the perfective. He also finds the perfect used for “exhaustive” completion of an activity, and in conjunction with voice that the perfect middle is used “to refer to the achieved state of an active achievement”, a role the imperfective middle will not do.

Overall this section also supports the idea that resultatives and completives are dominant in comparison to anteriors.

Aubrey then goes on to look at achievements and accomplishments. This too supports the above conclusion. Finally this chapter looks at causatives along the same lines.

I have skimmed over a lot of examples and argumentation in this chapter to basically give an overview of what is discussed and what is found. In the conclusion of this chapter, Aubrey affirms that the Greek perfect is not anterior but is split between resultatives and completives. His tests have some relevance for adjusting the tests themselves, and how this typology may fit with RRG as well.

What does this mean for how you understand the perfect in Greek?

“In sum, the Greek perfect is a synthetic verbal morpheme that patterns with other aspect morphemes and thus functions in the nuclear layer of the operator projection. Semantically, the morpheme conveys both resultative and completive meaning, depending on both the predicate being used and also the context of the predication. On many occasions, particularly with perfects derived from accomplishments and achievements, it is almost impossible to choose between resultative and completive readings.” (p131).


Reading Aubrey’s Thesis (4)

Okay, if you’re coming at this from a Koine Greek angle like me, we’re now getting to the good stuff. In chapter 4 Aubrey takes his methodological work and begins to apply it specifically to the Greek perfect. Firstly, he reviews some of the disagreements about the perfect, and this is actually really helpful to. For example, he talks about the Perfect as historically a derivation of a PIE stative verb that is generally agreed in the Homeric period to be a resultative type gram. There is less agreement about the shift into Classical Greek, with most agreeing that it came to be a kind of anterior gram, but little consensus about when this took place, McKay puts it as late as Byzantine Greek! As for the Koine period, there’s no consensus at all. Fanning sees it as a state-predicate, Porter treats it as stative but then goes out on a limb and says that stativity is its own aspect. Evans and Campbell are the most extreme, claiming that it is in fact imperfective in aspect. What’s a poor Greek scholar to do!

Well, Aubrey says let’s go ahead and apply the methodology and tests previsouly outlined. p83 has a useful table that talks about Greek morphemes in a way maybe you hadn’t thought about before. Put the root in the middle: λυ, now what can come immediately after that? 3 options: nothing, σ, or κ, so this is a 3-way contrast between imperfective, perfective, and perfect. Note that the aorist and the future are marked by sigma for perfective aspect. Immediately before the root there is a slot for reduplication, and then further ‘out’ the front you have the tense marker (the ε augment), while on the end slot you have “everything else”. If you’re reading Aubrey’s thesis with me, the table really makes this clear.

Anyway, what’s the upshot? Perfect marking goes next to the root, and in an aspect slot. You can’t mark perfect and also mark perfective or imperfective. You can mark perfect and then mark past time. So this supports both aspect prominence for Greek, and aspect for understanding the perfect.

Moving on to grammaticalisation, paradigmaticity, obligatoriness, and pervasiveness (remember those long words!), aspect is more pervasive (p84) because aspect is marked in both indicative and non-indicate forms; tense is only marked in the indicative.

The next step is to test the perfect with quantification. We talked about this back in my second post, and it’s around page 50 or so of the thesis. Basically, we want to see whether the perfect takes certain types of adverbs and not others. Cardinal counting (once, twice, thrice) should occur with perfectives, frequency counting (always, twice a day, five times a year, etc..) should occur with imperfectives. You probably need to read this section (p85-88) to get a full scope of it. Aubrey talks about how the different types of quantifier adverbs appear with different semantic types of perfects (resultatives, completives, anteriors), and talks about how ἀεὶ appears to function with perfects to indicate persistence rather than frequency. Anyway, the conclusion is that this test too confirms that the perfect should be understood primarily in aspectual terms.

The next metatest (p89-91) looks at discourse function, with a passage from Josephus. The conclusion is that the perfect do not provide mainline information that moves the narrative forward, which is what the perfective aspect does. It provides background information. This does not mean, as Campbell concluded, that the perfect is in fact imperfective though. “They both do convey temporal internal structure (Comrie 1976), but the type of temporal internal structure is distinct. The imperfective has no inherent endpoint, while the perfect at times places the focus on the completion of a backgrounded event and other times presents an event as a persistent state that existed concurrently with the foregrounded narrative” (p92).

The next section looks at gram-specific tests (anteriors, resultatives, and completives). In this post I round out the shorter section, looking at adverb tests, and leave the second half of chapter 4 for the next post. Specifically, we should expect adverbs such as “just” and “already” with anteriors, and “still” with resultatives. The conclusion is somewhat inconclusive, because the data splits. But what Aubrey does claim is that the Greek perfect allows for resultative-like grams. However the adverb test does not help us with completives, so the status of completives and anteriors requires further testing. Which we shall see in the second half of chapter 4.

Reading Aubrey’s Thesis (3)

Are you having fun yet? You can read parts 1 and 2 first.

Today we pick up at section 3.2.1, in which Aubrey talks about 2 approaches to categorising up how the perfect ‘fits in’ to languages. But I’m going to flip things up a bit by talking about the second approach ( first. The second approach Aubrey discusses is by Bhat, who suggests an idealised model in which languages give more prominence to either aspect, tense, or mood. So imagine there are these 3 ‘ideal’ (almost Platonic) languages, one which privileges Aspect above all else, the other raises Tense to the same degree, the third treats Mood with this importance. Each actual language doesn’t match on of these ideals, but it will triangulate and lean towards one of these more than the others.

How do you know which element is more prominent? Features like: grammaticalisation (i.e. is the element embedded into the grammar of the language?), obligation (i.e. are speakers given no choice about whether to express the element or not. e.g. in some languages one must indicate whether something is perfective or imperfective in aspect, there is no non-aspect-marked form), systematic and pervasive (i.e. is the element featured throughout the language’s [verbal] system without significant gaps).

So a language that forces and features past vs. non-past may be tense prominent, a language that obliges perfective vs. imperfective is more likely to be aspect prominent, etc..

Aubrey discusses this model second for certain reasons, that Bhat manages to encapsulate ideas from Bybee-Dahl in a way useful for RRG. But in my view Bhat is a lot easier to understand than Bybee-Dhal and thus to explain. Bhat also (p59-60) suggests that some elements may be ‘re-explained’ within an language from one type of system to another. This can be seen in the Future. Is the future ‘tense’ modal (expressing ideas like desire, obligation, ability) or temporal in its operation? This differs from language to language, but it also differs diachronically, and this is certainly true for Ancient Greek. Some have analysed the future as deriving from a PIE desiderative suffix (p61), while offers argue that it derives from a perfective aspect suffix. So, the question then becomes, ‘Historically, did the future tense-form arise from a modal form or an aspect one?’ Regardless, with reference to Dionysius Thrax, Aubrey points out that Ancient Greek grammarians analysed it as aspectual.

Similarly with the perfect. For tense-prominent languages (still p61), perfects can be analysed temporally, a “past even that has current (present) relevance” (quoting Bhat). This certainly works quite well for English. On the other hand (p63) an aspect-prominent language has a perfect form that is aspectual, not temporal, in both its formation and its general significance.

Okay, now that we’ve got our heads around Bhat, let’s step back to, Bybee-Dahl. These two sideline categories like tense and aspect, and instead look at “grams”. What are “grams”? Imagine you just came up with a word that signified varies tense-forms or aspect-forms or mood-forms, but you wanted it not to mean any of them in particular, just all those varieties of putting a verb into a particular ‘form’. That’s a gram (I think!), or a “grammatical morpheme” – it’s a tag or structure that identifies a particular grammatical feature, but remember we’re dealing with verbal systems. So it’s when we analyse these grams that we go looking for their tense/aspect/mood in relation to their semantic content.

This frees us to look at grams more broadly, and consider how a range of notions: aspectual, temporal, modal, aktionsart-ish, and so on, can or could be realised in a language’s systems. There’s a great, difficult to summarise, illustrative diagram on p55.

One of the advantages of this model is that it sidesteps ‘beginning’ with the Perfect. instead, they present ‘gram-types’ such as “resultatives, completives, and anteriors” which have “similar paths of grammaticalization” that typically result in “perfect” forms. But it allows both synchronic and diachronic analysis of what that perfect means, its semiosis.

By dispensing with the tense-aspect-mood categories as a starting point, it allows a better approach to the individual systematisation of languages, however the disadvantages are a lack of engagement with some other linguistic theoretical elements (p57) such as that grammaticalisation of tense is usually distinct from grammaticalisation of aspect as a system. The failure is largely a result of tending to look at things from a more micro rather than macro perspective.

So Aubrey moves on in 3.2.2 to talk about how using these approaches, we must discuss mortphosyntactic and semantic tests (p64). How does the perfect line up with tense grams and aspect grams? How do we categorise actual grams in a particular language? We need some tests! Tests for grammatical prominence are something I talked a little bit earlier in this post: grammaticalisation, systematic organisation, obligatoriness, pervasiveness. The second step to is test for tense and aspect in particular. We must consider whether a particular gram functions within the paradigm of the tense system or aspect system, unambiguously or not. In some languages tense/aspect is always ambiguous, or better yet intertwined.

Aubrey talks through a number of other types of tests, which are summarised in a table on p70. Finally he talks about tests suitable for perfect-like grams (p71), which is the focus of the study. Bybee et alii set out two morphosyntactic tests for anterior and reultative grams: anteriors will take temporal adverbs likejust or already, but not still (prior state-of-affairs vs. persistent situation). Anterior grams are likely to be tense-oriented.

Resultative grams function in reverse: they should take still but not just and already, and resultatives are aspect-oriented. Sadly, Aubrey notes, Bybee et alii don’t have any more good tests for these 3 grams. Instead, some test need to be derived. Resultatives, by their semantic content, “require a normally telic verb”, so there’s a test waiting to happen. Completive grams tend to “correlate closely with change of state predicates”; these, and a few others, result in 7 tests (p74) for Aubrey to apply to perfect-like grams in Greek.

Great! In our next post we’ll get to work on understanding how Aubrey went with applying this to the Greek perfect

Reading Aubrey’s Thesis (2)

For part 1 click here.

Today I’m going to talk my way through Chapter 3 of Aubrey’s thesis. What did Aubrey do in Chapter 2? He told you all about Role and Reference Grammar and then said, “hey, why doesn’t it do a good typology/classification of tense and aspect? Wouldn’t that be handy-dandy?” Chapter 3 sketches out what an approach to tense and aspect in RRG would/could/should look like.

Aubrey starts off by talking about some of the meta-issues; for example how categories relate to a particular language and to universal grammar, or at least a universalising concept of language (p29). Similarly, simply choosing what terminology to use, what distinctions or categories to draw up, is itself a step of interpretation, before we even get to the empirical questions (p30). There is, almost inevitably, a back and forth between the more theoretical and the more ‘on the ground’ levels of analysis here (p31). This issue of the “bidirectional relationship between” the two levels, quoting Bache, then gets applied to Porter’s analysis by way of critique. Porter introduces the label ‘remote’ to refere to the past/non-past distinction in Greek. But this choice of label, and especially how Porter uses it, do not match with more generalised applications of the term in linguistics. That is, remoteness is generally used to refer to temporal remoteness in languages, to temporal distance. But Porter repurposes the term to use it precisely for non-temporal remoteness that may be used temporally. This is idiosyncratic at best.

In the following section Aubrey considers a very interesting element of methodology. It has to do with example sentences, replacement, and minimal pairs. A typical way of teasing out linguistic differences is to use example sentences, and change a single element, to demonstrate the difference this makes in utterance. Drawing on Bache, Aubrey gives us a typology of 4 types: (I) Replacement is not possible due to a gap in the grammar, (II) replacement results in an ungrammatical sentence, (III) replacement results in a distinct change of meaning (non-synonymy), (IV) replacement involves slight to zero change of meaning (near synonymy). Aubrey runs through examples, with reference to English and to Koine, and demonstrates how all 4 categories need to be examined for linguistic typology, but also how the boundaries of these types are sometimes unclear. Further on (p.45f) he points out that generally Type II and III are the categories that best demonstrate claims about “morphological and syntactic forms”, but a responsible use of example sentences will be one that considers what type of contrast is in play, not merely what contrast is set up.

Careful attention to this typology of contrast sentences is important because misplaced emphasis on the wrong categories can lead to unjustifiable claims. This is seen in the Koine tense/aspect debates from the late 80s (p.47). Undue emphasis on type 4 contrasts supported claims that Greek was tenseless, whereas alternate understandings of the contrast pairs would support a different explanation that saw these as extensional differences. What’s the upshot at this point of Aubrey’s argument? That Porter argued for something on the basis of Type IV examples, when he should have given more argument on the basis of Types II and III, and that this undermines the strength of Porter’s analysis and conclusion.

Now Aubrey moves on (p.50) to a select examination of work on typology of tense and aspect. Here’s some real meat for you. First up, Comrie’s “definition of aspect as involving the grammaticalization of the ‘internal temporal constituency,’ of a situation” (p.51), then Bhat’s 3 classes: (1) perfective vs. imperfective, (2) phasal (distinctions of temporal constituency: e.g. ingressive, resultative, progressive, etc., (3) quantificational (distinctions of countability).

Almost everyone who has heard about aspect in Greek is familiar with the first distinction here. The second is a set of terms that many will be familiar with, and generally in Greek assign as ‘usages’, or ‘senses’ of particular verbs in context (so-called “ingressive imperfect” for instance). The third similarly so, “habitual present”, “iterative imperfect”). This has really just been a way for typological Intermediate grammars to explain/classify usages of Greek tense-forms that don’t match grammar-translationists default glosses.

This 3rd category of Bhat’s is also “difficult…in descriptive practice”. Languages just don’t neatly have/define/contrast their aspectual markings along lines that one would like.

When it comes to tense, things are more simply (p53), I mean you can only really have three deictic tense references: past, present, future, in relation to the point of speech. Any variation on this is only going to do one of two things: mark degrees of temporal remoteness from the point of speech, or using non-deictic reference, e.g. indicating past/present/future from a different point of time. Of course, one can combing deictic and non-deictic reference systems, to indicate combinations of temporal reference in relation to both time of speech, time of event, time of relative event, etc..

I’m going to stop here for today. In the next half of chapter 3 Aubrey goes on to talk about typology and the Perfect more specifically.

Reading Aubrey’s Thesis (1)

I’ve started reading Mike Aubrey’s masters thesis, which I suggest you do too. To get the statement of bias out of the way, I have vague sympathetic feelings towards Aubrey based entirely on internet interactions, and recommend his updated-just-enough-to-keep-you-subscribed blog. Apart from that I have no vested interest in talking him up.

Why should you read his masters thesis? 1. It’s about Greek. 2. It applies linguistics, not just grrrammmar (I didn’t mean to write it like that, but my keyboard spat it out thus and I thought it worth keeping!), 3. It’s about the perfect, kind of. And everyone loves to talk about the perfect these days. 4. If nothing else, by the end of it you will have absorbed so much technical jargon that you will be able to bamboozle your interlocutors into silence on any topic, especially unrelated ones.

You should know, too, that I am not formally trained in linguistics. Studying 5.5 languages and having a perverse interest in the field turned me into a paralinguist, and leeching off my wife’s textbooks while she did an MA in applied linguistics have given me all the hubris of someone who thinks they know linguistics but probably would fail the intro course.

What’s Aubrey’s thesis doing? You can understand it as basically testing two things going in different directions: on the one hand, it’s testing some of the limits of Role and Reference Grammar on its ability to deal with “detailed semantics of distinctions” (p2, quoting Butler 2003), especially related to temporality and aspectuality (tense and aspect). So it’s a thesis putting RRG to the test. How? by applying RRG to the Greek perfect. In the other direction, it’s testing a hypothesis about the Greek perfect, so the outcome ought to be a better notion of RRG in the area of semantic distinction, and conversely a better understanding of the Greek perfect. Great!

In chapter 2 of his thesis, Aubrey sets to work to talk about what RRG is and what it does. RRG breaks things down around 2 ‘representations’, Syntactic and Semantic. What I’m going to do is try and give you a dummies guide to Aubrey’s thesis. So, syntactic has to do with how you arrange the relationships between words (and word-y things, linguistic units, but let’s just stick with words in this version), and semantics has to do with meaning. Good? Great. RRG has a bunch of neat ways of talking about different states, events, and processes, and a few ways to carve up the space of syntax.

RRG is basically realist about language. Language talks about stuff. To do that you must have ‘predication’ and you must have ‘reference’. I.e, you must talk about something (a referent), and you must say something about it (predication). Language is a tool to achieve communication: to say Xs about Ys.

So onwards, RRG treats semantics as the basis for syntax. How one talks about the structure of language utterances is determined by the ‘what’, the meaning, of that utterance. This is why the predicate is the syntactic nucleus. It’s the heart of the heart of what’s going on in a clause! Then you add in an argument or two, and voila! it’s a core. What’s an argument? it’s an X or a Y you substitute into sentence to make it work. e.g. John eats violins. ‘John’ is an argument. ‘violins’ is an argument. They are variables that we use with a nucleus, with a predicate, with ‘eats’, to make a core.

I’m going to skip some stuff about operators. Let’s go to 2.1.2 Semantic representation. In this section RRG breaks down “what verbs do” into different classes. Aubrey presents 6

  1. States
  2. Achievements
  3. Accomplishments
  4. Activities
  5. Semelfactives
  6. Active-achievements

A state just describes what is. “I am dead”. There is nothing dynamic about a state. It doesn’t have to be an unchanging state. “I am hungry” is a state, but not an eternal one. All the rest are dynamic, they involve action, movement, change. Achievements and accomplishments sound like they are the same thing, but they’re not. “The window shattered” is an achievement: something happened and a new state was achieved, but the action was ‘all at once’, or ‘punctual’. “The window froze” is an accomplishment: it didn’t all at once freeze, it underwent a process of getting colder until it reached a state of being frozen. Activities are dynamic, but they don’t necessarily have an end point. “I swam” describes an activity.

The last two are expansions, as you can see from semel-factive’s breakdown, it is an achievement that is simultaneous but doesn’t involve a change of state. Whereas an active achievement takes an Activity and adds an endpoint. “I swam to work” for example.

There’s a really great table at 2.4 which shows how all these 6 classes are divided up by whether they are +/i Static, Dynamic, Telic, Punctual. Telic, if it’s unclear, is whether it has an end point.

Not only this, but just after 2.5, Aubrey fills you in on various ways to ‘test’ to see whether a predicate can be classified into each of the 6 categories.

What does all this have to do with Aspect? Good thing we’re reading a thesis on it. In section 2.2 Aubrey notes that there is a pretty big ‘gap’ between RRG’s description of different types of predicates, and the question of aspect. It’s the problem that Aspect really lies in the realm of operators, things that ‘do stuff’, neat stuff like, ‘mark and show you the aspect of the verb’.

When you come to tense and aspect, these are part of “the difficult issues of peripheral and complex grammatical categories”. So what’s a poor Greek linguist to do? Aubrey says, that what RRG needs is some better categorisation and tools for classifying what’s going on with tense and aspect. And that’s chapter 3.

Why People continue to teach via Grammar-Translation

Foreword: this is our last post for 2014. Enjoy your holidays and you’ll hear again from the Patrologist in 2015.


In this second of twin posts I’m exploring common ‘defeater’ reasons people give for sticking to GT as a method and rejecting approaches like Communicative Instruction. In each case I give a brief explanation of the belief, and some counter-points.

  1. It doesn’t work

I.e. applying CI or other modern language approaches to Classical Languages ‘doesn’t work’. I’m not sure this is a sincere objection, I suspect it’s rather of the order of ‘I don’t want to engage this idea and I’m blanketing you out’.

The fact that it has not worked, or is not pervasive, or that sometimes it doesn’t go perfectly, are not arguments against it. In fact it has worked and it does work. A few timely videos of those few individuals with a decent speaking facility in Latin or Greek shows that it is by all means possible. It is not just possible for the elite either, it is possible for all students.

  1. Dead languages are different


Not heard as often these days, but for quite some time people would say things like, “Latin is no longer spoken, therefore our method of learning must be different.” They were generally not making a comment on the difficulties of learning a language no longer spoken (i.e. lack of speakers to talk with) but asserting a fact about the nature of a no longer spoken language.


Which is absolute nonsense. Latin is not different from other languages insofar as it doesn’t have a speaking community (I don’t wish to debate whether it does have such a community at this time). Latin is a language. Which means it can be learnt as a language. The status of any language in regards to the number of speakers currently using it has zero bearing on whether it can be learnt as a language or must be learnt as a ‘something other’.


If, heavens forbid, all French speakers were wiped from the face of the earth tomorrow by some new, virulent, French-speaker-targeting super-virus, this would not alter the kind of language that French is. It would certainly create obstacles for anyone wishing to learn French. And, given their sudden fatality, I can’t imagine anyone rushing to do so, but French itself would not have changed.


So too with the classical languages: if they are languages, they may be learnt as such.


  1. It’s too hard

And remembering arcane rules of grammar that appear once every 10,000 words isn’t hard?


Yes, I would say, learning a language is hard. It’s hard to learn it as a spoken language, and it’s hard to do GT. All GT students know that! And all students who acquired an L2 as adults know that it was hard too. It took hours, it was tiring, it involved a lot of interaction with speakers, probably embarrassment, and there were many highs and lows and plateaus as well.


But it’s not harder. GT is not only hard, it’s often incredibly boring. CT is hard because it requires more investment, but it yields greater satisfaction, it’s more interesting, it’s more motivating. It’s far better to go home from a lesson of CT having interacted in the Target Language for 1-3 hours, and have one’s head swimming in the TL, than to go home after 1-3 hours of GT with one’s head full of “The wicked sailors gave roses to the good girls.”



  1. It takes too long

Basically this reason is saying that while CT might ‘work’, it is slower, takes longer, and in the end takes too long for the results it promises. Better, in their view, to stick with GT, which requires less hours and gets us ‘somewhere’ faster.

I am almost convinced this is a valid point. I’ve written several times about how many hours working with Comprehensible Input in the Target Language might be required to achieve decent levels of competency, and they are considerable. Anyone learning a modern L2 knows this. I think those invested in teaching classical languages need to be very up-front and honest that considerable time investment is necessary.

However, what I would say is this: I don’t think GT takes less hours to get to the same place. I think GT takes less hours because it teaches and achieves far less. For GT practitioners to achieve real reading fluency takes many, many hours, which is my contention under point 6. In this instance we should not compare apples and pears. Furthermore, from what I generally hear from school teachers using CI based instruction, their results outstrip traditional methods, especially when (a) they spent a little bit of time prepping their students for the kind of tests that traditional methods favour. If that little bit of prep time isn’t their, CI students often simply don’t understand the jargon of grammar questions. No wonder, since they didn’t need it.

So let’s hold off on conceding that GT is ‘faster’, because it may not be faster and it may not even be to the same destination.

  1. It doesn’t match our goals


What are ‘our’ goals? I think this is a really important question, or debate to have. Often it seems like the goal of classical language instruction is to do grammatical analysis, but I’m sure most people don’t actually think this is the goal. Isn’t the real goal to be able to understand, appreciate, interpret, texts in classical languages and so to discuss and engage their ideas and content? Isn’t ultimately the content not the form that interests us? And while content and form are never divorced, just as culture and language are inseparable, they are distinct things.


If our goal was to train grammarians, then grammar is what we ought to teach. There’s nothing wrong with being a grammarian, of English or of classical languages. And in fact, probably some people do want to study the grammar of ancient languages. We need those people! But that’s not the goal of most students, or of most programs.


CT approaches do match our goals, they drastically and desperately match our goals. The claim that no one needs to know how to order a latte in Koine is irrelevant. That’s not our goal either. The goal of CT is to produce competent users of the language with an active facility that enables reading and comprehension of texts in the target language without recourse to translation or grammatical analysis for the purpose of understanding. (Though translation and grammatical analysis may be done for other purposes).


  1. GT is how I learnt, so it works


People who end up as teachers of classical languages via GT are the 4%. That is, they are often the small minority for whom GT ‘clicks’, who ‘get it’, who enjoy it, while the rest of the cohort is destroyed by a war of attrition fought with boredom and irrelevance.


And some of these teachers get very, very good at Greek, Latin, what have you. Especially those that do doctoral programs that require epic amounts of reading of primary language material. But this is my hunch – it wasn’t GT that got them to that point, it was using GT to render those texts comprehensible, and having a huge exposure to comprehensible texts over time. It was Comprehensible Input that gave them competency in reading directly, and this was only indirectly the result of GT.


I could be wrong, but I could be right too. People whose primary discipline is classics or the like, who studied primarily via GT, and who achieve marked ‘fluency’ in reading ability, often have a pop- or folk- view of language acquisition that is poorly informed by research or SLA theory, and dominated by the insular views of their own discipline and experience.


Even if it did work for you, why should we stick to a method that works for the 4%? What about the 96%? What if we used methods that meant classical languages were learnable by all, not the self-selective and self-satisfied ‘elite’? Wouldn’t that open up the field for the simple ploughman in the field in a whole new way?

Review of Decker’s Reading Koine Greek, Part 4

In this fourth and final part of my review of Decker’s book, I cover chapters 21-33, the Appendices, and some concluding comments.

On p386, introducing participles, Decker gives the example text “I will be heading to bed right after the game. (This verbal form has a subject, so it is not a finite verb)”. Firstly, this example is of English –ing forms that are not participles. Decker is presenting the view concerning English that heading in this use should be considered part of a tense/mood finite verb construction: future progressive. However I would parse that out differently and say that the English future progressive is formed with the active participle. Secondly, the text in brackets seems to just be a mix-up, it has a subject, therefore by Decker’s scheme, it is a finite verb. Perhaps he meant to write, “it is not a non-finite verb”. This is actually an error in the text (one of very few I have found).

In chapter 27 we get to the Genitive Absolute. In this I think Decker is a little bit behind the eight-ball, since he continues to list (p447) no grammatical relationship to the rest of the sentence as one of the normal elements. However he does note (p448) that this element is the one most often missing, however “[t]he function of the participle is to change the reference of the subject”. In this, even if Decker maintains the idea of absolute, his attention to the actual usage of Koine and familiarity with function and discourse, helps the student to see what a genitive absolute phrase is effecting in the discourse of the text.

I often wonder about the arrangement of textbooks. It’s not until chapter 28 that we reach the Subjunctive mood. Does that reflect usage? Or does it reflect a progression through forms for grammatical-pedagogical reasons. I also found it amusing how many times Decker reminds the student that there is no future subjunctive. No doubt Decker had many a student who regularly keep parsing verbs as Fut Subj!

Likewise, chapter 29 introduces the imperative and optative. A different philosophy of language instruction would probably introduce the imperative earlier. I cannot agree with the suggestion on p490 that third person imperatives should avoid translation with “let…” (in order to avoid the idea of permission) in preference to “must” language. While “let” for permission is common in English, the only option for formal equivalence is the slightly archaic “let…” construction, introducing a necessity construction does not alleviate the issue, it just replaces one misrepresentation with another.”

The optative is rare enough by the Koine period that it rightly takes up little space in a Koine grammar. Decker spares the student by teaching only what is essential for recognising them.

I was interested to read the historical divergence between Goodwin and Gildersleeve in describing Greek conditional statements, on p499, and glad for its inclusion. The section on informal conditions in the following chapter will also be of great help to students.

Another question about sequencing arises when we finally reach the –μι verbs in ch.32. Decker even discusses the question about how much attention they need, and so his decision to leave them towards the end and give a more general survey. While a few –μι verbs are quite important, and quite frequent, they are so only in a restricted range of forms; right through this chapter and the following Decker often gives frequency data for forms of the word appearing in the NT, which assuages the student that for reading the NT and LXX a full knowledge of every theoretical form is not necessary.


Decker includes several appendices, all of great utility. He first gives reference charts, which are exactly what you expect them to be. While generally laid out well, I do find that Decker’s idiosyncratic use of extreme abbreviation sometimes makes charts less ‘sight-readable’ than preferable. Similarly, while the Morphology Catalog (App B) could be useful, it just reads like a string of words with arcane abbreviations; I’m unconvinced this is really useful compared to other tools (i.e. computer based ones). App D (the vocative case), and E (Greek numbers and Archaic Letters) are both informative and useful. Especially the frequency data and forms for vocatives in the NT.

Some Concluding Thoughts

It’s difficult to assess a teaching textbook without actually teaching from it. However Reading Koine Greek represents a decisive and new contribution to the Koine Greek textbook selection. It includes up to date insights and approaches from linguistics and Greek research, incorporates and employs frequency data in a pedagogically helpful manner, as well as showing the wealth of experience Decker held in teaching Koine Greek. I hope the text sees widespread adoption. I know I will be using it for reference and to refer others to.

Why People teach via Grammar Translation

In twin posts I’m going to explore some of the reasons people teach classical languages (by which I mean Ancient Greek, Latin, and similar languages that are mostly no-longer spoken and primarily of academic or historical interest) via the Grammar-Translation method (i.e. teaching grammar explicitly and training students to translate into their native tongue for the purpose of understanding). The second post will follow up on this one and tackle some issues more directly.


  1. That’s how the Ancients did it


People often think that ancient students of foreign languages learnt primarily via Grammar Translation. I think this is incorrect. Firstly, it’s often prejudiced by the fact that the Rhetoric-based education system of Greece, then Rome, included explicit grammar instruction as the fundamental stage of language and literature study. However, this does not mean those students learn either their L1, or their L2s really, via that grammar instruction. in the case of upper-class diglossia among Romans, who often spoke Greek quite well, this should be tempered by the very fact of that diglossia – they had a living Greek-speaking community that they were being initiated into.


  1. That’s how we’ve (‘Classics’) always done it


Again, largely untrue. This time for two reasons. I recommend anyone interested in this to read two books, Waquet’s Latin: Or, The Empire of the Sign which deals in part with Latin’s socio-cultural place in the 17th and 18th century, and explicitly talks about shifts in pedagogical practices. Secondly, James Turner’s Philology: The forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities which discusses in depth how, in the Anglophone world, the practice of Philology ‘disciplinised’ into modern humanities, including classics, especially from 1850 onwards. ‘Classics’ as a distinct discipline along the lines we know it today, did not exist before then, and the revered pedagogical practices that dominate it often go back no more than 200 years, or less.


  1. That’s how my teacher did it


The path of least resistance for teachers is generally to teach what they know, how they learnt it. For many, myself included, Second Language Teaching (SLT) was explicit grammar instruction paired with translation exercises. Regardless of beliefs about SLA, the pressures of teaching often ‘push’ us to simply teach with what is ‘easiest’, and what is easiest in many classes is to pull out a textbook and replicate our own teachers.


  1. That’s what worked for me


Those that teach classical languages, no mistake, are often those who did really well at them. And with a culmination of points 1-3 the self-fulfilling elitism can be deafening.


In a recent discussion relating to why certain advocates of ditching G-T were so down on G-T, someone helpfully pointed out to a newcomer that all the people in the discussion who were down on G-T were those who had been very successful at G-T. This argument isn’t, generally, coming from those who failed because of G-T, but those who succeeded at the 4% method, and have come to consider it deeply flawed. Just because it worked for you, doesn’t mean it is a viable methodology in general. Indeed, the self-selection involved in ‘it worked for me’ actually really means, “it will work for people like me and that the only type of student I care about”.


  1. That’s what our goal is.


I’m going to tackle this much more thoroughly in the next post on this question, but some people think G-T achieves the kinds of goals we want in these disciplines. What does G-T achieve? It produces Grammarians and it produces Translators. Those are two good things, but is that the goal of classics and related disciplines?


One of the problems is that grammarians often try and do linguistics, and when they do it’s usually second-rate linguistics because they’re grammarians. The problem with translators is that they learnt to translate from a language they’re not competent in, instead of achieving competency first and then learning the art of translation. Meanwhile, don’t we actually want to train people as things like historians, litterateurs, theologians?

Reviewing Decker’s “Reading Koine Greek”, part 3

It’s not my intention to give you an exacting series of comments on every chapter, so I’ll move a little quicker now and spend more time discussing points of interest.

I was interested to see that in chapter 11, p200, Decker includes in his definition of χάρις “A disposition marked by generosity, frequently unmotivated by the worth of the recipient”; just the other day I was discussing with someone the view that Paul’s novel view of χάρις in the NT is precisely that God shows χάρις to the unworthy, not the worthy, in contravention of Graeco-Roman norms. The question then becomes, “does one include this in a definition of χάρις in Koine Greek, in NT Greek, in broader Greek?” For if we enter it into our definition, we would perhaps miss what Paul is doing and perhaps misread what non-Christians authors were doing with the word, but if we do not we are left perhaps to define all Koine words deliberately disregarding, say, NT usage. Thus the conundrum of lexicography.

Chapter 13 deals with “Verbal Semantics” in which we get to see the outcome of more contemporary approaches to Greek linguistics played out in an introductory grammar. As in several grammars (Mounce springs to mind), Decker illustrates concepts such as person, number, voice, mood, with English examples first. On p219 he does say that “imperatives do not have subjects” whereas I think they do, but that is neither here nor there. When he comes to discussing tense and aspect we see what we’ve longed for – a clear introduction in an introductory grammar to

  1. tense forms encoding aspect primarily, time secondarily
  2. an explanation of aspect for learners

Although Decker retains the term “verbal aspect” which is only really a phrase used in Koine circles. Decker adopts the mainstream and uncontroversial aspect scheme of Perfective (Aorist tense-form), Imperfective (Present and Imperfect), and Stative (Perfect and Pluperfect). He does not include the future since there is no consensus on it! Instead deferring discussion to chapter 19. Decker also includes a brief paragraph explaining Aktionsart and referring the student to a more advanced Grammar for that.

We also see a re-casting of the issue of Voice. Decker, in part drawing on Conrad, contrasts situation-focused verbs with subject-focused verbs and then subdivides the second category into middle and passive. He does not bother at this point to explain how this newer view overturns traditional categories or do away with deponency, either from a desire not to confuse learners by introducing a concept that is not accurate, or else seeing no need to accommodate the fiction any longer.

Chapter 13 is central, not for learners, but for those with an interest in Greek text books. To see come on the market an introductory text that incorporates contemporary debate and findings in a clear and accessible way, not deferred to intermediate texts, and not requiring teachers to ‘unteach’ what their students learnt in first-year Greek, is most welcome.

Chapter 14 returns to the Present tense-form, with the information covered in 13 now in view again. Decker makes a strong effort to demystify the idea of the middle, though in a sidebar on p236 he does this by pointing to other languages with a middle voice. His aim is to make it ‘less weird’, but when he says that Classical Mongolian has 5 voices, this is not the best corollary, in my view, since Mongolian ‘voices’ are simply agglutinative suffixes that are not exclusive. One can stack 2 or 3 of them onto a verb.

In chapter 15 he discusses middle only verbs, (p252) which replaces the category of deponents with no comment on that terminology. Decker writes, “This is a set of verbs that typically has an inherent middle meaning in the very lexis of the word itself.” This is a much more helpful approach to middle-only verbs than the traditional one.

When introducing the Imperfect tense-form, Decker focuses on it differs from the present tense in terms of “remoteness” (p263), and “often has a discourse function in narrative: it supplies background information or sometimes introduces dialogue or summary statements” (p263). He then goes on to illustrate this. It’s, again, very pleasing to see this kind of material in an introductory Koine text. It also showcases Decker’s goal of teaching students how Greek conveys meaning. Similarly in chapter 17 Decker gets rid of the idea that the Aorist is ‘punctiliar’ in and of itself, or that the Aorist has any sense of “once for all” that yields exegetical ‘gold’.

When we reach chapter 19 we reach the unsettled waters of the Future. In the introduction to this chapter, p309, Decker remarks that “The Greek future tense-form is actually more closely related to the category of mood than of tense”, followed by a footnote that the same might be true of English. Likewise, Decker takes its aspect as “vague” (p310, following Porter. A footnote details some of the debate, with a nod to Fanning and Campbell).

As an aside, I appreciate that Decker notes at many points either “You need to memorise this”, “You don’t need to memorise this”, and “Your teacher may tell you otherwise”. He highlights what is essential for this approach, includes explanatory information while releasing the average student from overwhelming memory work, and defers to the reality of classrooms where instructors have preferences of their own. Related to this, Decker chooses to relegate the Pluperfect to ‘Advanced Information’ at the back of chapter 20, on the basis of it occurring only 86 times in the NT, and similarly few occurrences in LXX, OT Pseudepigrapha, and Apostolic Fathers. The very low frequency does indeed mean that mastering the pluperfect is less essential than other items.

Reviewing Decker’s “Reading Koine Greek”, part 2

You can read the first part of this multi-part review here.

In this second part of the review I offer thoughts and comments on the first 10 chapters of the text.


Decker demonstrates a great ability to write clear and communicative introductions to ideas that will strike English monoglots as ‘new’. This is a testament to his pedagogical experience and acuity. In the first actual content chapter, he introduces the alphabet. One pleasant feature is his inclusion of a sample of his own handwriting to give students an idea of what they should ‘aim for’ and ‘exceed’! In dealing with accents, he gives beginning students enough to know what they are doing, a little bit of history to contextualise them, and relegates more detailed rules to an appendix to the chapter. Wisely, he suggests that a student’s teacher will tell them how much detail they need to know.

Also in this chapter he discusses the difference between analytic, agglutinative, and synthetic languages. Although, I think he is confused, or writes a little confusingly, in that not all agglutinative languages are limitless in their construction, and agglutination is itself a form of inflection. Anyway, his introduction here sets the reader up for the syntax versus morphology ‘shift’ that English learners need to face.

A further very commendable feature of Decker’s volume is the decision to include actual definitions rather than simply glosses for vocabulary. While Decker doesn’t have much more to add to vocabulary acquisition beyond ‘memorise this’ and ‘flashcards have worked for lots of people’, the actual presentation of vocabulary for rote-memorisation is very well done.

Chapter 2 covers the Nominative and Accusative, Chapter 3 the Genitive and Dative. Excellent features in Decker’s introduction to case includes a good, linguistically grounded, introduction to the idea of grammatical gender, reading exercises that mix Greek and English words for the very beginner student; his treatment of the Genitive is well-managed. He avoids treating it as simply equivalent to English possessive or worse, ‘of’. Instead he spends time explaining how it functions to modify or restrict a word in relation to another. He spends a good deal of time showing the range of relationships with English examples and Greek ones. Also through these chapters he begins to teach a way of doing grammatical diagramming. Many teachers employ such a technique, although personally I do not find it very helpful, I am glad to see it taught within an introductory textbook from the start.

Chapter 4 moves on to personal pronouns, and Decker includes a well-rounded discussion of issues surrounding the third-person pronoun, gender, and generic pronouns. Although I think he is slightly misinformed in thinking that singular “they” is a relatively recent innovation, his insistence that contemporary translations aim to represent the antecedent accurately, in a way that is comprehensible for contemporary usage, is spot on.

Chapter 5 moves on to verbs. Unlike the (now) venerable Mounce who pushes verbs halfway back to his book, Decker deals with them almost as soon as possible, which I suspect will allow the text to construct or offer more meaningful example texts sooner. Decker opts for tense-form in place of the traditional term tense, showing his sensitivity to contemporary debates about tense and aspect.

As the chapter proceeds, Decker’s approach is not to introduce complete paradigms for every type of verb, rather to give a reduced set of charts to memorise (personal endings, for instance), and morphological formulae for each tense-mood-form. This is, in my view, a much sounder way to teach if one is adopting a deductive grammar approach. At least this way students are analysing each word for its distinctive markers.

I suppose this is as good a point as any to put in a mild criticism of the whole grammar approach. On p81 Decker proposes that learning the Present Active Indicative of λύω is so vital that one should be able to phone the Greek student at 2am, hear an immediate recitation of this paradigm, and then go back to sleep. In contrast, an oral communicative approach would never demand this. But presumably if I rang a student in the middle of the night and told them to open the door, they should likewise respond immediately – understanding and responding, rather than reciting rote material.

Anyway, Decker is certainly right that for someone taking this approach, they really should have such a degree of rote memorisation locked away.

Chapter 6 introduces Adjectives and Adverbs. At this point I began to feel that some of the chapters were quite long. I am not sure we needed both of these together. I was also a little surprised that comparatives and superlatives were relegated to an ‘additional information’ section towards the back of the chapter.

Chapter 7 then returns to verbs, and introduces the First Aorist Active Indicative. I think this is a real point of favour to Decker – the decision to introduce the Aorist as the second verb form learnt is a recognition that it is, as he says, “the most common verb form in the NT and in the LXX” (p117), it carries the main story-line, and is relatively ‘default’ or ‘unmarked’.

Chapter 8 moves on to introduce conjunctions, and as throughout the book contains some distinct ‘snippets’ that really enrich the book. For example, p144 he gives the text from Mark 2:1-5, with a translation that utilises (&) as a marker for untranslated καί which is so frequent in Mark. Then on p145 he gives an LXX selection and explains a feature of LXX syntax. Especially the attention given to LXX ‘oddities’ is most welcome in an introductory textbook.

I thought the amount of information included in chapter 9, on prepositions and the article, probably too much. It is at this point that one feels the divergent pulls of “introductory reference text for beginners” and “introductory teaching teach for beginners”. In a chapter supposedly introducing prepositions, the great bulk of the chapter seems concerned with uses of prepositions and articles, before the vocabulary on p166-7 which really gives the student some prepositions.

I have nothing too much to say about chapter 10, which deals more with pronouns, except that it too seems a little long and might have benefited from being a number of shorter chapters.

Overall my impression from the first ten chapters is favourable. There is a pleasing layout, clear explanations, though they do err to the ‘explaining too much’ side with concepts that will only be understood from later chapters, good illustration from a range of texts, and many interesting side-bars. It’s a little difficult for me to judge whether the exercises are sufficient for a learner, but my sense is that there is not quite enough for the ‘workbook’ element. These exercises would help a learner understand the information present, but not necessarily master the content for long-term usage.

Reviewing Decker’s “Reading Koine Greek”, part 1

The late Rod Decker was a fine and outstanding academic, teacher, and although I never met him or had any interaction beyond his writings, I held him in considerable respect. His passing earlier this year was a loss for us, but great gain for him! I was grateful, then, that his “Reading Kine Greek: An introduction and integrated workbook” was able to be brought to publication by Baker.


In this post and some subsequent ones I will offer a review of Decker’s new Koine Greek textbook. I am generally sympathetic, though obviously I have some methodological issues with the whole approach. In the first post I want to engage with some of the Preface (pages xix –


The first thing I appreciate about Decker’s work is that on page xx he up-front ‘outs’ himself as a Christian “who accepts Scripture as an authoritative text.” This, as he notes, has no particular bearing on his teaching of the Greek language, but at the same time he readily submits that even in a textbook on Greek language, some of his (theological) opinions on Koine texts will be apparent. If only more ‘content’ focused texts included a statement from the author claiming their subjectivity instead of pretending to impossible ‘objectivism’.

Decker has chosen to include more material from the LXX as well as other non-NT texts in his volume, again a very commendable feature. Students of Koine, especially those in seminaries, too often narrow their gaze down to only the canonical NT texts. It’s very good to see an introductory text broaden that back out again.

I’m very glad also to see the presentation of “Reconstructed Koine” presented alongside traditional Erasmian as a pronunciation scheme. As the author notes, pronunciation is best learnt by simply asking what one’s teacher prefers and hearing it from them. All attempts to reproduce pronunciation values with “__ as in English” are stymied by the significant variation in Englishes anyway. The decision not to simply eradicate Erasmian altogether no doubt reflects that Decker himself utilised Erasmian, and a great many places still do.

On page xxii Decker begins A Word to Teachers. He notes that this text follows the ‘traditional approach’ of up-front grammar and exercises. He then points to two ‘alternatives’ that have emerged – the push to use contemporary SLA techniques for the goal of oral fluency is the first. In Decker’s view, such would only be possible if (a) the program were “to be a major in Koine Greek alone” (xxiii). He writes, “I do not think it is possible to provide sufficient instruction to reach the level of oral fluency within the limits of an undergraduate major or a seminary MDiv intended for ministry preparation.” (xxiii).

I agree, though I disagree more broadly. I agree that communicative approaches are better suited to a major in Koine Greek. However, very few such programs, if any at all, exist. Nor are they likely. This is problematic in itself. If no one is teaching Koine Greek for the purpose of oral fluency, we will never have programs producing students who have actually acquired the language. Research masters and Doctoral candidates, in my view, must be required to have active fluency in the language of their target documents. Anything less is an ongoing farce. And, if such students come to graduate research via means of, not a Koine Greek major, but a seminary-type program, when will they acquire such language competency?

I have written elsewhere about the sheer problem of time – it requires very large amounts of time of comprehensible input in a language to achieve reasonable communicative competency. I agree that this is, generally, not possible in typical seminary programs. However, I think it’s a mistake to keep thinking and talking as if the current model of Grammar-based instruction somehow achieves “more” in the lesser time it is granted. Teaching a grammar-based approach is not a short-cut, it’s a different race altogether.

Decker goes on to explain the other approach new on the field – the attempt to basically teach students ‘enough grammar’ to make sense of Biblical software tools (e.g. Accordance, BibleWorks, Logos). In his view, this  only teaches “information about Greek” rather than teaching Greek per se. I suppose that my rebuttal to this would be that in essence, teaching Greek via the so-called traditional method is actually the same – it teaches about Greek. The prime difference is that it commits a great deal of that information ‘about Greek’ into the brain’s memory instead of leaving it on the computer’s hard drive.

To return to Decker’s method, he does not that he has attempted to modify his approach, to learn from the failures of the ‘traditional’ method. So, he attempts a more inductive approach, uses more real-Greek examples instead of ‘classroom Greek’, and attempts to integrate more dealing with Greek on its own terms. We’ll consider this approach as we delve further into the textbook.


Further on in the preface, Decker explains why his grammar is so large. This is because (a) it includes a lot of ‘workbook’ material, and (b) he treats some topics that are more often deferred to intermediate texts/grammars. I think this is greatly to be praised. He notes that students often turn first to their introductory textbook when dealing with ‘unknowns’ later on anyway, so it’s best to have this information included. My own experience confirms this – I and others will default to an introductory textbook to search out grammatical information. Withholding this information to an ‘intermediate’ textbook almost never aids. Especially since it’s not clear what slot such intermediate textbooks are supposed to fill in the curricula ecologies.


So much for the preface! In the next post we will go on to consider some of the content and methodology of the actual textbook.


Where are your keys? – Koine Greek Edition

I have talked several times about Where are your Keys? and encouraged you to check it out. This week I started recording and uploading a series of videos to demonstrate or showcase how WAYK can work for Koine Greek. In this post I link to the first two videos, and I’ll post up links in the following weeks to subsequent videos.

1. Introductory video



2. Lesson 1 video



Exegesis as Reading

A little while ago there was an exchange that started on B-Greek, a place I generally read but do not interact, about Exegesis. Then there were a few blog posts, one by D. Streett, one by B. Hofstetter.

I often deliberately don’t engage in discussions that I don’t have time for, but obviously I have opinions. Particularly outrageous, bombastic ones. So part of my heart warms when R. Buth writes, “This is why I define “exegesis” as learning to extract meaning from a language that one does not control. “

Somewhat like Barry, I had already done a degree that was virtually Literature studies, as well as started down the Classics track, and taught myself the fundamentals of Koine Greek, before I got to seminary. One of the reasons “exegesis” is so problematic is that Biblical Studies got hived off, with so many other humanities disciplines, into a discrete ‘discipline’ about 200-150 years ago. On this regard, see the recent volume by James Turner, Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities, which among other things does a good job of explaining how humanities ‘disciplinised’.

Exegesis as practised by most biblical studies students is a process of analysis and interpretation of a text at a fine-detail level: grammatical, lexical, syntactical analysis of words, phrases, verses, put together at the level of a paragraph. It rarely moves beyond paragraph level. It is, as Buth points out, often done by students/scholars who actually have no “control”, that is no genuine active competency, in the target language.

Let’s just stop and say, “That’s odd.” We would find that incredibly odd for a modern foreign language student. “Oh, you can’t speak a word of French, but you can analyse to death the syntactic choices of individual sentences in Camus’ The Plague?”

I want to be really clear here: there is a place for fine-detailed studies of grammatical, lexical, syntactical elements of small units. Everyone else calls this linguistics. And many, many of these ‘questions’ disappear, or better yet are disambiguated by a genuine competency in the language.

Take a step back – what is the purpose or goal of exegesis? To acquire a better understanding of the meaning of the text. We can call this ‘exegesis’, but we may as well call it ‘reading’, though we must keep in mind that ‘reading’ here actually means something like ‘interpreting’, i.e. we are engaged in attentive, analytical reading at micro and macro levels. Or, “literary criticism”.

I don’t think calling it ‘reading’ is always helpful. In my school there were some teachers who used to say nonsense like “We don’t interpret the Bible, we just read it.” Which was always doctrinal dribble based on a claim to avoid the theological difficulties that the very idea of ‘interpretation’ generates. No, that won’t do. Reading itself is an interpretive act.

On the other hand, reading here is a higher order activity than mere reading. And it really must go beyond the sentence level. Unless you can get to a level of discussing a whole text – a whole book, then you are missing the integrity of the text and cannot complete your reading. That’s why discourse analysis, or just plain literary criticism, needs to work at the macro-level.

To wrap up, I am constantly amazed to interact with so called ‘critical scholars’ who look at, say, a book like John’s Gospel and see nothing but a pastiche of cut-up pieces that represent a proto-Gnostic text re-edited by a proto-Orthodox edited then re-edited again. Why do they see only that? It’s because they analyse a painting by looking at each blob of paint from a stroke of the brush and consider it a different source. They never step back and see the artistry. Whether they are right or wrong is irrelevant to the fact that they can’t step back and look at the whole, can’t discuss the meaning of the book, can’t discuss themes, genre, art, motifs. Because they can’t decide which of 400 types of genitives the proto-Gnostic redactor meant, and their competency in the language is like a tourist who got off the plane with an antique reference grammar of the language and nothing else.

Interviews with Communicative Greek Teachers (8): Randall Buth

Quite a few people were waiting to hear from Randall Buth in this series of interviews. Today I present Buth’s answers to my interview questions! Thanks very much to Randall for taking the time to respond to this interview.

You can read the earlier seven interviews here: Sebastian Carnazzo, Michael Halcomb, Christophe Rico, Stephen Hill, Casper Porton, Jason Weaver, Jordash Kiffiak.


1. Randall, I wonder if you’d share a little about the environment and methods you were exposed to when first learning the biblical languages yourself?

Before the biblical languages I was given traditional Latin and German high school training. The German was done as “grammar translation” in the first year by a teacher who could not speak the language. That was received well by students and reinforced what we had learned from Latin learning. The second year of German was a bit of a shock for us students because the teacher spoke German(!), had a German speaking wife, and spoke German in class. We just wanted to have things on paper and to give “correct answers.”

Both Greek and Hebrew were first introduced to me as “grammar translation” languages, no different than Latin, with maybe the one difference being that the Hebrew and Greek grammar books had fewer pictures and less cultural background information than was included in the Latin texts. I jumped through the hoops faithfully and even read half of the Hebrew Bible before adding an experience that led to a transformation.

Things changed when I went to Israel and learned to speak Hebrew fluently. In the process, I noticed that my reading of biblical Hebrew changed. It is difficult to fully explain this by analogy or words, but I will give a brief attempt. Basically, Hebrew changed from being very fast, instantaneous crossword puzzles to a real language, to reading a language for content from within the language. I was young, early 20’s, and naively assumed that the field would gradually move in this direction over the coming decades. I could not imagine a program ignoring the benefits involved, nor had I ever met anyone who had gone through this process up to a fluent level that regretted the time spent or did not see it as qualitatively improving one’s reading and access to the text.

Reading theory linguists attribute these outcomes to automaticity where the morphological nuts and bolts of the language are backgrounded and dropped below conscious focus, which allows more of one’s working memory to focus on interpretation and content. In a word, spoken fluency remarkably improves one’s reading skills.


2a. Living Biblical Languages was one of the first real attempts to adapt contemporary models of Second Language Acquisition to Biblical Languages, what were the things that personally prompted you to go down that track?

Probably the biggest influence was comparing Hebrew and Greek, though my African experience also helped and will be described below in the second part of the question. The results of the processes of becoming fluent in Hebrew led to a different perspective outside the traditional patterns for training in a classroom and training for Bible translators.

Twenty years after becoming fluent in Hebrew I could compare what I felt and experienced when reading the Hebrew Bible against what I felt and experienced when reading the Greek New Testament. There was a qualitative difference that had to be acknowledged. There was also a kind of brittleness and unnaturalness that I would perceive in discussions about biblical languages with colleagues or in commentaries. I would muse about ways to overcome that for the coming generation. There was no question that being able to think in a language and having the nuts and bolts automatized was an advantage. Unfortunately, automaticity is/was not achieved through grammar-translation. Trying to talk to myself in Greek was a definite wake-up experience in comparison to Hebrew.

The big challenge was finding a way to develop programs to internalize a language that could be run in a classroom. Fortunately, there are modern language programs that have done this successfully.


2b. What role did your work in Africa play in shaping this?

In Africa I was responsible for recommending training programs for occasional translation projects. One of the discoveries was finding out that there were no Christian institutions or seminaries to send students where optimal language learning methods were being taken seriously. African translators were multilingual and good language learners but intuitively they were often puzzled and frustrated by what would take place in “biblical language” classes. My sensitivity to the need of a radical, paradigmatic change in biblical studies was reinforced by watching Bible translators from Africa go off for two or more years of training in biblical language(s) and returning with skills far below what is possible, for example, in programs like Goethe Institute for German and German literature. So both the end product, what is achieved in twenty years, and the introductory phase, what is achieved in two years, fall far short of what is possible with human language learning.

Surely institutions interested in the Bible and Bible translation could do better and develop state of the art language learning. If twenty years of grammar-translation do not produce fluency, then what should be done? What could be done?


3. How did you first go about developing communicative methods for teaching biblical languages?

Basically, it meant applying what was most efficient in second language theory. Put simply, this means doing what is known to work well, and avoiding what is known to hinder or work poorly for internalizing a language.

One widely recognized and tested introduction into a language is what is known as “Total Physical Response” developed by James Asher in the 1960’s and 70’s.  Something similarly effective and able to be reduced to paper were the “Learnables” picture series developed by Harry Winitz. Both of those methodologies could be directly applied to ancient languages. Probably the first time I worked on the issue was running a Biblical Hebrew workshop for translators in a sub-Saharan African country in 1994. Response was enthusiastic but follow-up became an immediate problem. The first time for Greek was in a one-night per week Greek class in Jerusalem in 1996-1997. Again, class response was very positive and enthusiastic. During the Greek class we worked out the picture sequences that became Living Biblical Hebrew and Living Koine Greek 1, based on the Winitz system. We also worked out some of the classroom TPR sequences for Greek. The next question is connected. See below.

In more recent years we have adopted interactive storytelling techniques from Blaine Ray’s TPRS. This adds a lot of language production on the part of the student. It has also worked well in our fluency workshops which have focused on increasing teachers’ fluency.


4. What were some of the difficulties in developing teaching methods and developing materials?

A big challenge was how to provide live, interactive materials for a self-study audience in a low-tech environment. I decided to build on a system that had grown out of the “army successes” of World War Two and later was adopted by the Foreign Service Institute. Those require good student motivation to be successful, something that frequently accompanies self-study learners. The result was what we call Living Biblical Hebrew Part 2 and Living Koine Greek Part 2. These materials would carry on after our Part 1 introduction to the language through either TPR (in live classes) and/or “pictures” (in the Part 1 book). In Part 2, students were given dialogues to listen to and memorize, many audio drills, some grammar notes, and fully annotated readings from original texts, including insights from sophisticated text-linguistic readings. The materials in Part 2 were written on two levels, a main text that could be followed by students of a high school age and above, as well as footnotes that were intended for more of an academic and linguistic audience.

A bigger challenge, though, is in the classroom. Every year I meet teachers who say something along the lines of “yes, I know that you [i.e. ‘me’-RB] are going down the right path, but I am not capable of running a classroom in the language. How do I jump the gap?” That is a big challenge, how does one jump the gap when the teachers have not been trained to speak or think in the language? Our “fluency workshops” have been a first attempt at helping teachers begin to tool up to bridge the gap.

We have been encouraged in the outcome. Quite a few participants, more than we expected, have gone home from the BLC fluency workshops with the confidence, beginning skill sets, and tools to start teaching “communicatively.” Some of these are included among those you have been interviewing.

Another difficulty emerges as one watches interest in this pedagogy grow. An inherent difficulty is making sure the language you are using and internalizing in the classroom is representative of good Biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek (which, unlike modern languages, are removed from us in culture and time with no mother tongue community to consult). This requires a high command of the biblical languages, deep familiarity with the biblical texts, and knowledge of how the languages developed over time. For Greek, this means researching the language in the whole corpa of Koine texts.  For Hebrew, much more limited in outside texts datable to classical Hebrew, it means making decisions how to “fill in the gaps” of words or phrases which didn’t happen to find their way into the biblical text.

Teachers need to produce material and develop material that they do not yet control. This can be deceptively more difficult than teachers may assume. Fortunately, languages can self-correct in a kind of spiral fashion. As a person learns more and produces more language they encounter structures and vocabulary that they would not have used themselves. This is then integrated into their language use and so it goes. However, the lack of production in most traditional programs does not seem to benefit from this spiraling process of self-correction.

Let me illustrate with an anecdote from a meeting on biblical language pedagogy. I was sitting in an audience with another professor, an advocate of ‘grammar-translation,’ listening to a demonstration of communicative techniques that was frankly lacking in many respects. Afterwards, the professor turned to me and commented “What was that? That misuse of the language is exactly why these professors shouldn’t be using communicative methods to teach the language.” I responded, “Please note that all of those up front have PhD’s and were trained in ‘grammar-translation’! You just got to see and hear what is actually going on in their heads when they try to process the language. Yes, it can be shocking. Without meaning to, they just demonstrated why the grammar-translation method does not produce desired or intended results. What the professors need is better materials and more fluency training.” The professor agreed that that was certainly a wake-up call on the inadequacies of grammar-translation.

Let me give a another, small example. If a teacher tries to say (ani) eshev אשב for a simple “I am sitting,” they may not realize that they have just created something that is against biblical Hebrew. (This example really happens in the guild of Hebrew teachers, like in the anecdote above.) If they become more sensitive to the language they will run across patterns like ani yoshev אני יושב in the Bible. The point is that writing materials and putting things in print is a big responsibility for the coming generation and we are not doing this lightly at BLC. We have proceeded through several iterations up the language spiral. A tremendous amount of time is spent getting things correct, finding out how things would have been said in Greek in the first century or by Jeremiah in Hebrew if transported to our time period. The point is that communicative language teaching must be committed to the highest standards of language accuracy and cannot be left in the hands of whatever someone might extrapolate from a dictionary or from a theory about what Greek or Hebrew is alleged to be. We end up interacting directly with the ancient writers and users of the ancient language in ways that are quite heuristic.

As an aside to this question I should probably discuss orality and pronunciation. When someone aims at internalizing a language, that requires using the language rapidly and massively. Rapid use of a language means listening and speaking. And listening and speaking require decisions about pronunciation. The pronunciation needs to be something justifiable that a person can live with after internalizing the language. For Hebrew that was an easy call. We use an “oriental” Israeli system that includes a true pharyngeal `ayin and Het, two sounds that were typically ignored in most biblical programs and that are considered desirable for best Hebrew reading in synagogues and official radio.

Greek was more of a problem. From papyri reading I had already known that Greek pronunciation in the first century was closer to modern Greek than the various artificial systems typically called Erasmian, including the “restored Attic” systems. My first assumption was that a modern Greek pronunciation would be best; it would connect to the Greek people and would be parallel to what was best in Hebrew. However, friends convinced me that seminaries and university profs would not consider using the language materials if they were done “modern.” So I asked my friends, “what if the materials were done in a Koine pronunciation?” Friends and colleagues agreed in principle, though it is probably fair to say that most of them were unaware how far their ‘seminary Greek’ pronunciation was out of sync with the Koine materials they were reading.

As a trained linguist that had worked out a phonology for a complex Nilotic language, I was able to distill the phonological system(s) of Koine Greek and produce a workable synthesis that could be justified and that I would be happy to end up with. The Koine system is accepted by modern Greek speakers as being “Greek” and it historically fits the expectations of what travelers and writers in the first century were exposed to. For modern speakers it only means adding a French “u” (German umlaut u, that is, a rounded high front vowel) and adding a clear [e] sound between the ι and ε. Probably a majority of those who are embracing the need to develop internalization and a spoken pedagogy have come to similar conclusions and are adopting a Koine pronunciation. That is the framework that people would have been using to listen to Paul, Mark, Peter, and Barnabas as they traveled and preached. See here [] for more details on Koine pronunciation.


5. Reflecting on the courses you’ve been involved in teaching, what sorts of outcomes do you see from students who go through BLCs programmes?

Things depend on motivation, testing methods, and opportunities. We have also had beginning students as well as teachers go through the programs. Unfortunately, the field doesn’t have standardized testing for comparison and measurement.

First of all, if students do the Picture series and/or a first level program of a BLC course, then they are ahead of typical ‘grammar-translation’ students in terms of internalization. Their brains have started to process the language as a language rather than as a math formula. This is most easily seen when such students go on to a modern ulpan program like at Hebrew University. Those with a BLC background do better than a strictly grammar-translation “biblical” background.

Furthermore, if a student diligently uses the audio drills they can achieve quite remarkable levels of vocabulary acquisition. We have been surprised by this on occasion when students will go through the audio materials thoroughly in order to prepare for an intermediate level BLC program. They come into the intermediate level significantly ahead of other students, sometimes even those students who had gone through the first level BLC program. High motivation with multifaceted audio materials can go a long way.

So summarizing, the BLC programs produce a wider vocabulary acquisition and more internalization than “traditional” programs. Knowledge of morphological structure is similar to other programs. Knowledge of discourse structure may be enhanced through the communicative methods. To use metaphors, one may compare ‘grammar-translation’ versus ‘communicative’ to putting a stick in the ground versus growing a plant. The height of the stick or plant after the first year is primarily a reflection of students’ abilities to take tests. But the plant can keep growing into a tree. The stick, on the other hand, is stuck and doesn’t grow into a tree, though it may be replaced by slightly taller sticks at a few intervals. Grammar translation can build the frame of a house, communicative methodologies eventually allow someone to live in the house.

We do not encourage a focus on metalanguage in the beginning level since that actually impedes internalization. Students going into traditional second year programs sometimes need to learn how to spit out rapidly “third masculine singular la-di-da of the something binyan from the blankety root.” That process seems to take about a month to get used to, where such gymnastics are what many teachers and students consider “language learning.” Spitting out that metalanguage means breaking one’s comprehension and communication and stepping outside of the language for a brief moment with every word and every clause. The students from a communicative background have such knowledge available and discussing this rapidly is something fairly easily learned, but it, too, takes some time and practice. In addition, it should be noted that analytical abilities that are prized by academic programs are not something shared equally among language students. Language learning is something that should be available for all, it is part of being human in the image of God, but becoming an analyst is more specialized.

One may say that communicative methodologies “widen the gate” for more students to succeed at beginning levels, and something equally important, communicative methodologies “raise the bar,” they remove the ceiling in language fluency so that students may attain much higher skill levels in the language than are achievable through “grammar-translation.” Twenty years of “grammar-translation” cannot compare to twenty years of “communicative methodology and language use.” Productive fluency is a requirement for high level reading skills. What does this latter mean? It means that one can read directly to the end of a paragraph and know what was said, picturing the whole, without the distraction of having to continually reread every phrase along the way multiple times.


6. Lastly, given that there is a growing interest in this area, what are your hopes for communicative methodologies in this field for the next few years, and what do you think is some of the needed work going forward?

In the last decade or so we have seen growing interest among Greek and Hebrew teachers at professional organizations like the Society of Biblical Literature and the Evangelical Theological Society in North America. Both organizations now have sections entitled “Applied Linguistics for Biblical Languages.” These provide a forum for discussing all of the issues that arise around language pedagogy. Pedagogy is not something that can be left in the hands of a grad student with a grammar and an attendance book. It is an academic endeavor in its own right that can reap benefits for the whole field of biblical studies down the road.

I would expect that within a decade there will be positions advertising for faculty with an included criterion “able to speak language X and teach in the language in a classroom.”

When that happens a few times in a few places, the upcoming generation of students will “smell the coffee” and endeavor to become fluent in their language BEFORE their dissertations and hitting the job market.

Until then, it would seem that most students and programs are treating fluency and communicative methodologies as “optional” and either ignoring the methodologies or using them only for widening the gate but not raising the bar. The field vitally needs the new methodologies and the greater fluency that they can produce. The internet is making more texts available to an interpreter and the next generation will need to be more fluent rather than less fluent than previous generations.