Teaching Greek – Differences in Audience

Davis asked the question in the comments of the last post:

What do you see are the main differences between teaching seminary students and teaching translators?

This is a good question and I answered it in the comments there, but I decided that my answer was worth promoting to a full post and I’ve expanded it somewhat as well.

Its mainly that translators and those planning on going into translation missions work already have the linguistic and grammatical background for studying the language.

Its like this: In Mounce’s first year grammar, he provides discussions of English grammar before discussing the Greek. This functions as a sort of way to provide hooks for students to hang the Greek grammatical discussion on. Most students, in general, do not take any sort of formal grammar classes even for English these days. This makes Mounce’s approach generally quite helpful and I attribute the success of his textbook to that fact. But at the same time, its partially not helpful because English Grammar and Greek Grammar do not coincide.

In contrast to that, when a student takes Grammatical Analysis at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics, they learn how to recognize and analyze grammatical constructions and patterns well beyond the English language. This is because the goal of the classes there are to prepare students who are going to an unstudied minority language to both study and learn the grammar while also learning the language for communication. Such a goal requires a significantly larger view of grammar. So in effect, translation/linguistic students already have the hooks for learning Greek, but many of the hooks are vastly different than the ones Mounce provides through English comparison.

The secondly major different is a direct result of the previous. Because of the classes and studies taught to translation/linguistics student tradition grammar text books like Mounce are extremely foreign for the students – both in how inflectional morphology (e.g. case & number) and syntax (particularly phrase structure which is never touched on) are represented. Then there’s the issue of a vastly larger grammatical vocabulary that the translation/linguistics student has acquired for concepts that typically are not taught, but are important.

For example, no textbook that I’m aware of talks about Control Relationships in Greek. But they exist all over the place. The so-called adjectival participle clauses are in a control relationship with their head noun – i.e. the adjectival participle clause never has a Subject of its own. It relies on the Head noun it modifies for its subject. That is called a Control Relationship. The same thing happens with Adverbial Participle Clauses as well as a variety of Infinitive constructions.

On top of all of that, there is the issue of how languages are learned. Translation/linguistics students are also taught language learning methods that have significantly more in common with what Randall Buth is doing than what is done in virtually every other 1st year grammar available. After you’ve flown once first class on an airplane, the thought of flying coach will never have any appeal to you ever again, whereas before, the idea of flying in of itself was exciting.

So with all of this to teach translation/linguistics students with a traditional textbook leaves the students frustrated because 1) they know there are better and easier ways to learn the language and 2) their understanding of how to study and learn grammar in general is often in direct contradiction of the methods and descriptions provided in the traditional textbook.

14 thoughts on “Teaching Greek – Differences in Audience

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  1. I second that. I have fallen in love with Greek grammar and from that languages and grammar in general but knowing what books to get (when I actually have money) is a difficulty, especially books that won’t cost an arm and a leg.

  2. I guess the request for a reading list I would have, is how do you go from a Greek background into Linguistics, rather than coming to Greek from Linguistics.I find most of your posts followable, but only with careful attention and concerted effort paid to figuring out terminology. My theoretical interests are more about language acquisition per se though.

  3. In Mounce’s first year grammar, he provides discussions of English grammar before discussing the Greek.

    Funny. I never really learned English grammar analytically until after a year of Greek.

      1. I don’t think I really learned English grammar until I started teaching Latin—and that was after 3 + years of Classical Greek and 2 + years of Biblical Hebrew.

        I second the idea of a basic Linguistics bibliography.


    1. And that has dangers of its own, since applying the rules and categories of Greek grammar to English grammar has led to much prescriptivist dogma with no basis in the English language whatsoever.

  4. I’m a linguistics student who’s starting to learn Greek this semester. I don’t know how traditional our lecturer’s methodologies are, but a lot of it is quite similar to what I’ve done in my ling classes, there’s a lot of pattern recognition and formulation of rules. Although the terminology is often very different a lot of what we do fits in fine with modern ling theories.

    But not always, like how a predicate has nominative case. I’d love to see a government and binding explanation for this cause I just can’t see how it works!

    So coming to Greek from linguistics has some mixed blessings.

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