[B-Greek] The elusive language of grammar (was '"result" expressed by adverbial participles?')

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Tue Apr 20 09:48:36 EDT 2010

On Apr 19, 2010, at 8:15 PM, Mark Lightman wrote:
> Carl wrote:
> <I would raise the question -- rhetorically, of course, but with purpose or maybe
> with  result -- take your choice ;-) Are these distinctions offered by Wallace in 
> GGBB more convincing or more readily intelligible than those in the 
> treatises of academic Linguists that have been recommended in this forum?>
> I guess not, no.  Neither groups of Analytic distinctions are convincing or intelligible.  Neither,
> I fear, will lead to Fluency, nor have much value once Fluency is obtained.  Neither will cause
> you to live longer.  It will just seem longer.  :)
> Mark L

The question was posed rhetorically, but it is a real question and an important one
that I've been pondering increasingly of late, partly as a consequence of our not-very-successful
efforts to talk intelligently about the positives and negatives of traditional Greek grammar and
Linguists' explanations of how Greek works.

Many of us agree (and perhaps more do NOT) that ancient Greek pedagogy should have
"fluency" or "internalization" of the language in students as its objective. Many of us are
also convinced (but probably a minority in this instance also) that grammatical analysis
does NOT help very much if at all in bringing about "flency" or "internalization" -- in
the sense of ability to read and comprehend written Greek or hear and comprehend spoken
Greek readily.

NEVERTHELESS -- B-Greekers keep meeting like this, and it's a primary reason for the
very existence of the B-Greek forum, because -- we want to talk with each other about
the meaning of particular Biblical Greek texts. How are we to do that? What is the metalanguage
that we are to use to discuss such questions as "expressing result by adverbial participles"?

I have made no secret of the fact that I find Smyth's grammar, although its focus is on
classical Attic Greek (with helpful remarks on Homeric and other dialects) the single most
useful resource for reference to in discussion of the kinds of questions that are most often
raised on B-Greek; I also find BDF helpful quite often. I don't really much like GGBB,
precisely because it endeavors -- excessively, in my opinion -- to categorize and subcategorize
usages in terms of contextual factors, thereby inventing new terms and formulating elaborate
explanations of usage, some of which it is too easy to disparage and satirize (e.g. "aporetic
genitive"). On the whole, however, I have said before that I really think Wallace's GGBB
is, on the whole, a useful reference work and one that surely seems right more often than
wrong in its judgment -- but I still don't really like it. The big grammar of AT Robertson
is one that most of us (but probably not all)  esteem highly, but we would not, I think, 
ever imagine that it's the "last" or even the "latest" word on grammatical issues.

There are those who have very little use for any of these resources and look primarily to
Linguistics for the formulation of useful explanations of how Biblical Greek works, even
if they readily admit that Linguists employ a dismaying range of glossolalia that is 
offensive to the eye and ear and that requires of non-specialists an investment of time
and effort to understand that many are just simply unwilling to pay. Certainly those
who are content with interlinears or parsed Greek texts and translations to convey the
sense of the Greek are not going to invest much either in traditional grammar or in 
Linguists' analyses of how Greek works; they are content to rely upon what is,
essentially, the predigested interpretative work done by others.

Our problem is that we really do not have a satisfactory language or shared
understanding for sharing with each other our understanding of how the elements
of the texts we are examining work. Does anyone think that we really do have
either of these things? My own deeply disturbing conviction is that we tend to
talk about Biblical Greek passages by employing all-too-vaguely-grasped terms
and accountings for syntactic relationships and lexical identifications that will not
stand up to even a very mild Socratic elenchus ("What do you REALLY mean when
you use words like 'tense' or 'voice'?"). In my opinion, for what it's worth, this
is the REAL "elephant on the list."

On the other hand, if all of us B-Greekers were, with respect to talking about 
Biblical Greek, "of one language, and of one speech," would there be a reason
for the existence of B-Greek?

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

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