[B-Greek] Translating Participles

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Sun Nov 16 11:07:29 EST 2008

On Nov 16, 2008, at 8:38 AM, John Wilking wrote:

> Carl,
> I know that understanding must come before translating. You can't  
> translate what you don't understand, but what do you mean by the  
> word "art"?

I mean an ability to express oneself clearly, intelligibly -- and  
eloquently -- in the target language. Most of us can pretty easily put  
words together to produce a reasonably grammatically-correct "literal"  
version of the original-language text in the target language (but some  
do it a lot better than others). But what is wanted is not merely  
grammatical competence; what is wanted is eloquence, by which I mean a  
command of the target language that can make the original text "sing"  
in the target language -- if you know what I mean: not lyrics and  
melody, but style that communicates sense with efficacy and power.  
That is not a gift possessed by every student of Greek or of any other  

> --- On Sun, 11/16/08, Carl Conrad <cwconrad2 at mac.com> wrote:
>> From: Carl Conrad <cwconrad2 at mac.com>
>> Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Translating Participles
>> To: "George F Somsel" <gfsomsel at yahoo.com>
>> Cc: javajedi2 at yahoo.com, b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org
>> Date: Sunday, November 16, 2008, 7:37 AM
>> 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
>>> 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

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

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