[B-Greek] Translating Participles

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Sun Nov 16 07:37:31 EST 2008

On Nov 16, 2008, at 6:45 AM, George F Somsel wrote:

> Randall will, of course, tell you that the object is not translation  
> (and it isn't the object); but there are relatively few who can take  
> the time off from other pursuits and spend the money to fly off to  
> attend an immersion course in the language.  Most of us will be  
> exposed to the language one hour per day for a maximum of five days  
> per week (and more likely for three days per week).  Copious reading  
> is the key to gaining a feeling for what is going on in the  
> language.  In the beginning man created a translation.  And he saw  
> the translation and said, "This sucks !"  So he read some more and  
> tried again.  As he read his facility improved.  This continued for  
> 70 years (well, perhaps less).  And, at the end of the 70 years, he  
> said "hEURHKA!  I have begun to understand this."

And part of what he understood is that s/he doesn't have to translate  
it in order to understand it, that s/he may be able to understand it  
and still not translate it, that s/he will much sooner come to  
understanding than to the ability to translate it -- because  
translating is an art.

> Thomas is correct.  What the participle posits is a relationship  
> between the activities mentioned.  What words you use to indicate  
> this relationship may change depending upon what you consider that  
> relationship to be.  Is it temporal "he did X then he did Y"?  Is it  
> indicating a concurrent event "While doing X he did Y"?  You need to  
> develop a feel for this.  Language is not simply the plugging in of  
> exchangeable parts.  You don't exchange part A for part X and part B  
> for part Y in each and every case.  A grammar can provide some  
> guidelines to get you started, but the grammar is not the final word.

All of which is sound doctrine.

I might add something that you should not take amiss, Ken: I think you  
are discovering what I first began to understand as a TA in grad  
school: that when one begins teaching Greek, one comes increasingly to  
understand Greek grammar; when you have to explain it to someone else,  
you have to develop an intelligible explanation for how the language  
works. For me that meant, as I think you're realizing it means for  
you, coming to appreciate lots of things that never really made that  
much sense before (and perhaps finding out that the grammars don't do  
all that good a job of explaining things either).

> From: Kenneth Litwak <javajedi2 at yahoo.com>
> To: b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org
> Sent: Sunday, November 16, 2008 2:32:11 AM
> Subject: [B-Greek] Translating Participles
>   I've now consulting five or so beginning grammars on translating  
> participles because of a difference between the grammars that may  
> only have significance in English but that's where students are.
>   The issue is what helping verbs/words to use with a given tense.
> Depending upon which grammar I use, I could translate PROSELQWN  
> APEKULISEN "After coming to (the tomb) he/she/it rolled away' or  
> "having come to (the tomb) he/she/it rolled away" or "when he had  
> come to (the tomb) he rolled away".  If I use "having" as some  
> grammars do, then this could be confused by students with the  
> perfect participle, which I might translate the same way.
> Mark 1:4 KAI KHRUSSWN BAPTISMA could be "and preaching a baptism,"  
> "and while preaching a baptism," "and while he was preaching a  
> baptism," or even "and he was preaching."  In one grammar, "was"  
> would not be used for a present active participle but for an aorist  
> active participle.  In another grammar, "was/were" could be used for  
> a present active participle and "have/has/having" for an aorist  
> while in another "have/has/having" would be reserved for a perfect  
> active participle.  I learned to use "having" for the aorist, not  
> only the participle but sometimes even the aorist indicative if that  
> made sense in English.  I recognize that the most important thing is  
> whether the action is contemporary with, prior to or future to the  
> action of the main verb but we still need to know what words to use  
> to convey that as umambiguously in English as possible. I would like  
> to be able to say to my students something like, "You can use 'was/ 
> were' with a present
> participle and 'have/has/having with an aorist or perfect  
> participle" or some other variation but they need some guidance as  
> to what is correct and when I'm seeing grammars disagree with each  
> other, it's hard to give advice that is very helpful unless I just  
> say "You're using Mounce.  Do what he says. Period."  That to me,  
> however, is not the way to learn a language.  In fact, at the risk  
> of challenging my own question here, I recently heard a comment to  
> the effect that the entire Zondervan approach to learning languages  
> was a problem in that it presumed you could have a lot more  
> precision than was warranted. I certainly see that.  Translation has  
> a lot of art to it, but at the same time, there would certainly have  
> been some sense of distinction in the minds of Greek speakers, even  
> if we can't know what that was exactly.
>   I'd like to be able to create a chart for my students of  
> translation choices for the different tenses, but right now, I don't  
> think I can constrain those choices very much.  Suggestions?  Thanks.
> Ken
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Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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