[B-Greek] Definition of "parsing"

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Fri May 15 08:03:40 EDT 2009

I just (an hour ago) noted in an off-list message that the chief focus  
of discussion on B-Greek for some time now has been the trivia of  
ancient Greek pedagogy rather than significant questions about the  
ancient Greek language or the Biblical Greek text. I personally think  
that the real demarcation in matters of ancient Greek pedagogy lies  
between those who think that the object of learning Greek is reading  
Greek (as Greek) and those who think the object of learning Greek is  
to derive, either through parsing and grammatical analysis or through  
interlinears or their electronic equivalents,  a version in one's  
native tongue that satisfies one's sense that one understands all that  
one really needs or wishes to understand about the Greek text in  
question (as if, it seems implicit, the Greek author would surely have  
expressed him or herself in one's own native tongue if he or she  
really wished to be understood completely).

As for these questions of defining the terminology of morphological  
analysis, I'll offer a quick survey of my own sense of how the terms  
are traditionally used:

1. PARSING is used to indicate analysis which may focus strictly upon  
the form and the semantic information contained in the form of a word,  
or it may be used in a broader sense to extend to notation of the  
syntactic relationship of a word to other words in the context; in the  
broadest sense, it may be used to indicate all morphological and  
syntactic analysis that can be performed on a given phrase, clause, or  
larger textual unit. To PARSE a Greek word of variable alternative  
elements is to analyze it by noting all the semantic indications of  
the word-form (I guess the linguist's gobbledy-gook is all the  
information grammatically encoded in the word-form, or something like  
that). For a verb, that means noting the person, number, tense, mood,  
voice, including for participles, number, gender, and case. For a  
noun, that means noting the number, gender, and case (some would  
include noting the nominative and genitive singular of the noun in  
question or otherwise indicating its declensional pattern.) For an  
adjective, it means noting the number, gender, and case, the degree,  
and indicating the noun or substantive with which the adjective  
implicitly or explicitly agrees (some would include noting the  
nominative forms of the masculine, feminine, and neuter or otherwise  
indicating whether the adjective is of first-and-second declension, of  
third declension, or indeclinable). For a pronoun, it means noting the  
number, gender, and case of the word-form; some would include notation  
of the antecedent or postcedent substantive of the pronoun; some would  
include indication of the nominative forms of all genders. For an  
adverb, it means noting the degree. These descriptions are probably  
not exhaustive of what all would include in parsing.

2. VERBS are CONJUGATED: by this is meant the charting out of all the  
inflected forms of a verb in each tense-aspect classification, in each  
voice and in each mood (including infinitives and participles -- some  
would include declension of the participial forms), each person and  
number. Some would include notation of the "principal parts" of verbs  
or of some distinctive indication of the tense-aspect stem of a verb.

3. NOUNS, PRONOUNS, and ADJECTIVES are DECLINED or shown in their  
DECLENSION patterns. This terminology is derived from a notion of a  
nominal form's "falling" (Greek πτῶσις PTOSIS, Latin 'casus');  
in terms of this conception, the nominative and accusative are  
"upright" and "perpendicular" forms (ὀρθαὶ πτώσεις, ORQAI  
PTWSEIS, Lat. 'casus recti'), while the genitive and accusative 'drop'  
or 'fall' between the 'upright' nominative' and the 'perpendicular'  
accusative ('casus obliqui’, πτωσεις λοξιαι PTWSEIS  

I would add a comment that is not unrelated to what I said at the  
outset above about two sharply-differentiated conceptions of learning  

On the one hand, there are those who sincerely believe that learning  
Greek (or any other inflected language) is fundamentally a matter of  
learning the analytical structure of its elements: one learns the  
three declensions of Greek nouns, one learns the forms of the tense- 
aspects, voices, moods of the verbs in variants of omega verbs and  
contract verbs and MI verbs, one learns the major syntactic rules of  
concord and types o;f clauses, etc., etc. At the same time one reads  
sentences or groups of sentences that illustrate these structural  
patterns to which one is being introduced (most of the sentences  
having been composed by textbook authors rather than derived from  
ancient authors). The outcome of this sort of pedagogy is that one can  
approach a hitherto unseen Greek text and "decode" it by analyzing all  
the words into their semantic components and exploring the structural  
relationship of the words to each other and so piecing together a  
satisfactory "meaning" expressed in one's own native language. My own  
experience over the course of 50+ years of teaching at various levels  
is that this rarely produces any real literacy in ancient Greek, and  
if it does, it does so because the learner has discarded the analytic  
method and has, at some point, passed over from analysis and  
"decoding" to sequential recognition of the sequence of communicated  
meaning in the original Greek text and so is reading the Greek AS  
GREEK, not as an encoded form of his/her native language.

On the other hand, there are those who sincerely believe that learning  
an ancient language (one that is really 'foreign') involves extended  
lengthy exposure to texts in the ancient language in sizable portions  
in a mode of learning that involves aggregational apprehension of  
meaning. I don't doubt that this would be best achieved in Randall  
Buth's oral/aural classroom method, but I am convinced that for those  
who have no chance or access to that sort of experience, the next best  
method is working through one of the textbooks focused on developing  
READING skills in the original language (of the nature of the JACT  
"Reading Greek" or OUP's "Athenaze" sequences). Acquisition of the  
ability to read Greek AS GREEK is not quick and it does require  
intense effort and industry. Learning Greek this way can be fun -- but  
it is not really the same thing that I think some really want to  
transform it into: it is not a "game to be played" or an amusement  
comparable to solving crossword puzzles or Sudokus.

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

On May 15, 2009, at 6:27 AM, John Sanders wrote:

> This is where we can get some instruction from Dr. Buth or Dr.  
> Conrad, et
> al.  As I have gathered, which may be incorrect in some fashion, DT  
> (or some
> ancient fellow who spoke ancient Greek) used η κλισις, -- 
> εως (H KLISIS,
> -EWS) as the noun to refer to the inflexion of nouns and verbs.   
> They did
> not discriminate from one to other.  πλαγιαζω (PLAGIAZW) was  
> what one said
> when declining nouns, but only in the oblique cases (πτωσισ  
> πλαγια, PTWSIS
> PLAGIA); and verbs, but only in the non-finite varieties, or so I
> understand.  To identify a noun in the nominative case, one would  
> use the
> verb ορθοω (ORQOW).
> To conjugate a verb, I  believe they used κανονιζω (KANONIZW)  
> to give the
> paradigm and the response would use κανονιζεται  
> But this is where someone who really knows would help.
> John Sanders
> Suzhou, China
> On Fri, May 15, 2009 at 11:23 AM, Louis Sorenson <llsorenson at hotmail.com 
> >wrote:
>> Ah yes,
>> 13 hours of hard labor has dulled my senses:
>> parse = part of speech and form
>> decline - nouns have declensions, as do participles
>> conjugate - may refer to:
>> Grammatical conjugation, the modification of a verb from its basic  
>> form
>> I think these terms are considered "interchangeable" by many - they  
>> are
>> leveled by first year students.  Although no one could conjugate a  
>> noun or
>> decline a verb, one could probably parse both. But I'm not sure one  
>> coould
>> conjugate a participle. What is the Greek term used by Greek  
>> grammarians?
>> I'm comfortable with calling it what Dionysius Thrax called it.  
>> Randall
>> Buth always fills his emails with those Greek terms (as does AT  
>> Robertson in
>> his Grammar).  I suppose I should make a list and learn them  
>> verbatim.  No
>> one should argue with Dionysius (and yes, some humor is intended).
>> Louis
>>> From: leonardo1orchardcity at mac.com
>>> Subject: Re: [B-Greek]  Definition of "parsing"
>>> Date: Thu, 14 May 2009 21:55:29 -0500
>>> To: b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org; llsorenson at hotmail.com
>>> How about conjugating Greek verbs?
>>> Leonard Isaksson
>>> On May 14, 2009, at 8:00 PM, Louis Sorenson wrote:
>>>> I've always understood it as follows:
>>>> You parse a verb; you decline a noun/adjective/pronoun.
>>>> Interjections, adverbs, prepositions are indeclinable.  Participles
>>>> are both parsed and declined -- according to this schema. Perhaps  
>>>> we
>>>> should call them parclined or deparsed.
>>>> Louis Sorenson
> -- 
> John Sanders
> Suzhou, China

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