[B-Greek] Do English speakers overinterpret case?

Elliot Poe elliot.poe at gmail.com
Tue Nov 21 19:52:54 EST 2006

Thank you George and Eric for your helpful responses.

I agree that these categories are a "necessary evil."  I suppose the better
we understand Greek, the more we will wean ourselves from the strict
categories required by our own language.  I know some only desire the
ability to translate in order to explain the Greek text to English speakers
(or speakers of other languages).  These people perhaps rightly focus on the
strict categories of case, etc.  But others of us read the Greek to find out
what it means in Greek, and we hope we will eventually understand Greek
without having to translate it into English or use innumerable categories
(most of which seem to be a result of translating Greek into English) to
understand it.  As Eric suggests, some of us want to change our hard mastery
into soft mastery.

Thanks again,
Elliot Poe

On 11/21/06, Eric Inman <eric.inman at wescorpflex.com> wrote:
> 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
> occurring.
> 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 :-) .
> george
> gfsomsel
> _________
> ----- 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.
> Yours,
> Elliot Poe
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