Saturday, May 26, 2012

Some language reflections

We've just finished up week 9 of full-time Mongolian study.

Full time is not really accurate. I have 3 hrs a day, 5 days a week. I could spend the other half of each day using Mongolian, but I don't. I spend it reading Greek and Latin and studying 4th century theologians.

If I had to rank the 4 basic language activities in order of both difficulty and importance, I would rank them like this:

Listening (Hardest)

Listening (Most)

Now let me explain why. Listening to a spoken language is the most difficult. You have to hear clearly, process quickly, and recognise and know a high percentage of what is being said to make it intelligible and worthwhile. It's Input in a fairly pure way, and that's why it matters that it's comprehensible. Also, and I think this is becoming more and more clear, there is something qualitatively different about experiencing a language through speaking & listening (ie, conversation), than reading and writing (the traces of conversation). If you really want to internalise and acquire a language, listening is vital.

I think Speaking is the next most difficult, but not the next most in importance. I don't think Speaking contributes much to the actual acquisition process, because you can't actually learn anything from speaking, you can only use what you have acquired. However, I do think speaking as an activity is important for some other reasons. It gets the brain 'going' in the language. I think if you never spoke and only listened, you just wouldn't be able to process your own thoughts in the language with much rapidity. Furthermore, speaking functionally works to provide conversation, it continually elicits speech from others.

Writing is third in difficulty, but fourth in importance, for largely the same reasons. It's relatively easy to write, since you only need to work with what you know, and you can take, usually, all the time in the world. It's low pressure, and it's non-learning. It's only tough when you are trying to express things beyond your language ability.

Reading is the easiest to do, but it's also the second most important. Why? Reading is easy because, like writing, you can take your time, and there's no problem with missing words, you can just read them again. So, provided it's not way over your head, reading is relatively facile, and passive. But it's important, because extensive reading gives you extended comprehensible input, and continual exposure to 'correct' forms.

Okay, so that is fine for Mongolian. What I'm interested in is what it means for other languages I'm interested in. I've been trying to watch some school-produced videos in Gaelic, and to be honest it's very difficult. My ability to understand spoken Gaelic at pace is weak. Here is one area where minority languages  are at a disadvantage - volume of accessible, comprehensible material. So I need to work at listening to more Gaelic and finding ways to render it comprehensible.

The problem is compounded for Latin and Greek. The volume of comprehensible input is so low; the standard levels of texts is so high. Actually, this is why WAYK and simple basic conversation is so important. There is a great need here just to up the level of spoken language, that almost anything will do.

I need to work smarter on these. That's the take-home lesson. Plus more work on thinking and speaking in target languages. Tomorrow I'm going to trawl through language exchange sites for people who might like to practise more spoken Gaelic, Latin, and Ancient Greek.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

WAYK Greek

I have updated the WAYK Universal Speed Curriculum for Ancient Greek, available here. This version contains all 8 parts up until the initial Goal conversation. If you have any corrections, please get in touch.

How might you use this? Here is what I would do.

You will need:
1. A willing partner (actually, I have an idea of how to manage this alone, but more on that later).
2. A stick and a stone, and it would be great to have a red and blue pen.
3. Go to the WAYK website and watch the intro video. You won't regret it. Learn the basic signs in particular.
4. Look through the 'script' for the first part of the USC. If you already know some Greek, you should be able to understand it. If you know zero Greek, then it is going to be difficult (this is part of the problem with Bootstrapping 'dead' languages.
5. Sit down with your willing guinea pig (oh, I mean partner, friend, companach), and run the first part, introducing them to WAYK, and you are off to a flying start in spoken Ancient Greek.

Where to from here? I would work through all 8 parts until you've got the goal conversation, introduce the red and blue pen. Introduce other items too. All you need to do from the perspective of someone who 'knows' book Greek (ie, reading, and maybe writing), is to spend the time preparing adequately. Get your new items, use Woodhouse and Perseus to look up vocab items you don't know, and you should be able to prep correct Greek. In a way, this is doing WAYK kind of backwards, but where the payoff is, is in that this way you essentially prep yourself to replicate correct Greek and inject it into conversational practice.

Flying solo: Set up the same scenario, and just run it with imaginary friends. I'm serious. Do it all in Greek, and swivel around in your chair to speak for other persons.

Next step: I'm going to keep writing material, and hopefully put together a kind of 'curriculum' to get you all the way to "Getting to the Party". If things go well on this front, I'll try and set up to record video tutorials.

Exciting times!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Working on the Universal Speed Curriculum for Ancient Greek

This is what it looks like on the page:

Part 1

τί ἐστι ἐκεῖνο;
ἐκεῖνος λίθος ἐστίν.
ἆρα ἐκεῖνος λίθος;
ναὶ, ἐκεῖνος λίθος ἐστίν
τί ἐστι ἐκεῖνο;
ἐκείνη βακτηρία ἐστίν
ἆρα ἐκείνη βακτηρία ἐστίν;
ναὶ, ἐκείνη βακτηρία ἐστίν
ἆρα ἐκεῖνο βακτηρία ἐστίν;
οὐχὶ, οὐκ ἐκεῖνο βακτηρία ἐστι, ἐκεῖνος λίθος ἐστίν.
ὀρθῶς, ἐκεῖνος λίθος ἐστίν. ἆρα ἐκεῖνο λίθος;
οὐχὶ, οὐκ ἐκεῖνο λίθος ἐστίν, ἐκείνη βακτηρία ἐστίν.
ὀρθῶς, ἐκείνη βακτηρία ἐστίν. ἆρα ἐκεῖνο λίθος;
ναὶ, ἐκεῖνος λίθος ἐστίν
ἆρα ἐκεῖνο βακτηρία ἐστίν;
ναὶ, ἐκείνη βακτηρία ἐστίν

ἡ γραφίς, γραφίδος
γραφὶς ἐρυθρός
γραφὶς κυανοῦς

Part 2

τί ἐστι ἐκεῖνο;
ἐκεῖνος λίθος ἐστίν.
ἆρα ἐκεῖνός ἐστι ὁ λίθος σου;
ναὶ, ἐκεῖνος ὁ λίθος μoύ ἐστιν.
τί ἐστι ἐκεῖνο;
ἐκείνη βακτηρία ἐστίν
ἆρα ἐκείνη ἐστὶ ἡ βακτηρία σου;
οὐχί, ἐκείνη οὔκ ἐστι ἡ βακτηρία μου, ἀλλὰ ἡ βακτηρία σου.
ἐκείνη ἐστὶ ἡ βακτηρία μου. ἆρα ἐκεῖνός ἐστι ὁ λίθος μου;
οὐχί, ἐκεῖνος οὔκ ἐστι ὁ λίθος μου, ἀλλὰ ὁ λίθος μου.
ναὶ, ἐκεῖνός ἐστι ὁ λίθος σου, καὶ ἐκείνη ἐστὶ ἡ βακτηρία μου.
ναὶ, ἐκείνη ἐστὶ ἡ βακτηρία σου, καὶ ἐκεῖνός ἐστι ὁ λίθος μου.

Update: I've done parts 3 & 4 (of 9), and posted an excel spreadsheet over here.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Patristic Homilies on the Psalms

I agreed to prepare 3 5minute excerpts from Augustine, Basil, and Chrysostom, showcasing patristic exegesis and preaching on the psalms (for a conference I won't be at). I did not realise that it is difficult to get hold of Basil and Chrysostom. There is a translation of the Chrysostom homilies, but not an electronic version, so I will have to translate one from the Migne; I'm unaware of an accessible translation of Basil's, so again it looks like I'll be translating from Migne.

So that will be one of this next month's sideprojects (one of many!)

WAYK: Latin, Greek, Gaelic

I think this will be my last post about Where are your keys?

What do I have to report? I sat down and watched a bunch more videos, and I'm now feeling fairly confident that I 'get' how to play, and how it works to facilitate language fluency. So this is where I'm going with this from here:

1. I'm preparing the 'universal speed curriculum' for Latin, Ancient Greek, and Gaelic. This is the basic language you need to run the first few 'rides', to get going in a language. I'm going to test run Gaelic on my wife.

2. I'm willing to skype with just about anyone to run you through spoken Latin, Anc. Greek, or Gaelic. I think this will improve my fluency, and yours (whether you are a beginner or are a 'reader' like me).

3. If this goes well I will continue to develop materials, and I will try my hand at recording some instructional videos for these languages, similar to the Irish ones you see here.

So get in touch if that would interest you. When I have some things on the boil I will set up a web page specifically for this. Maybe I will even offer some paid on-line teaching.

Okay, that is all on this topic. I have other things to say about other topics, also coming soon.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Riddling out WAYK from the internet

One of my great challenges in living in Mongolia is that I am pretty far from everything. I won't be popping up at a spoken Latin conference any time soon. The flipside is I have a surprising amount of time (mostly), which means I can indulge in devouring the internet.

The last couple of days I have been trying to devour WAYK. I think I've mostly answered my questions from my last post.

1. Sign language?
It seems like sign, as much as you can, acts as an accelerator, but it's not necessary in the sense that I don't have to learn a sign for every noun in order to utilise every word of the Target Language in the game. So that is kind of comforting. But watching videos makes me realise how useful and practical signing is.

2. When you are the learner?
The best way to explain this is that you can learn the game well, and then utilise techniques to 'pull' language from fluent speakers, even if you don't necessarily teach them the game. This seems particularly helpful when, for example, your accessible fluent speakers may not be 'willing' to play the game. Better yet, is teaching the game to your fluent speaker.

3. Bootstrapping?
The going is going to be slower, but if you map out where a game is going to go, make sure one player (the leader) has the competency to handle the target language, and set up well, there's no reason you can't use this to develop oral proficiency in a 'dead' language. And it will only get faster.

4. Abstract?
The more concrete you keep the game, the better. So, the best way to teach verbs is to set-up situations where those verbs come into play. The great thing about gaining fluency, is that you do reach a point where you can explain in language more complex concepts. You see that in written form in the Ørberg books - he is quite good at giving in language explanations. The game gets as complex as the language skill of the players.

5. Skype?
Skype is less than ideal, but possible. It removes a lot of the concrete physicality and reshapes the interaction. But I found a good write-up of how to do it. So I just need some Greek and Latin guinea pigs for Skype WAYK!

6. More resources?
I read the blog with an infinite-like backstream, which was really helpful, and I watched as many videos as I could handle before getting full. I feel like there has been a bit of WAYK internet silence for the last 4 or 5 months though? Anyway, I am still keen to learn more and dive in somewhere.

I think this is a very exciting toolbox.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Where are your keys?

The name of an exciting set of techniques, built around 'game' play, which aims to facilitate language learning, and is particularly useful for language revitalisation.

I had heard a little bit about this from the Latin teaching community (communities?) that I hang around on the internet. But I wasn't really sure what it was all about. Recently I did a bit more reading, and today I sat down and watched the 1'20" intro video. Also there is a great post from Rachel Ash about implementing this in a Latin class.

Let me say that I'm terribly impressed. A simple set of initial techniques that concretises TPR and seems expansive and adaptable.

I have a whole bunch of questions:

1. How does the overlay of ASL work with the WAYK setup? Do I need to learn sign for everything? Do I need to sign at all? Or do I just need to learn the signs that accompany the techniques of the game?

2. How would you apply WAYK if you were the one who knew how to play, but you are the language learner? Will WAYK work in that context?

3. Related to (2), what happens in 'bootstrap' contexts like Latin, where the 'teacher' has great reading/writing skills, but maybe little oral fluency. How does it look to work with a language when a teacher is not necessarily fluent?

4. Related to 2/3, how/when do you move beyond the concrete? When you want to start talking about the past, or verbs that involve quite a bit of action, how does that take place?

5. What would this look like over skype? Is it workable to not be face-to-face?

6. It seems like the wayk online resources are not well organised. How/where do you navigate to 'get' more, particularly for someone in my circumstance?

So many questions.

Various language thoughts and notes for the day

The days are long here. A few weeks ago I would get up at 7 and feel a little tired, not I wake at 6:30 or earlier and get up. I don't think I've lived so far off the equator - this would be the equivalent of the being off the end of New Zealand I think.

It does mean I get more language work done. I suppose I should be doing more reading and research though. Last night I picked up my copy of Sermones Romani for some light latin reading. I think my fluency of reading is doing quite well at the moment. I hadn't remembered or perhaps realised that the first section there is taken from Pseudo-Dositheus, and was a bilingual parallel text of daily-life Latin and Greek. Ps-Dositheus is the link. It's quite a good, relatively simple read, and I find that when the Greek is unclear, the Latin usually is sufficient. I am thinking of incorporating part of the Greek into my reader.

Speaking of the reader, I think I have largely concluded chapter 2. I put a short grammar explanation in, though I am not sure I entirely got the syntax of grammar correct. The next step in preparing the chapter would be to have a grammatical demonstration section, and exercitia. I will wait until I have my copy of LL here so I have something to model. LL is 35 chapters, but I can see my text running to 40-50. I don't think having more material is bad in any way (except for those that need to 'get through a course'). If I wrote a chapter a week, I'd be done within a year, though that is probably too ambitious. At least a draft of the main storyline would be done. If it turns out well, I will get some Graecists to proof it and review it. I do need to make sure that the work, however Ørbergian it is, is sufficiently distinct that it is not open to copyright claims, that would be the death-knell of open-source. Further steps would be getting some drawings done, especially for the early chapters where a few illustrations would make the text readily understandable per se. Indeed, that is surely part of the genius of Ørberg. If I teach from it, I will probably produce some Greek-Mongolian aids, which means I would probably produce some Greek-English aids as well. The overall timeline then would be 1 year for a draft reader, possibly 2 years for a finished text.

I am trying overall to get more Latin and Greek "in my life". That means more reading, regular composition, and being a little more active in internet agorae (I went to write forums, but of course the meaning of forum on the internet is more precise than what I wanted). For example, I've started reading the tantum latine mailing list, and I hope to spend some more time on Schola, though it's a bit of an intimidating site even for me.

My Gaelic class at the Atlantic Gaelic Academy has finished up for the summer. I think their course is excellent, though I do think some improvements could be made. They use for part of the course a fairly dry, grammar-intense set of notes, which don't do that much good. These are the TAIC notes. Since they expect learners to have a copy of Teach Yourself Gaelic, I think they might as well ask them to buy a second book, something like Gràmar na Gaidhlig would be better. What I enjoyed most was that it was mainly oral, 3 hrs on Skype a week. I wouldn't enjoy the same classtime structure in a physical class though, far better to implement TPRS or Ulpan or something. There's an Ulpan project for Gaelic in Scotland, which is pretty exciting to see.

I've heard great things to about Where Are Your Keys. I need to sit down and watch the lengthy demonstration video.

ut semper, mihi scribe, multum temporis habeo et respondere volo respondeamque!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Even more thinking on the Ørbergian Greek reader

I haven't written much the past few days. Yet this morning I sat down with a guide to the grammar in LL, and I have been using that to create a parallel file for my Greek reader. This is better than straight translation, as it allows me to map out Latin constructions, and work out appropriate Greek parallels, and then work out how to introduce them.

The second stage of this process is to sit down with something boring like Mastronarde (his textbook did mange to come with us!), and map out where Greek significantly differs, and how to best insert this into the grammatical timeline.

Key points that come to my mind are:

1. Tenses: Having aorist/imperfect/perfect adds a layer of complication to the text that the Latin does not have. I think this will mean additional chapters in my text.
2. Mood: The addition of the optative also requires consideration. My plan is to introduce the optative firstly when I introduce sequence of moods; this is a natural correlation to sequence of tenses, and so it should be more readily grasped. Secondly, Ørberg does introduce coniunctivum optativum, and so I will do the same. Wish expression is not too difficult to work in.
3. Participles. Latin is quite restricted in its participial system, whereas Greek evidences a lot more forms and so a lot more variety. This may necessitate extra chapters as well.
4. Middle voice. Generally this would correspond to a Latin verb with reflexive force. I think my general plan will be to introduce the middle as and when verbs that have a middle sense require it. Again, possibly extra chapters.
5. Particles. Greek has so many of them. I'm not great at composing with them to begin with, but I think I will sit down with a discourse grammar and work out how to start sprinkling them through the text.

On another note, I've picked up and started reading again from Rouse's A Greek Boy at Home. I see Anne Mahoney has also revised Rouse's A First Greek Course. I would be interested in seeing more than the generous sample online. Anyway, the great problem with Rouse, in my opinion, is that he launches into fairly extreme grammar almost immediately. λεκτεον for instance! Not to mention rabid use of particles, unusual vocab with contextual help (naming trees and vegetables, for instance), and the dual of course. In one sense Rouse is fantastic, but I would not want to teach from it ab initio. Thus my labour continues.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why I'm a bad Mongolian language student and why it doesn't matter

One of the problems that comes with knowing a bunch of SLA theory is that as a language learner you may well not agree with what your teacher thinks is the best way to learn their language. I have three excellent teachers, but here are three things I (don't) do:

1. Homework

I think most homework is a waste of time. I usually don't get given much homework, just an exercise or two, and I do them because I think they are important for my teacher-student relationship. If homework was things like "watch some Mongolian television", or "read this kids' book", then I think that would be valuable (though I still won't like being made to do homework!), but most language exercises are skill-drills, not comprehensible input.

2. Vocab work

I almost never go home and memorise new vocab. I think my teachers expect that I will, and probably think that I do because my recall is usually pretty good, but I think memorisation is an inferior method of learning new words. So I tend to learn what we do in class and forget the rest.

I actually do do some vocab memorisation, with ANKI, but I partly do this because I like punching through flashcards on my phone now and again, and it helps remind me of infrequently used words. So I am not a purist, but vocabulary acquisition is not my main game.

3. Error correction

My understanding of the state of SLA research is that most error-correction has little to no effect on language acquisition. This means that I am fairly lacksadaiscal about mistakes. I'm happy to hear them corrected, but I don't take them to heart in any way. I just figure that continual exposure to correct forms will swamp and overwhelm my leaners' errors. This reduces my speaking anxiety, and helps shut off the monitor. I don't spend time trying to correct myself particularly, and I don't spend time dwelling on them.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

More thoughts on my Ørbergian Greek reader

Sorry that I don't post about much else right at this moment, it's just that this has captivated my attention.

I've got the list of words that make up 80% frequency of appearance in Greek literature, I think it's a 1000 or so, plus a frequency list of NT vocab. My aim is that over the course of the reader all the 80% should be covered, and probably I will aim for every NT word above 30x. That is quite a lot of vocab, in some ways, but I will just make the reader as long as necessary.

I plan to rewrite the first chapter to make it not-a-translation from Ørberg, though I think I will retain the geography/map scheme. It really is a great way to get into the language.

My story is going to be set in Rome, AD, rather than 4/5th century Athens or wherever, for several reasons: because it allows Koine, over pure Attic. It allows a retrospective look at more Greek literature. It also allows a picture of Hellenistic world under Rome. Finally, it allows a Greek/Roman/Jewish interplay, and the introduction of Christian material. No doubt some feel that the inclusion of any 'religious' material will make the text unsuitable for politically correct secular institutions, but in my mind that is both a misunderstanding of secular space as well as historically naive.

I have no timeline, I just plan to write a little each day or so. I will probably try and draw up a schedule of what grammar to introduce when.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Ørbergian Greek

Aka, "Why I'm trying to write a relatively self-explanatory Greek reader"

I was thinking about this as I walked home from the coffee shop after Mongolian class today. I hope, in good time, to be teaching at a theological institute in this country, and there are good odds I will end up teaching Greek. This to students who have already had to try and learn English as part of their theological education, and probably in a context where grammar-translation is the background of anyone who has done some Greek. Plus, we are talking about a context where Greek learning materials in Mongolian are (I can only presume) fairly limited, and the finances are simply not there for students or the college to invest in expensive books/courses.

Thus, my dream. A Greek reader very similar in style and identical in goal to Lingua Latina, but for Greek. It ought to cover core vocabulary, and certainly core NT vocabulary (I am thinking 400 core NT words plus other core Classical words, at least in any first volume. If I created a second volume I would aim to cover 2000 words at least). It ought to cover all the grammar that a first year course would (id est omnia grammatica primo in libro); it should have an introductory chapter with audio that teaches Greek pronunciation, and audio recordings that accompany the full text. Lastly the text should be free - since half my problem is that (understandably) no one else's material is free. I could alleviate that problem and provide a useful teaching or supplementary tool for many others, as well as self-directed learners.

It should also be technically correct, and evidence good Greek style (well, generally grammatically normative Greek syntax).

This will give me something that will be cheap to publish (relatively), and so useful for my own teaching. But also useful for my continuing Greek acquisition. And, deo volente, useful for others..

Here's a snippet from today

τίς δε ἑν τῇ οἰκία; ὁ Δημοσθένης, ἡ Ἰφιμεία καὶ τέτταρα παιδία, ὁ Στέφανος, ὁ Φίλλιπος, καὶ ἡ Κλυταιμνήστρη καὶ ἡ Ἰοκάστη. ἕξ ἀνθρώποι εἱσίν. εἷς ἀνήρ, μία γυνή, δύο παῖδες καὶ δύο κόραι. ἔστι καὶ δοῦλοι ἐν τῇ οἰκία; ναί, δύο δοῦλοί εἰσιν. ὁ δοῦλος καὶ ἡ δούλη. ὁ δοῦλός ἐστι Ἱσπανικός ἀνήρ. τὸ ὄνομα δούλῳ Θεοδόσιός ἐστιν. καὶ πόθεν ἡ δοῦλη; ἡ δούλη Γερμανικός ἑστιν. τὸ ὄνομα δούλῃ ἑστὶ Πρίσκιλλα. τὸ Πρίσκιλλα οὐκ ὄνομα Γερμανικὸν ἀλλὰ ῾Ρωμαικόν ἐστιν.

Three approaches to the Fourth Century

John Behr, “Formation of Christian Theology, vol 2: The Nicene Faith”

There are lots of things to appreciate about Behr’s approach. One of his distinct emphases is that he really articulates that the Fourth century debates are about exegesis, how to read scripture. He rejects approaches that falsely dichotomise the immanent/economic trinity, approaches that schematise Antiochene vs. Alexandrian types of exegesis, approaches that drive a wedge between NT faith and (reading) practices, Patristic exegesis, and contemporary exegesis, and approaches that treat pithy Trinitarian dogmatic formulae as truths waiting to be uncovered in the Fourth century and then we can just move on from there.
If I wanted to sum up Behr’s approach succinctly, I would say that he wants us to do our best to read 4th century figures on their own terms, and to pay careful attention to how Scripture is utilised, and what the overarching paradigm of those readings are.

Lewis Ayres, “Nicaea and its Legacy”

Ayres’ book dropped a bombshell, I think, in the state of over-arching 4th century narratives (even though everyone keeps denying that they are providing a comprehensive narrative (referring instead to Hanson and Simonetti, though everyone critiques Hanson). They key thesis of Ayres is that the those questions about overarching paradigms can be read as ‘cultures’ and ‘grammars’ – ways of being and ways of thinking, and the clash in the 4th is between different understandings of ‘how to do theology’. What kinds of things can we say and not say about God, Jesus, the Bible? He also does a neat job of turning a binary approach (orthodox vs. Arian) into a 4-foldish schema (Alexandrian/Athanasian, Eusebian, Marcellan, and Western Anti-Adoptionist) of positions (trajectories).

Probably a key take-home point from Ayres is this: Nicenes have a bunch of tricks (techniques) up their sleeve, and you can look for them and understand what they’re doing with their theologising and exegesis.

Khaled Anatolios

Like Behr and Ayres, Anatolios wants us to work hard at understanding the 4th century contextually. He outlines three trajectories in modern Trinitarian doctrine (Schleiermacher’s, Rahner-Barth-Jenson, and analogical) any pretty much says they are all wrongheaded.

Instead, in the C4th he sees two big issues: two competing narratives of what the primacy of Christ looks like, and how we know and relate to God.

He gives a narrative of the 4th century, and then some categorisations; he thinks Lienhard’s miahypostatic vs. dyohypostatic overemphasises the importance of hypostasis language. He thinks that the Ayres-Barnes dichotomy of emphasis on sameness vs. diversity is too vague. Anatolios configures the central dichotomy around theologies that speak of unity of will vs. unity of being.

I find this quite helpful, it certainly matches the contours of the debate as I have read the texts.
He also borrows a model of development from Gabriel Marcel, that gives him a starting set of questions: the common elements of C4th thinking coupled with the elements that created disruption that required reflection and re-integration to arrive at the ‘Nicene’ ‘solution’.

Anatolios gives less-in-depth treatments of Arius, Asterius, Eusebius of Caesarea, Eunomius of Cyzicus, Alexander, Marcellus, and Apollinaris. He then gives lengthy chapter treatments of Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine. (cf. Ayres, who focuses on Basil, Nyssa, and Augustine).
I haven’t quite finished with Anatolios, but the depth of his work on Athanasius (reflecting his other volume) is excellent. He does a great job at showing the scriptural contours of Athanasius’ reflection, of how Athanasius both critiques and co-opts opponents’’ theology, of the question of “locating the pro nobis Christ” – wherein and in what does Christ’s being “for us” consist?

I could add a lot more on Anatolios, since he is the most recent in my mind, but I think that's enough for today.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Skyping in Latin and Greek

I think I'm up for it. No more than half an hour, with some pre-agreed structure, maybe a text to talk about or maybe a simple topic. I think this is, given my context, one of the few possibilities open to me for going beyond reading/writing to more listening/speaking.

Mongolian classes and Gaelic classes are teaching me that, as much as comprehensible input is both necessary and prior, there is something about the act of speaking that needs to be practised to ingrain language production as an active skill, not simply a passive one.

In other news, I have been sitting on Latin-Best-Practices and Oerberg mailing lists for a long time, but about a year and a half ago I stopped reading. I've started working through all the saved ones I have, which is slow, and it's getting me excited about language acquisition again. This is great news I think.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

A standard rejoinder for a standard jibe

More than once I've heard variations on "What use is there in teaching people how to go to the store and buy milk?" as a response to conversational/active/living approaches to classical languages. There's a grain of truth in there, yes: one is unlikely to go down to the local store and buy some viands in Latin. But I now have a standard rejoinder to offer up, "How can you meaninfully say that you know a language, when you couldn't go to they shop and buy some milk?"

If you can translate Cicero but can't buy milk, latine, there's a problem.

You're doing it wrong.

Full of good ideas at the moment

Boundless ideas at the moment, which is a product of both studying quite a bit, and having spare time and energy.

I have previously, and more than once, bemoaned the fact that there is no Ørberg for Greek. Yes, I'm aware of the L.Miraglia et al. version of Ἀθηναζε, but let's be frank, most of us aren't ordering difficult-to-order texts from Italian websites, and the copyright issues around Ἀθηναζε outside Italy mean that it's a niche text doomed to underutilisation.

A while back I did a straight Latin->Greek translation with minor modifications of Lingua Latina I, chapter 1. I felt that this was without fair use provisions, and it's up here and there if you want to read it. And yet neither conscience nor law permits me simply to translate LL into Greek, and neither truly should we be satisfied with that. Greek is a different language, not simply Latin (let alone English!) transcoded.

Now it happens that I don't have my copy of LL-1 here in Mongolia, but I do have a complete vocabulary file for it. Which creates a bizarre but fortuitous circumstance - the vocab gives me enough of a guideline that I can freely compose a kind of Greek-not-quite-Ørberg. I think, as I go, it will diverge more and more, which is a good thing. I'm trying to make it relatively self-contained, but without pictures that is difficult. Nonetheless, one hopes that one could teach from it. The nature of Greek will necessitate different sequencing, different grammatical features, etc., and I hope the storyline diverges from Ørberg so that the work is less derivative.

Here is just a snippet as I write chapter 2.

Ἐν ῾Ρώμῃ ἐστὶ μιά οἰκία. ἡ οἰκία Ἑλλενική ἐστιν. ἡ Ἑλλενικὴ οἰκία ἑστίν. πολλαὶ ῾Ρωμαϊκαἰ οἱκίαι ἐν ῾Ρώμῃ εἰσίν ἀλλὰ ὀλίγαι Ἑλλενικαὶ. ἑν τῇ Ἑλλενικῇ οἰκίᾳ ἕξ ἀνθρώποι εἰσίν. εἴσι εἷς ἀνὴρ καὶ μία γυνὴ και τέτταρα παιδία.

ὁ ἀνὴρ Δημοσθένης ἐστιν. τὸ ὄνομα τῷ ἀνδρὶ ὁ Δημοσθένης ἐστίν. ὁ Δημοσθένης ἐστν ὁ ἀνήρ τῆς οἰκίας. ὁ ἀνήρ τῆς οικίας κύριός ἐστιν. ὁ κύριος τῆς οἰκίας ὁ Δημοσθένης ἐστίν. ἡ γυνὴ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς Ἰφιμεδεία ἐστίν. τὸ ὄνομα τῇ γυναῖκι ἡ Ἰφιμεδεία ἐστίν. 

Such composition is not overly taxing for me. It's actually quite a bit mentally less stressful than English->Greek translation exercises. 

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Spare time projects

I started a new google site to host some aforementioned side projects, notably Conversational Latin and Greek materials, and also my work-in-progress lexicon of many languages.

It's here for those of you with peculiar interests that overlap with mine.

Friday, May 04, 2012

A few notes about the mongolian language

Just for your curiosities' sake.

Mongolian has a reputation for being hard, but I don't think it's too hard. The first obstacle is the sound system. There are four o/y vowels that can sound quite similar to English speakers, and that takes a while to get used to. Also, learning the Cyrillic alphabet might hold you up. I'd learnt the Greek alphabet and so I was halfway there.

One of the main principles in pronouncing words seems to be that after the first syllable, reduce all short vowel syllables to nothing, just cut them out and string together the consonants. In practice this means a combination of consonant clusters and schewa vowels.

Mongolian has 8 cases, which if you, as I, studied an Indo-european language might sound troublesome. Actually, it's not so bad, because there are not really different declensions, and they are all suffixes that do not normally change the root, so really it's just tacking endings on to words. The only variation within a case ending is in the vowel, and it always simply matches the vowels of the word itself, so that is not too hard either.

The cases are:
Nominative (unmarked), Accusative (only marked for definite direct objects), Genitive, Dative/Locative (to/for/at), Instrumental (by), Comitative (with), Ablative (from), Directional (to[wards]). See, compare to Latin, and all they've done is clarify the 500 usages of the Ablative for you, so that is actually helpful!

On to verbs. There are a bunch of tenses, including 4 main past tenses. Oh no you say. Good news, say I, as there are no conjugations to worry about, and verbs are uninflected for person and number. So that's just one set of endings, depending on the vowels (so 4 very similar sets of endings. Suddenly Mongolian is looking like an easy language. Plus, the tense you use often depends on whether the action was personally witnessed or not, so the choice of tense encodes some extra meaning. What a nifty language!

Basic Syntax is not overly complicated, just remember STOP: Subject, Time, Object, Predicate. Actually, anything adverbial can just get chucked in the T-slot. This is practically Latinate, good for all those classical scholars looking to take up Mongolian.

Okay, those are some things. If I think of more interesting factoids about Mongolian I will post them.

On writing in other tongues

A relatively recent acquaintance has inspired me to take up the pen again at cotidie, and write daily in Gaelic, Latin, and Greek (one a day, alternating). Since I'm generally good at pontificating about things I know better in theory than practice, I wanted to jot down some thoughts on the matter.

1. To write, you must read; but reading won't make you a writer.

I've read in my relatively short time not a small amount of Greek and Latin texts. And it's made me an excellent reader - I can generally read the NT without much pause or internal translation, and I can manage with not overly complicated Attic and post-NT Koine. Likewise I can read Latin with some fluency, though poetry tends to hold me up. But neither of these translate to quick and easy writing. There have been times where I've been quite speedy at Greek writing, but that has receded.

Nonetheless, one you have a practice of writing, reading is essential. Because as you continue to read you notice things: stylistic features, syntactical patterns, idioms, words you were looking for, and you incorporate them back into your writing. This is a far more useful process than constantly monitoring your own writing and looking everything up for technical answers. Write freely, with what you can summon in your head, and whatever mistakes come, and leave most of the self-correction for another time.

2. Accents and vowel lengths can wait (but not forever).

The trouble with these two features is that you really can ignore them 98% of the time for reading comprehension purposes. That makes them seem like unintegral features of the language, but they aren't. They mark semantically significant things, and so you should learn them. And yet when it comes to writing, I think it's best just to mark what you do know, and leave of what you don't, and again just add more correct detail as you improve.

3. We really need good English->Target dictionaries.

Traupman's Latin-English/English-Latin is the most useful for modern composition; Whittaker's words is the most useful Latin computer program ever devised, only hampered by its lack of vowel lengths. What I would love to see it a fairly comprehensive database/program/dictionary that gave full target language details (word, with accents/vowel lengths, with their lexical forms not just the head word, plus some words to explain nuance and usage. This is true even more so for Greek, which is woefully underresourced, in my opinion. Apart from Woodhouse, one can hunt through various vocabularies from composition books, but it's not a great situation.

4. What if we skyped? Structure and chaos in the blind leading the blind.

Two years ago I tried meeting up with one man to do some conversationl Greek, it didn't go excellently (as I'm sure he would acknowledge). I think we lacked structure and I suspect the internet gives the impression that I'm better at this than I am. There are a few people on my skype list who are there really for Latin conversation, but I never find that I sit down and think, "wouldn't mind a chat in Latin".

I think these things could work with more structure. In may Gaelic class, for example, we practice three kinds of exercise: Two translation exercises where a partner reads in either Gaelic or English and the other partner gives a translation in the other language. These are scripted, but the response is meant to be done without looking. We start with Gaelic->English and then later use the same sentences for English-Gaelic. Is this pedagogically ideal? Probably not, but it's a step more and better than nothing. The other exercise we do is conversations with a number of 'starter' questions from the week's material.

It makes me wonder whether such things couldn't be written up and used for Latin, Greek, etc.. Perhaps I will try and incorporate them into my slow moving FSI conversions.

Exegetical Notes on Galatians 4:1-11


1 Λέγω δέ, ἐφʼ ὅσον χρόνον κληρονόμος νήπιός ἐστιν, οὐδὲν διαφέρει δούλου κύριος πάντων ὤν, 2 ἀλλὰ ὑπὸ ἐπιτρόπους ἐστὶν καὶ οἰκονόμους ἄχρι τῆς προθεσμίας τοῦ πατρός. 3 οὕτως καὶ ἡμεῖς, ὅτε ἦμεν νήπιοι, ὑπὸ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου ἤμεθα δεδουλωμένοι· 4 ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου, ἐξαπέστειλεν θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ, γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός, γενόμενον ὑπὸ νόμον, 5 ἵνα τοὺς ὑπὸ νόμον ἐξαγοράσῃ, ἵνα τὴν υἱοθεσίαν ἀπολάβωμεν. 6 Ὅτι δέ ἐστε υἱοί, ἐξαπέστειλεν θεὸς τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν κρᾶζον· αββα πατήρ. 7 ὥστε οὐκέτι εἶ δοῦλος ἀλλὰ υἱός· εἰ δὲ υἱός, καὶ κληρονόμος διὰ θεοῦ.
8 Ἀλλὰ τότε μὲν οὐκ εἰδότες θεὸν ἐδουλεύσατε τοῖς φύσει μὴ οὖσιν θεοῖς· 9 νῦν δὲ γνόντες θεόν, μᾶλλον δὲ γνωσθέντες ὑπὸ θεοῦ, πῶς ἐπιστρέφετε πάλιν ἐπὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ καὶ πτωχὰ στοιχεῖα οἷς πάλιν ἄνωθεν δουλεύειν θέλετε; 10 ἡμέρας παρατηρεῖσθε καὶ μῆνας καὶ καιροὺς καὶ ἐνιαυτούς, 11 φοβοῦμαι ὑμᾶς μή πως εἰκῇ κεκοπίακα εἰς ὑμᾶς.

Textual Criticism

v6 ἡμῶν vs. ὑμῶν. The range of early and diverse witnesses supports the first person, rather than the second, which seems to have arisen from a desire to conform with ἐστε earlier in the verse.
v7 διὰ θεοῦ. Again, diverse and early witnesses support this reading, which readily explains a number of other variants.


1 So I say, for as long a time as the heir is a minor, though being lord of all he differs in no respect from a slave, 2 but he is under guardians and household-stewards until the father’s appointed day. 3 Thus also we, when we were minors, we were enslaved under the fundamental principles; 4 but when the fulness of time came, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 so that he might redeem those under the law, so that we might receive sonship. 6 And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father,’ 7 so that you[sg] are no longer a slave but a son; and if a son, also an heir through God.

8 But at that time, not knowing God, you were enslaved to those that are not by nature gods; 9 but not knowing God, rather being known by God, how do you turn again to the weak and poor elements to which all over again you wish to serve-as-slaves? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years, 11 I fear for you lest somehow I have laboured in vain among you.


The section introduced following the climactic final elements of chapter three, with its emphasis on Sons of God through Christ, continues a number of the foci of chapter three, reconfigured around different nuances. In vv1-7 there is a strong attention paid to the Jewish situation, with temporal sequencing, that continues Paul’s expounding of the place of and apologia for the Law.

In vv1-2 Paul lays out the basis for his analogy, that in a son’s minority age, though he be ‘lord of all’ – i.e. implicitly the master and possessor of all the benefits that will accrue to him through inheritance, so long as he remains in infancy he differs in no respect from a slave. The condition of minority is marked by subordination under ‘guardians and household stewards’, and yet the condition is temporally limited, by the day appointed by the father.

As clear as Paul’s initial framing is, the application of this analogy in vv3-7 has been less clearly appropriated. Just as in 3:24-25 I have rejected the Lutheran reading of the Law as a schoolmaster, especially in regards to Gentiles, so too we should not attempt to read that in here. The first person language in the passage can be read consistently with regards to Jewish-background believers. And so in v3, when Paul speaks of ‘we’, he speaks of himself and other Jewish-background believers, who were (a) in a position of minority, (b) enslaved under the fundamental principles.

It begins to emerge why Paul sets up the analogy in vv1-2 by noting the absence of distinction between son and slave. Paul speaks of the sons of the household (Jews under the Sinai covenant), as being in their minority, and so they in no respect differed from slaves. This paves the way for Paul to speak of them as being enslaved. That Gentiles are/were enslaved goes without saying, and that they were enslaved to the fundamental principles, becomes more evident in v9. That the Jews were enslaved is a far more radical idea that Paul is introducing here. The ‘fundamental principles’ represent a challenging translation conundrum, since in v9 and a more clear Gentile context, it would be natural to read them as cosmological elements; v3 however refers them to the Law. Thus, a shift from ‘fundamental elements of learning’, to a more generic ‘fundamental principles that underlie the world and into which we are initiated and enslaved’ seems to be in view. The usage of the term by Paul in both the Jewish and Gentile contexts here creates a new sense of the phrase which distinctly relates Jewish and Gentile spiritual enslavement.

The term ‘fulness of time’ in v4 is then a kind of play, as it resonates both with the ‘fulness of time’ in which an heir in their minority will come into their majority as so differ from the slave, as well a redemptive-historical perspective in which the ‘fulness of time’ correspondends to the ‘Father’s appointed day’. Again we see that the fundamental shift in temporal economy is the coming of Christ, in the sending of the Son by the Father. There is rich Christological and soteriological material here, as the one who is Begotten from Eternity, is ‘born of a woman’, and ‘born under law’. He becomes what he is not by nature (born as a creature, in slavery under the law) so that we might become what we are not by nature (sons rather than slaves). The purpose of the incarnation is redemptive, explicitly so in v5, “that he might redeem those under the law”. Redemption is bound up in Adoption. Indeed, the purpose is two-fold, and arguably two (logical) steps: redemption for those under the law leads to adoption. Verse 6 suggests that the new status of sonship is applied to ‘you’, and we have earlier contended that this is a reference to Gentile believers, so on the basis of the adoption of Gentile believers, God sends the Spirit into “our hearts”, Jewish-background believers in Jesus. This concurs with 3:14, that the coming of the Spirit for the Mosaic-covenant sons of God is inextricably linked to the coming of the universal Messiah and the incoming of the Gentiles into the new covenant, not the old. And yet Paul is not arguing that the Jewish-background believers alone have the Spirit, indeed the way he connects, and individualises, the result in v7, implies the tight inter-weaving of the benefits of Redemption and Adoption for both Jews and Gentiles in Crhist. As a side-note, it seems scholarship has put to rest the notion that “Abba” = “Daddy”, and we can move on to a more mature relationship, though no less intimate and personal, with God who has revealed himself not only as Creator, but as Father. The impact of v7 should not be missed, recapitulating the analogy from v1, that sonship involves inheritance, and so the adoption from slaves to sons makes us heirs, as we have not moved into the minority (i.e. the temporal economy of the Law), but into sonship and majority.

And yet v8 takes a step back to remind the addressees that formerly, they did not know God, and so were enslaved “to those that are not by nature gods”. There is good cause to correlate ‘those’ ‘not-gods’ in v8 with the ‘weak and poor elements’ in v9. Paul’s argument here is that by their actions they are betraying their redemption and adoption, instead ‘serving’, indeed ‘slaving’, for idols. How do they do so? Verse 10 raises the issue in veiled terms, the observation of calendrical sanctities, whether Sabbath observance and/or feast-keeping, Judaising practices seem to be in view. For Gentiles this would be the move from redemption from pagan idols to a peculiarly Jewish form of self-enslavement, for Jews it would be a misunderstanding of the shift represented in the coming of the Messiah and the new covenant. In either case, Paul expresses his deep concern that his labour has ultimately been purposeless, fruitless, to no effect, since their actions deny the gospel he has proclaimed and in this epistle so fiercely defends.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Disappointed with the opposition

I'm pretty disappointed with this blog post, "Why I am not a Pacifist". Not because I disagree with the author, but because I would describe it as a facile piece of writing that shows both surface engagement with the issues and what I would describe as sneaky rhetorical tricks. To be honest, it makes me ask, "This guy is a senior ethics professor?"

I think I can grant some of the opening rhetorical moves. "I am not-Pacifist by conviction", "I would rather be Pacifist", "It's in my personal self-interest to be Pacifist". There is a certain honesty that this posturing provides, and I would happily (indeed do) utilise the same in reverse. None of that advances the argument, it just creates an empathy for our speaker that allows him the space to make his case.

It's the fourth paragraph ("What I have just described...") that actually launches the argument. Heimbach immediately dissembles, when he says "The main difference between [the two] is..." What is the main difference between Just War and Pacifist positions? Surely the answer is simply this: Just War articulates that war (qua armed conflict) is sometimes justified, and Pacifism articulates the position that war is never justified. But Heimbach doesn't identify that at all, instead he characterises Pacificism as "perfectionistic" (pejoratively) and "impossible ever to achieve", while sympathetically portraying Just War as "a form of moral realism".

First it's worth backing up to notice how Heimbach consistently employs 'Pacifism' and 'Just War' as these kind of proper nouns, giving a sense that they are monolithic abstract positions. This is particularly problematic on the Pacifist side as it lacks all nuancing. I think it might be forgivable on the Just War side, because there is more core consensus around what the Just War position entails (though Heimbach neglects to give any account of traditional just-war theory in this post).

Is Pacficism "perfectionist"? I would argue that significant modern Pacifist positions are not naïve, which is what Heimbach is implying, but are very much wide-eyed to the moral realia of the world in which we live. If they are perfectionistic, it is only in the sense that ethical ideologies hold up a standard of perfection to which we are expected to subscribe. Surely that is no less that Heimbach's own views of moral objectivism?

Furthermore, describing Pacifism as a "social ideology" is also misleading. Pacifism is rarely pitched as "we must make the world this way so that we can live without war", and far more regularly, "we must live this way so that the world can be at peace." Pacifism does not depend upon peaceability for practicality, but embodies practicality for the sake of peacability.

Finally, it is a false, if not misleading, dichotomy to suggest that recognising God as the one who ultimately ends war is incompatible with us seeking peace. Heimbach almost seems to say that since only God can end war, we ought not to. To pull my own rhetorical trick, isn't this disturbingly analogical to saying "since only God can remove sin from the world, we ought not to do so but should accept it in part as a sometimes necessary practice in our lives"?

In the next section Heimbach deals with the key question, 'Was Jesus a Pacifist?' His answer is again problematic. Heimbach engages in a form of dualism when he separates 'peace' as spiritual reconciliation with God from 'peace' as civil harmony among peoples. True, Jesus did not launch a Pacifism activist program, but neither should we necessarily expect him to have. Heimbach continues to depict Pacifism as monolithic when he says "Pacifists read civil non-violence into every mention of "peace" in the New Testament". Really? All pacifists read non-violence into every occurrence of 'peace'?

My problem with Heimbach at this point is that he then engages in what I would call some specious exegesis of his own. The only civil non-violence sense of peace that Heimbach can locate is Mt 10:34. And there he suggests that Jesus is explicitly denying Pacifism. And yet most commentators on this passage are quite happy to suggest that Jesus is not implying that he himself is engaged in violence, nor is he suggesting that his followers do so, but that the necessary consequence of Jesus' coming, and his followers' faithful discipleship, will be violent opposition. This is a far step from Heimbach's seemingly 'pro-sword' position.

The second passage cited is Lk 14:31, where Jesus is supposedly applying Just War theory to morally responsible rulers. But if you bother to look up this passage in context, you will clearly see that Jesus is telling a parable. I would suggest that mining a parable for ethical prescriptivism from the characters portrayed is, at the least, an exegetical minefield. Furthermore, the main point of this parable is "to count the cost" of discipleship. Within the gospels, the shape of that costly discipleship is systematically portrayed as a willingness to suffer in the likeness of the suffering Christ.

In a third collocation of Scripture, Heimbach says he refuses to play off the rebuke of Peter in the garden, with Jesus' injunction to carry swords in Lk 22:36. I have written previously about Luke 22:36 and do not intend a full-length exegetical treatment. I, too, "as a responsible moral theologian am not free to read into what Jesus said" [contradictions and personal agenda] (another swipe at Pacifist exegesis, suggesting that Pacifists twist scripture). But suggesting that "Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one" has the plain reading of "after [Jesus leaves earth] they should carry with them and be prepared to use weapons of deadly force to defend as necessary against attack" is disingenous at the least. It's importing a Just War doctrine into a text which is laden with irony, misunderstanding, prophetic fulfilment, and not laden with disciples' post-ascension ethical instruction.

The last point that Heimbach wants to stake his claim on, in this post at least, is the unity of God and his impassible nature and character. I too affirm Jesus as the God of the Old Testament, of the same moral character, and eternally the same. And yet Just War is not the necessary entailment of that position. The origin of New Testament pacifism is not in a change in God's character, but a change in God's economy. The differences don't lie in Him, but in us. We aren't the Old Testament covenant community, but the New Testament covenant community. Jesus comes to us not as Deus nudus, but Deus incarnatus, assuming our nature. And so we must ask questions like, "Are there prerogatives of God according to his nature and status that are not our prerogatives?" Can we uphold a moral framework that distinguishes between what befits God and what befits Humanity? Is it possible for Jesus to act as a Pacifist in a paradigmatic way in his incarnation while still being Judge of the Living and the Dead?

Heimbach's whole post is disingenous in some of its argumentative strategies, as well as engaging in a shallow treatment of the opposing position. Surely a professor of ethics can do better.

What I'm reading, aka how to keep up with 7 languages

Well English is easy to keep up with, so I'm doing okay there.

Latin. At the moment I'm reading three items, the first is 1 (3) Kings, which is actually more exciting in Latin. I don't know why that is, and I'm only in chapter 2 or 3, but there's a lot of drama and tension in the Biblical narrative and the Latin is quite enjoyable. Secondly, I'm (re-)reading the Second book of Hans Ørberg's Lingua Latina course, Roma Aeterna, which I have traditionally struggled a little with. I'm finding straight reading quite okay this time round, which is a positive sign. I plan to finish it off and move on to several of the readers. Thirdly I'm reading and translating William of Rubruck's travelogue of his journey to Mongolia in 1253-5. In due course I'll read and annotate Hilary of Poitier's De Trinitate.

Greek. I'm good with Koine, I'm just reading continuous portions of the New Testament each morning. I should add some LXX in there too. I'm also reading and translating Herodotus' Histories book 1. It's more challenging, but I'm using Steadman's excellent edition. Finally I'm doing some work on English to Greek translation exercises and working slowly on my conversational Greek materials. In due course I need to read and annotate Basil's contra Eunomium.

Gaelic. For the last 30 weeks or so I've had the great privilege to be part of an online class each week with the Atlantic Gaelic Academy. This has given me more speaking practice than I've ever had. I've also started reading the new translation of John's gospel, and that is going well. Apart from this I'm listening and reading Litir Bheag, and over the Northern summer am going back through Cothrom Ionnsachaidh.

German. I was fortunate enough to get a beta place on duolingo. I definitely don't 100% agree with the acquisition philosophy behind duolingo, but the combination of very short units, reinforcement, instantaneous feedback, and online learning, all mean that I am doing a little German each day. Plus, my German goals are less ambitious than any others and so I'm not in any hurry to get anywhere beyond a reading skill.

Mongolian. Well, I have 3 hrs of class, 5 days a week, and that is most of my learning. I do a little homework, and some vocab work, and I do live in Mongolia. After 5.5 weeks of class I think things are going well. If Mongol was the only language I was doing, and the only study I was doing, I'd spend the other half of my days doing both individual study, and seeking out conversation, but I'm busy enough to neglect the former, and not sociable enough to prioritise the latter.

Hebrew. A real struggle. I shouldn't have stopped after 3 years at seminary. Nonetheless I refuse to surrender, since the majority portion of the Scriptures are in this language. I was trying to read Scripture portions, but my skills are not up to it. So I'm hitting up Randal Buth's materials, which are the best, and refreshing what I know, and also doing flashcards, and I think in a few months I'll try reading Scripture portions again. Never surrender on the Hebrew front.

Just read the Text

There is a great post here from John Piper from 1974 with which I really resonate. Much as a I hate the rhetoric of "we don't interpret the Bible, we're just reading it", it's precisely because I am such a reader that I value 'reading'. And by 'reading' I mean close, diligent, attentive reading of the text that is in front of you. Partly, no doubt, this is a product of my ecclesial background, and partly it's a product of a long and focused academic training program in humanities and literature: classical languages, philosophy, and an evangelical seminary all reinforced the simple but profound skill of reading the text in front of me.

It's also shaped how I preach, very text-focused, very verse by verse. And so it shapes what I so dislike in preaching. I don't like sermons that disconnect theology from text. I think this is a fundamental methodological error that cannot sustain generationally faithful ministry. Sure, I love to hear good theology, but if your good theology isn't connected to the text, then it has no anchor. Show people how a good, reformed theology arises from normal readings of the plain text, and you've anchored theology in God's revelatory word.

So it irks me when preaching is disconnected from the text. So does poor exegesis of the text. This evening I listened to a fine sermon that had many true points, from a luminary of conservative American evangelicalism, and yet as he treated Exodus 3:11, I felt like he missed what was plainly in front of him. The question "Who am I..." is not an existential reflection of Moses about his identity (which is how this preacher took it), but a figure of speech connected with the rest of Moses' words, "...that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" Moses' question is about his aptness for the task, it's a question about his status, not his identity. I wouldn't say there's anything overly difficult about recognising figures of speech and tropes and the like. And the preacher went on to make excellent, theologically sound points about knowing God for who he is, personally, as revealed in the scriptures. But at this very point he didn't read the text in front of him.

This is why patristic exegesis interests me: it's not enough to have the right doctrines, we need the right doctrines from the right texts, and I'm convinced that if we want to hold on to a credal legacy (Nicaea, Constantinople, Chalcedon), we must wrestle with not just the theological, but the exegetical, underpinnings of that period. I suspect, that for the most part, patristic exegesis will come up rosy, with a few thorns (Proverbs 8:22 is the biggest thorn in the garden. Yet even there I have to grant the pro-Nicenes this, that they had a consistent exegetical approach that (a) dealt with the text in front of them (the LXX for the most part), and (b) defeated not merely non-Nicene exegesis of the verse but non-Nicene exegetical strategy). In fact, I'm confident that understanding how the fathers got exegesis right will actually illumine our own reading strategies and enrich our ability to read scripture, perhaps correcting some of our near-sightedness.

This, hopefully, is what I teach, whether informally to brothers and sisters, or formally in the future. Just read the text. Don't make "just reading the text" a rhetorical trick of its own, but to pay careful diligent attention to the words, phrases, figures, tropes, of the Word of God, and while staring at the veins on the leaves, don't forget that it's part of the forest too!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Lexical glosses across seven languages

I wrote briefly in my last post about being spurred on to set up a spreadsheet to map vocabulary across different languages, and then use this as a basis for anki flashcard files linked to pictures. I made a good start on this and it's been an interesting process on a number of levels.

Firstly, I gathered that initial list of 400 key words, and then I supplemented it with a list of the 2000 most common words in English. So that is a sizeable initial target of 2500 words or so for an active vocabulary. I expanded the spreadsheet to reflect 7 languages: English (base), Ancient Greek, Latin, Gaelic, Mongol, German, Hebrew.

Filling in Latin and Gaelic has proven the easiest, in terms of just scrolling down and filling in words from my head. There is a second process that involves making sure I have all relevant lexical data: genitive form, gender, marking of long vowels in Latin and Gaelic accent marks. This is further frustrated when I have to refer to a dictionary, since to go English->Latin/Gaelic I look up one entry, but almost never contains enough data to fill in, and so then I have to look up the target word a second time to gain that information. Particularly with English->Latin this can be frustrating, as neo-Latin words often don't have a corresponding Latin->English entry.

German is easy in a different way, as there are great online resources for English->German, and generally I just list noun + article.

Greek is harder, as the best way seems to be to use Woodhouse online, which is a multi-click process, and even then (a) many words are not found/represented, (b) some words are over-represented and then I need to again reverse the process with LSJ or some such to work out nuances.

Mongolian is not too bad, as a single form is usually enough and because I am currently studying it I can often fill in basic words, and I have a couple of dictionaries.

Hebrew is difficult, since there is no real English->Classical Hebrew dictionary that I have access to, so I have to resort to word-searches of Biblical Hebrew vocab documents, and then supplement non-represented words with Modern equivalents.

Then there are equivalence problems. Some words have nuances that do not map to English well. Colours are a good example: the Gaelic colour-breakdown doesn't map to English well at all. So sometimes I need to create multiple entries across languages to reflect unavoidable nuancing.

A second problem exists at a slightly higher level - construction of meaning. For example, English uses a bunch of modal verbs and constructions embedded in words, which are often not expressed by modal words but whole syntactical patterns in other languages. I haven't really come to/tackled this issue yet, but I imagine I will provide whole sentence exemplar patterns.

Lastly there is the problem of images. I pull most of mine from the internet, but as I go on I imagine (indeed already have) that some words/concepts will be particularly hard to 'picture'. One solution is to use target-language explanatory phrases, but that might be difficult.

However, overall I am finding this a rewarding enterprise. It's good to (a) know what I know (or ought to know!), (b) move from knowing X in language 1 to knowing X in languages 1-7, (c) build both a working lexical file for my own easy reference as well as the base for flashcard memorisation of a strong core vocabulary.