[B-Greek] Question: comment by Kline

Eric Inman eric.inman at wescorpflex.com
Tue Oct 30 10:26:49 EDT 2007

I think the approach that Carl mentions can be very useful.

For myself, after much experimentation and frustration over many years, I've
ended up concluding that it's better not to spend too large a percentage of
time with a dictionary. A dictionary is a fast way to learn the meanings of
a few dozens and perhaps hundreds of words, but a slow way to learn the
meanings of thousands of words. For me it seems to work better to spend most
of my time reading, either with a parallel text or without, or listening. I
don't necessarily try to understand every word at first, but eventually more
and more words become clearer. I use the dictionary for a small percentage
of words that seem especially critical or unclear. It seems that our minds
relate to words based on how we remember them being used. For me this seems
to be a more natural and effective way to learn a large vocabulary.

Others on this list have discouraged the use of parallel texts, saying it's
better to go to the dictionary instead. It's definitely true that the
dictionary will provide a much more complete and accurate picture of what
the word means. On the other hand, a parallel text usually offers in a
fraction of a second enough information to be helpful without disturbing the
flow of reading. The deep understanding of a word eventually comes, not from
the parallel text, but from the high volume (many books worth) of reading in
the original language. There has also been concern about a parallel text
being a crutch, but I find myself naturally referring to it less and less
often as I proceed.

Perhaps most important of all, this has made language learning for me a lot
more fun and much less of a chore.

Eric Inman

-----Original Message-----
From: b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Carl W.Conrad
Sent: Monday, October 29, 2007 7:59 AM
To: Eddie Mishoe
Cc: B-Greek B-Greek; Randall Buth
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Question: comment by Kline

I'm taking the liberty of sending on to the list my response to Eddie  
Mishoe's question; I haven't asked his permission first, but I rather  
think that he speaks for some other B-Greekers, and what I have to  
say in response to his question may just possibly be helpful to  
others -- although I think I've said some of these things on-list  

On Oct 28, 2007, at 6:34 PM, Eddie Mishoe wrote:

> Carl:
> I read with interest this comment by Elizabeth Kline:
> I wouldn't worry too much about how much vocabulary you have.   
> Vocabulary comes and goes. It is better to look up
> words in Danker as  you read than it is to memorize glosses.  
> Knowing a gloss for each  word in the NT is useless knowledge.
> I tend to get discouraged because my vocabulary seems to be fairly  
> weak at times. What are your thoughts on her commment? Can one  
> still be considered "scholarly" in Greek without a ready vocabulary  
> for just about any text? How does one get a feel for grammar and  
> syntax when you're looking up words a lot?

I'm not sure that my advice would serve everybody equally well; I can  
only tell you what I know worked for me when I was reading Homer as  
rapidly as I could in grad school. I was using Autenrieth's Homeric  
Dictionary, which I think is very good. I listed every word that I  
had to look up on a page of a notebook, not writing out glosses or  
definitions, but simply noting the word that I'd had to look up after  
reading through the whole entry in Autenrieth. I found that there  
were quite a few words that I looked up repeatedly until I had come  
to recognize them immediately when meeting them the next time. This  
was slow going through the first three books of the Iliad, but I  
found that by Book 4 I was reading much more rapidly and noting down  
10 or less words per page of the Oxford Classical text (roughly 30  
lines of verse per page) and found that number dwindling down  
successively with more reading. I worked at this for several hours  
each night for a week or more and found that after a week or so I was  
really moving right along through the Homeric text. Since then I've  
followed that same method with other new authors, each of whom seems  
to have a distinctive vocabulary of his/her own. This method is not  
quick and easy but rather slow and laborious, but it worked for me  
and might work for some others.

What I would recommend -- most decidedly -- is to avoid the practice  
of writing out an English version as you go along reading the Greek  
text: read to follow the flow of the story or the flow of the  
argument rather than to achieve a passable or more-than-passable  
English version of what you're reading, and read, if possible, in the  
order in which words come at you in the text. I think it's helpful --  
perhaps even essential -- to vocalize the text as you're reading it.  
Remember that all ancient literature was written for the ear and  
mind, not for the eye and mind (those who could afford it had texts  
read aloud to them by educated slaves, while church congregations had  
gospels and letters read aloud to them by someone -- perhaps a slave  
in that case, too!).

> Can you pick up any piece of Hellenistic literature and read it  
> rather effortlessly?

Not quite any piece. Depends on what it is. Philo isn't very easy  
reading for anybody, but one can get used to him with some effort and  
read with reasonable speed upon developing a characteristic Philonian  
vocabulary. I've previously recommended reading what Randall  
recommends: some Epictetus (the Enchiridion is an item that everybody  
ought to have read many times along with Plato's Apology). More  
leisurely reading in Hellenistic literature would be something like  
Pseudo-Lucian's LOUKIOS H ONOS, which is the inspiration for  
Apuleius' great Latin classic, the last book of which is a major  
source for understanding ancient mystery initiations, "The Golden  
Ass." This little novelette has everything: adventure, witchcraft,  
sex; it's relatively easy reading and, like Homer's Odyssey or  
Herodotus' travelogues, just fun to read. Like Epictetus, it is  
contemporary with some of the GNT documents.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Ret)

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