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

Dr. Don Wilkins drdwilkins at verizon.net
Tue Apr 20 15:35:48 EDT 2010

That is quite a mouthful, Carl, and well-said. I'm sure some of us  
are Monty Python fans, and sometimes I wonder if the list is drifting  
toward the fate of the "Society for Putting Things on Top of Other  
Things." But (re: your closing comment) even if we were living in a  
pre-Babel world, I doubt that we would agree on all biblical passages  
and have no need for discussion.

Two more comments: first, I agree with you about GGBB; doing grammar  
based on context, which involves interpretation, is a really, really  
bad idea. I think there is an inherent fallacy to this approach that  
can also be seen in the eight-case system as a tool for exegesis. It  
is circular reasoning, begging the question, or however one chooses  
to describe it. It creates a house of cards that is easy to knock  
down if one can simply pose another viable interpretation of a  
passage. But it's also hard to avoid, and I still think the only  
potential solution is to do a near-exhaustive search of occurrences  
of a given phenomenon.

Second, I've been wondering over the past weeks what bothers me (and  
some other traditionalists) so much about NT linguists, and the  
explanation seems to be that it feels like a turf war--and maybe it  
is to a greater or lesser extent. I don't want that, and one  
necessity in avoiding it is for mutual respect to be felt and  
expressed. One important difference between the sides is how they  
approach the problem of eliminating contextual/interpretational bias  
in codifying grammar. I argue for exhaustive searches in relevant  
Greek literature, and I think the linguists are arguing for  
comprehensive comparisons with the literature of other language and  
culture groups. It seems as though there should be common ground here  
leading to mutual respect and benefit. I think you've already  
concluded that there is. I am currently reading Steve Runge's  
Discourse Grammar, which is especially pertinent because his goal is  
to find and acknowledge the good on both sides. I think he achieves  
that to some extent, while at the same time I perceive a subtle bias  
toward linguistics as the ultimate system of criticism. I agree with  
his interpretation of certain passages, and disagree with him on  
others. To eventually find common ground and respect, I think we  
would have to be able to disagree about what various passages mean  
without the disagreements having fatal consequences for the  
grammatical systems we advocate. The same would be true for problems  
in GGBB; a valid category should not be vulnerable to opposing  
interpretations of proof texts.

Here's to common ground.

Don Wilkins

On Apr 20, 2010, at 6:48 AM, Carl Conrad wrote:

> 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)
> ---
> B-Greek home page: http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek
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