Keep your Greek (09)

16 02 2009

Image by Usodesita via Flickr

Image by Usodesita via Flickr

9. Get your Greek back.

I suppose there are many things that might be said when asked the question of how to get one’s Greek back. Here are a few suggestions.

a. Take heart: it will come to you more quickly than it did the first time. Even if you’ve let your Greek go cold, once you start working it up again, I think you’ll find that it will get progressively easier. Don’t be discouraged by relearning what you’ve forgotten; be encouraged that you’ll learn it faster than those who are learning it from scratch!

b. It’s a bit like muscle-building. It hurts at first, and there may not be any visible results right away. But with perseverance, you will get your Greek into shape. Like muscle-building, you’re better off taking small steps to start with, lest you hurt yourself! As you get stronger, turn up the volume (to mix metaphors) and work on harder Greek. You won’t get stronger by only doing the easy stuff that you already know: those muscles have to be strained in order to be rebuilt.

c. Don’t take short-cuts. While you’ll do better by being positive rather than demoralized, still you need to be real. If you have gaps; if your Greek is weak; if you’ve forgotten lots of stuff, don’t pretend you’re in better shape than you are. Do the work: read every day, revise your vocabulary and paradigms, and read every day. Put into practice the suggestions I’ve already made in this blog series.

Remember: the main difference between someone who keeps their Greek and someone who loses it is the commitment to give it a little time each day. Are you up for it?

Posted by Con Campbell

Keep your Greek (06)

1 02 2009

gallardospyderfr6. Read fast.

This advice needs to be tempered by my next post, but it is pretty straightforward: read Greek quickly. At least some of the time. The idea is that it can be frustrating and demoralizing to always read Greek slowly, while paying attention to every detail. Reading slowly is very important (see next post), but so is reading quickly. I benefit from mixing it up.

When we read Greek quickly, it helps us to get ‘the vibe’ of the language. You can get a feel for the shape of clauses and sentence structure, and you might be surprised at how much you can piece together just from reading larger slabs in context. Reading quickly will also help you to ‘internalize’ the language in a way that slow and careful reading may not. It also feels more like ‘reading’ because you’re taking in more content, and therefore piecing together the ideas and wider message of the text, not just going from one word to next, hand-to-mouth-style.

When you try this, just sit down with a Greek New Testament for 10 minutes or so and have a stab at reading. You might want to gear-up with some vocab beforehand, using Sakae-Kubo or something equivalent. But even if you don’t, just skip over words you don’t recognize and go for the vibe. I always enjoy reading Greek this way; try it for yourself!

Posted by Con Campbell

Keep your Greek (03)

19 01 2009

apple-iphone-in-hand-thumb3. Use software tools wisely.

Software tools, such as Accordance, are amazing, and they can be used for great good. My doctorate would have taken 10 years without the aid of BibleWorks. But like many of God’s gifts, they can be abused, with terrible consequences.

Here are some tips for using software in order to keep your Greek.

a. When you’re doing your 10-30 minutes per day of Greek reading (see my first post), do not have an English translation open on the screen. Just have the Greek there. Feel free to check the English once you’ve done some reading (perhaps after each verse, or after a paragraph), but don’t look at it while you’re trying to read the Greek.

b. Be slow to move that cursor. The risk of using software is that you can short-cut the learning process, just as you will with an interlinear (see my second post). You need to struggle to remember words and grammar, rather than just get a quick answer (By the way, this need only apply to your ‘Greek reading time’, not every time you use the software). So, if you’re disciplined, go ahead and use the software for your Greek reading. But if you can’t be trusted not to cheat, then close your laptop, and get out a paper Greek New Testament. If you can find one.

c. A problem with software is that it doesn’t tell you which words you should already know. You think you don’t know a word, so you get the quick answer, then think, ‘oh yeah, I knew that’. A vocabulary tool like Sakae Kubo’s book is better in this regard, but I’ll address vocab revision/learning in a future post.

Posted by Con Campbell

Basics of Verbal Aspect (2)

30 11 2008



Well, it was great fun to blog at Zondervan’s Koinonia site a couple of weeks ago about Greek verbal aspect (check out the posts to get up to speed). Following that, I enjoyed meeting and talking to a number of Greek professors and teachers at the SBL conference in Boston. Most of the responses to my new book, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, have been positive, and it was great to learn that several teachers in the US and UK will be using the book with their students. I hope this all goes towards bringing verbal aspect into the mainstream of Greek teaching and learning. 

There has, however, been some resistance to a “primer” on verbal aspect. The main reason seems to be that the “dust has not settled” on various aspect issues within academia, and so, it is claimed, a textbook that takes a particular “line” may be premature. Below I include one of my (slightly edited) responses to this kind of objection (see here for the original review and reply).

While some are concerned that the “dust has not settled” on verbal aspect, it has been pointed out that there a number of areas where a good consensus has been reached. These include a definition of verbal aspect, the role of Aktionsart categories, and the fact that aorist, present, and imperfect tense-forms are aspectually perfective and imperfective respectively. Yes, there is still some debate about the perfect and pluperfect, but all the aspect theorists agree that aspect provides a much more robust analysis than the old Aktionsart approach to the perfect, of a past action with present consequences. So even for the perfect there is agreement that aspect offers a better approach.
This leads me to my next observation, which is that the standard grammars that we all use (and, by the way, for which I have great respect) were all based on the new theories of their day. Aspect and Aktionsart studies had not “settled” when Robertson wrote his masterful tome. There was not a consensus at that time, and yet he dared to author an authoritative work, drawing on theories he believed to be best at the time. Nowadays some Greek users are so committed to the “traditional” way of understanding Greek, that they are reluctant to adopt the new theories of our day, even though that’s exactly what the earlier grammarians did. The heart of the problem is that waiting for all the answers is not the solution. Curtius didn’t have all the answers. Robertson didn’t have the answers. Chantraine didn’t have all the answers. But they were not claiming perfection; rather they were interested in improvement; in advancing our understanding. And so, in my humble opinion, waiting till “all the dust has settled” is a vain hope, and is expecting more than we’ve ever had before. We should be interested in advancing our understanding, and there is no doubt whatsoever that verbal aspect offers a genuine advance, even while some issues remain unresolved. My books are not intended to be the last word, neither are Porter’s, Fanning’s, Olsen’s, or Decker’s. But we need to listen carefully to each voice as each one offers enhanced understanding, continuing the legacy of the great ones before, who transformed the understanding of their day.

Con Campbell