Quality Quotes: Nida on Greek & Linguistics II

These are just a few quotes that I read this morning before church by Eugene Nida in Language Structure and Translations: Essays by Eugene Nida. Toward the end, there’s a essay entitled “Implications of Contemporary Linguistics for Biblical Scholarship.”

Considerable strides have been made since World War II in many aspects of language teaching. No longer does the student merely learn about a language, i.e., memorizing the rules of grammar, but he actually learns the language. By concentrated approaches to the total structure of a language and with emphasis upon the distinctive features of language rather than on the subordinate mass of details, students have gained remarkable facility in modern languages. There is absolutely no reason why the biblical languages cannot be equally well taught, but in so many instances they are not. It is no wonder that students increasingly depreciate the study of biblical languages and administrative officers are accused of cooperating in eliminating Greek and Hebrew as required courses. If such languages are not taught any better than they usually are, then they ought to be eliminated, since they tend to be such an appreciable waste of the students’ time.

Two of the important aspects of present-day research in the field of language learning are the recognition that not all people learn languages in the same way, and that no one method is going to be of maximal efficiency for all persons. Nevertheless, there are a number of important innovations which teachers of modern languages have employed, and unless these are taken over at least in part (with recognition, of course, that the student of biblical languages is more concerned with decoding that with encoding) then further attrition in the learning of Greek and Hebrew is inevitable (Nida, 264-265).

9 thoughts on “Quality Quotes: Nida on Greek & Linguistics II

Add yours

  1. Amen! And this was published in 1975; not much has changed in NT Greek pedagogy since then, so far as I can tell. “If such langauges are not taught any better than they usually are, then they ought to be eliminated, since they tend to be such an appreciable waste of the students’ time.” What I see being recommended or promoted unofficially is learning to use computer programs so as to absorb something from interlinears — not decoding even for oneself, but appropriating somebody else’s decoding of the Greek text.

  2. Mike – do you have any favoured textbooks for the teaching of undergraduate Greek? Are there texts that are better at helping students to “learn Greek” rather than simply “learn about Greek”? I have to agree that this is a big problem in theology.

  3. Matt, That’s the thing. A textbook isn’t necessarily what you want for “learning Greek.” At least, its far from enough. At the point, the best materials we have, unless you happen to be in Dallas, TX, are Randall Buth’s Biblical Ulpan materials – “Living Koine Greek.” And even better (for the independently wealthy) would be to head to Israel and get the immersion experience directly.


    Those who are in Dallas could potentially see about auditing a class at Criswell College, where immersion techniques are also taught.

  4. This does look good. I wonder what it would take for universities & theological seminaries to take the leap away from the safety of traditional ways of learning Greek.

  5. I don’t know. Minimum, it would take a new generation of language teachers who are already convinced of the value of such methods.

    Many of the older generation of teachers are too set in their ways.

    We would also need a larger set of tools and material for such methodology. There isn’t much available beyond Buth’s work.

  6. Another set of tools which have a similar approach to Randall Buth’s are those by John Dobson, on Greek and Hebrew. These were originally part of a more-or-less immersion course. These are books, and I think CDs to go with them. Following the book versions alone is of course not immersion, but it does bring some of the same advantages, e.g. of learning grammatical forms by example rather than by learning paradigms.

    1. One thing that I’ve heard about Dobson’s Greek course is that it introduces participles much earlier than Greek grammars usually do, since they constitute such a significant part of the GNT. I had one SIL linguist who has taught NT Greek to Africans highly recommend it since it seems to take a slightly more emic approach to learning the language.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: