Thursday, January 30, 2014

The inertia in classical language education

I was responding to a post the other day about why Latin is still taught the way it is (grammar-translation) when modern languages are not. It's worth considering the chronic inertia in most classical language pedagogy. I will talk mostly about Latin, but what I say is equally applicable to Ancient Greek, and to some extent Biblical Hebrew.

Reason 1 - Historical short-sightedness

The grammar-translation method is often considered to be the 'traditional' method. But historical research into language learning pedagogy in Europe suggests that this method really only traces back 300 years or so, to the age when active Latin usage declined rapidly, and there was a shift to relieve students of the burden of Latin composition and active production when it was no longer required in academic contexts. This scaling back of Latin's practical usage meant that methods changed to focus on explicit grammar, since this was now the 'goal' of Latin instruction.

Realising that grammar-translation is actually a relative new-comer to pedagogical practices for classical languages is a key factor in dethroning it. For most of the past 2000 years, Latin was taught communicatively.

Reason 2 - How we were taught is, by default, how we teach

In the pressure of teaching, the easiest mode to default to is that by which we learnt. This is true of lecturing as it is of language instruction, and most teachers of classical languages both (a) were taught by G-T, (b) were among the "4 percent" who thrived on it. This notion of the 4% is quite useful - it's not an accurate number by the way. But the number of students who truly 'take' to grammar and enjoy grammatical analysis is relatively few. It's probably higher once you get to upper levels or college classes, since they are self-selecting. But these are the kinds of people who go on to become teachers of classical languages, and so they default to what they know, and then are baffled by why the 96% doesn't get it.

Reason 3 - False assumptions

The purposes of classical language instruction are different than modern languages. We can and ought to concede this. The latter aims at communicative proficiency for life experiences, whether work, social, leisure, or other. The former aims at competency at reading and interpreting ancient written texts.

The mistake is assuming that grammar-translation produces the goals of classical language education better than other approaches. My argument is and remains that communicative methods produce faster and better readers of ancient texts than grammar translation methods.

Furthermore, in the current academic climate, one of the goals of CL instruction is the ability to discourse about the text in grammatical detail. This is almost always done not in the target language, but in English or another modern language. It's contrasted with being able to order your latte at the non existent Koine Café.

But what if you felt equally comfortable ordering that Latte in Koine, as you did discussing the imperfective force of a certain verb also in Koine? There is no a priori reason grammatical analysis and discussion couldn't happen in the classical language itself.

Reason 4 - The myth of hard work

Most of those who succeed at classical languages enough to become teachers got there by hard work, with hard copy books, and looking things up in the lexicon, and brute force memorisation. It's a solitary form of torture that is character-producing and results in a shared "been there, suffered that" mentality. It also reflects in the attitude that looks at students and expects them to suffer the same - solitary hours spent in rote learning and analysis, to produce the same result.

But almost all our pedagogical research on Second Language Acquisition suggests that paradigm and vocabulary memorisation is woefully inefficient. That's why it's so painful and arduous - it requires so much more effort to achieve its outcomes.

It's not that we need lazy students, we just need to stop equating 'brute force' with 'good learning technique'. A communicative method would shift the focus to learning in community, would value in-context learning, and would devalue 'produce right form from memory' in favour of 'acquire right forms by repeated exposure'.

Reason 5 - The system reinforces it

Most classical language teachers got there by hard work, through a classical language curriculum that never intersected with modern languages, except maybe comps for higher degrees. They never learn Second Language Acquisition theory, never did courses in Language pedagogy, and are employed by departments that have little interest in those fields. They are given courses to teach that rely on grammar-translation methods, and are locked into them in their early teaching careers. The ability to turn from a system that reproduces the same problems, and create a genuine communicative alternative, is not open to most institutional teachers, *even if they wanted to*.

Friday, January 24, 2014

1 Peter 1:1-2 Exegetical Notes


1.1 Πέτρος ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις διασπορᾶς Πόντου, Γαλατίας, Καππαδοκίας, Ἀσίας, καὶ Βιθυνίας, 2 κατὰ πρόγνωσιν θεοῦ πατρός, ἐν ἁγιασμῷ πνεύματος, εἰς ὑπακοὴν καὶ ῥαντισμὸν αἵματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ· χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη πληθυνθείη.


There are no significant critical issues in this section.


Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ
To the elect, sojourners, in the dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Kappadokia, Asia and Bithynia, [elect] according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the consecration of the Spirit, for obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ – May grace and peace be multiplied unto you.


The opening of the letter offers three discrete units. Firstly, the identification of the sender, then the addressees, and lastly an initial greeting wish.

The author is unambiguously described as ‘Peter’, followed by ‘apostle of Jesus Christ’. Whatever debates about authenticity and pseudonyms might follow, the letter presents itself as written by Peter the apostle, and would have been read as such. The spectrum of opinion on authorship ranges from direct authorship by Peter, Peter working with an amanuensis, an amanuensis completing a letter from Peter’s thoughts shortly post-death, to the work of a Petrine community writing sometime between 75 and 95 AD. I will delay a full examination of these issues until the end of the letter, but merely note four issues of challenge: (1) the quality of the Greek, (2) a social setting later than Peter’s lifetime, (3) dependence upon ‘Deuteropauline’ books (an argument dependent upon both literary connections and the assessment and dating of those books, (4) the Christianisation into remote Asia Minor.

The addressees are ‘the called’, a term that picks up Old Testament covenantal ideas about election. This is coupled immediately with ‘sojourners of the diaspora’, again echoing two very Jewish concepts; in regards to ‘sojourners’ or ‘foreigners’, I understand the term to have a concrete meaning first – these believers are indeed temporary (if extended) dwellers in a place that is not their home, and in which they are not citizens. The term is not primarily metaphorical first, and its metaphorical resonance is built on the concrete social setting. We will consider further the use of the term in 2:11. The use of ‘Diaspora’ echoes the experience of the Jews living outside Palestine since the Babylonian exile. This is reinforced by the inclusio formed with ‘Babylon’ in 5:13.

If ‘foreigners’ is concrete, is ‘diaspora’ concrete too, in the sense that Peter’s readers are Jewish-background believers? The problem with this view is that Jewish residents of Asia Minor had been there long enough to no longer be ‘sojourners’. I take the view that within the re-mythologised (I use the sense without any negative connotation) use of Babylon imagery and metaphor of the early Christians, and in connection with 5:13, that Rome is the agent of dispersion, and that Peter’s addressees are a new ‘diaspora’ of Christian believers.

Their geography situates them across the majority of Asia Minor, listing 5 Roman provinces covering the bulk of the West and North. These regions are remote and diverse. The assumption that they were evangelised gradually and through native-conversion is one argument against apostolic authorship, since this could hardly have been significantly progressed within Peter’s lifetime. However, if the primary addressees are non-native residents of these areas, forced there from Rome, then this argument is nullified.
In this regard I follow Jobes in locating the social setting of 1 Peter within Roman colonisation and deportation efforts to Asia Minor. They are doubly-so foreigners. Foreigners as non-Roman-citizens who have been transplanted to Asia Minor where they are foreigners, and foreigners as Christians in relation to their world.

Verse 2 resumes the description of ‘the called’, and functions as a long adverbial phrase to the implicit action of being ‘called/elect’. It is broken down into 3 compartments. Firstly, they are called ‘according to the foreknowledge of God the Father’. This will be reinforced in the blessing of v3 and following, but election is grounded in the Father. Secondly ‘by the consecration of the Spirit’. Doctrinally speaking, election is effected by the Spirit is setting apart as holy those who are called; it is the actualisation in salvation history of the eternal decree. Thirdly, it is ‘for obedience and sprinkling [of] the blood of Jesus Christ’. This combination of ‘obedience and sprinkling’ is a hendiadys that takes us back to Exodus 24:3-8 in which the solemnisation or confirmation of the Mosaic covenant is effected by the sprinkling of the blood of sacrifice in conjunction with the people’s self-commitment to obey “All that the Lord has spoken”. In this New Testament register, the called are those called, and sanctified, for the new covenant, formed through Jesus’ blood (metonymous for his sacrificial death) and with the goal or result of obedience. We may further note the Trinitarian structure of salvation laid out here in this triadic description of the elect.
Lastly Peter adopts and adapts an emergent standard Christian greeting. While building upon the Hellenistic model, the combination of ‘grace’ and ‘peace’ echoes Pauline practice, but no specific dependence need be assumed, merely the combination of the Hellenistic usage of χαίρειν shifted into a Christian register, in combination with the adaptation of Hebrew shalom also injected with a Christocentric meaning. Peter’s usage of “be multiplied” in the optative shows that he is not merely dependent upon Pauline patterns. While not too much should be exegeted out of a standard greeting, it does indeed set the tone for his letter – the desire for peace and for grace for his recipients.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Returning to Mongolia

I don't mean to post the same thing all over the internet, but not everybody follows everything either.

We are heading back to Mongolia in a few weeks, scheduled to arrive Feb 8th.

I will be teaching four subjects this semester:
Amos (Hebrew), 1 & 2 Peter (Greek), Ezra-Nehemiah, and Church History until 1052 AD.

Not a light load! I was pleasantly surprised at the extensivity of the notes I have on 1 Peter, so at least that relieves some of the burden there. I have also taught a 2000-year subject of Church History, and everything up to 500 is in my field, so those are two subjects I am at least a leg-up on. Still, preparing four subjects for instruction in a foreign language is always difficult.

My students are requesting GNTs and Hebrew OTs, but such books are neither cheap nor light. If you have any ideas on that front, let me know.

So I will definitely start blogging my way through 1 Peter shortly. It is the best way for me to get my thoughts straight.

Other projects for 2014 include working on the Ørberg translation, which many people have expressed interest in seeing. It would be marvelous to secure some translation rights though. I also hope to push out a few journal articles. And of course, this is a year to make significant doctoral progress. Busy times ahead.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Neo-Latin and Neo-Koine

Recently I have been compiling a lexicon for a vocabularly learning program, I am hoping to record about 500 words of Latin for this project, and so I have been brushing up on a great deal of Latin words for contemporary objects.

Of course, even relatively recent NL dictionaries fail. I haven't found anything for "video game controller" yet. But in the course of this I have been musing on one of the problems of Neo-Latin: the fact that it is almost always circumlocutions.

For instance, I discovered instrumentum portabile radiotelephonicum for 'cell phone'. Now, this is not bad Latin. It's just that I can't imagine Neo-Latin speakers getting out such a mouthful in everyday conversation. Sure, we can talk about semantic density and what-not for a while but at the end of the day, just as we don't say "cellular telephone", why on earth should we settle for instrumentum portabile radiotelephonicum? I suspect if we have a genuine Latin-speaking community, not just (some very, very) enthusiasts, we'd just have 'portabile'.

Neo-Latin is in a relatively stronger position than the difficulties encountered by those interested in using communicative practices for teaching Koine or Attic Greek. What do you do for objects and concepts that just don't exist in the language? Do you create Koine neologisms for 'video game controller'?

Personally my preference for Greek is to retro-engineer Greek terms from Modern Greek. Find the MG equivalent, then 're-classicise' it: work out an appropriate CG or KG form, place an appropriate accent, and decline as usual.

This last month I've been reviving my interest in using Duolingo, and we all dream of the day the Incubator gets opened up for English -> X languages, so as I advance my German, I've been taking notes and preparing a lexicon so that a Latin and a Koine Greek course might get off the ground post-haste. It also does a lot of good to be refreshing my own conversational skills in these ancient languages.