[B-Greek] Ancient Greek-Grammar war?

R Yochanan Bitan Buth ybitan at mscc.huji.ac.il
Wed Mar 1 04:24:07 EST 2006

Donald egrapsen:
>Given your definition of acquisition as a technical term, then 
acquisition of Biblical Hebrew is impossible.


First, the term 'acquisition' is not mine but taken from the field of SLA
"second language acquisition". 


The pessimism expressed may be confusing 'acquisition' with "mother-tongue

(Of course, there is no such thing as mothertongue production of ancient
Hebrew or even Shakespeare, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.) 


The important point is in another direction and often missed 

-- for an adult second language learner of any and every language (modern
ones included), though they do not become mother-tongue speakers, they can
"acquire" the language and interact in the language fluently, that is they
think about what they want to say in the language and the words come out
unconsciously-formed. Please note: they certainly make mistakes throughout
their whole life, but they are fluent, they can swim in the language in ways
that those not fluent cannot. There are also levels of fluency, from basic
living, to professionally competent, to near-mother-tongue. (The last
typically takes 5-10 years of using a language, and many adults happily
freeze/plateau at lower levels. My gut feeling, having read no studies on
this, is that 2000-3000 hours using the language are necessary to get
into/approach the professional-competent level (depending on language
relatedness), probably making half a million jarring mistakes along the
way.) As for pronunciation, that is irrelevant to fluency and
internalization. A more important question is whether any language can be
learned in a classroom? Is it possible to learn/internalize Russian fluently
in a classroom in Minnesota? Is so, then NAI KAI TH ELLHNIKH.


Back to the fluency issue, this also should not be confused with
scholarship. A person can learn to speak German, they are not thereby Goethe
scholars. But Goethe scholars should be happier and achieve higher personal
results if they fluently control German of at least some dialect. I think
most German departments recognise this and I doubt whether they would see
"German for reading" as an acceptable equivalent. Francois Gouin certainly


Gouin jumped through all the traditional hoops with German grammar, read
through a whole dictionary more than once, and translated pieces of
literature but he could not think in the language, couldn't speak, and
recognized that some dimension was woefully missing. He then
developed/discovered the "series" method that Charles Berlitz renamed and
organized as the "direct method". I believe Berlitz is still in business,
despite the competition of myriads of public schools, bookstores, and
taped-language programs all over the world. Whether that's good language
teaching or not, it's remarkable business.


I would agree that acquisition of Ugaritic or Phoenician is impossible
because we don't have evnough of the language avaialble. As a rough guess, I
wouldn't want to work towards fluency in a language that did not have more
than a million words of extant text. Several million is better. Coptic
should be doable (Roman-Hellenistic Egyptian), I haven't looked into it. I
know a Coptic Institute in Egypt wanted to do for Coptic what Israelis have
done with Hebrew, but I doubt that they will have the necessary incentive to
pull that off. (And before the latter issue arises, no one is claiming that
modern Hebrew is biblical, or is rabbinic, or anything else than itself. But
its morphology does transfer to the biblical dialect at over 99%, which
isn't shabby.)


Why do I champion this point of fluency for ancient languages? Because I can
feel in my own soul a tremendous gap in the way I read ancient Hebrew and
the way I read ancient Greek. After thirty+ years with both, this shouldn't
be. But so it was, and I'm finding the changing of it quite slow. But at
least I know I need to change. This year I have pledged to speak with a
neighbor in ancient Greek for at least 1/2-1 hour every day. After two
months we are both feeling an improvement and recognize the long road ahead.
We've been there before in other languages. It is doable, worthwhile, and I
suspect that we will not want to trade off whatever level we "acquire" this
year. More puzzling is the resistance in ancient language departments, but a
person has to do what they know to be right (Epiktetos). 







Randall Buth, PhD

Director, Biblical Language Center


buth at jerusalemschool.org

and Lecturer, Biblical Hebrew

Rothberg, Hebrew University

ybitan at mscc.huji.ac.il


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