[B-Greek] Do English speakers overinterpret case?

Eric Inman eric.inman at wescorpflex.com
Tue Nov 21 14:08:58 EST 2006

In computer science and some other fields (especially art, music, and
sports), there is sometimes a discussion of hard mastery versus soft
mastery. Hard mastery more or less means consciously learning all the rules
and applying them. Soft mastery more or less means just doing it and thereby
learning the rules subconsciously. This distinction seems very applicable to
language learning, but I don't recall hearing these terms used in this
field. We learn our native language via soft mastery, but we often resort to
hard mastery for learning a foreign language. Immersion for language
learning, however, relies more on soft mastery. Learning by doing a lot of
reading also develops soft mastery.

I think when we use hard mastery, we sometimes tend to run into the problems
that Elliot is describing, whereas soft mastery seems to get us past them.
For example, when I lived in Indonesia, I was agonizing over how to
correctly use a common and multi-functional particle in their language
(nya), but I finally realized that I didn't need to worry about it, since in
a few weeks I would find myself using it without being aware of it, and sure
enough, that turned out to be the case.

Regarding translation, I found that sometimes I would speak without being
aware of which language I was using, or that I would report on a previous
discussion, having no difficulty recalling the precise information that was
expressed but not recalling which language was used. Translation, when it
occurred, was done without hesitation or awareness that it was actually

The point I'm getting to is that my experience makes me feel that soft
mastery needs to be a significant component of language learning and
translation. It is one of the best tools for understanding a foreign
language on its own terms and free from the framework of ones native
language. Not that we're ever completely free from our native language, of
course, but this is a way to maximize that independence.

I think Carl's comments on deponent verbs also touches on issues like this.

Eric Inman

-----Original Message-----
From: b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of George F Somsel
Sent: Tuesday, November 21, 2006 12:33 PM
To: Elliot Poe; b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Do English speakers overinterpret case?

Carl has written on several occasions regarding the multiplication of
categories with regard to the cases.  I suppose we do "overinterpret";
however, when the Greek uses a case and we are reading / translating that,
we must attempt to make some sense of that IN ENGLISH (or in another
language if that is our mother tongue or a target language).  We can
understand some ambiguities in the Greek such as the fact that there was no
distinction between a subjective genitive and an objective genitive though
that might come as we learn more about the language.  In short, it's
probably a necessary evil until we are able to read, write and converse in
Greek on a fluent level.  I make no claim to having reached that point yet
-- hopefully next week :-) .

----- Original Message ----
From: Elliot Poe <elliot.poe at gmail.com>
To: b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org
Sent: Tuesday, November 21, 2006 1:21:26 PM
Subject: [B-Greek] Do English speakers overinterpret case?

Greetings fellow Grecophils.

The archives are full of discussions on case; in fact, they are so full
(around 1, 490 messages) that I was too intimidated to look through them for
people's perspectives on this question.  So forgive the redundancy if indeed
this question is redundant.

Do English speakers overinterpert the Greek cases?  For example, English
speakers are precise with their prepositions.  We use the words for, to, in,
at, etc. to translate the Greek dative case.  But the Greek speaker didn't
have this precision; they just heard EMOI or the like.  In order to
translate the Greek into English, we do our best to extirpate the ambiguity
inherent in the Greek.  It seems that as long as we focus on, for example,
what kind of dative a certain word is, our focus is on the English
language.  But to truly read Greek, wouldn't we need to let the cases be
what they are and leave behind the precision English demands?  Or perhaps we
would keep the precision but realize the Greek cases leave much to the
imagination of the reader/hearer.  In English, we write as precisely as
possible, but in Greek one form can mean several different things, so that
the reader must decide for herself/himself.

Perhaps that is what separates the person who can truly read Greek from the
person who can merely translate it.  I'd love to hear your perspectives.

Elliot Poe
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