Monday, June 30, 2008

Panting with relief at the end of the big book

I like learning languages fast, but I must admit, even my avidity was put to the test during the last few weeks of my intensive Classical Greek course. I was severely sleep-deprived. I took the final this past Saturday morning. Whew! I then took the rest of the weekend off from Greek. I even went so far as to read a novel! Usually I just listen to such things on CD while I am doing exercises or chores, but my mind needed such a sustained break that I actually lay on my bed and read for hours! It was just what I needed. Then I read some non-Greek academic material, and somewhere along the way I did some e-mail correspondence.

This morning it was back to the Greek races, but now it feels more like jogging than sprinting. We are reading passages from Aesop and Herodotus. This is much less wearing than the endless memorization of paradigms and syntactic patterns. I have even learned the best way to get around on the water: follow the example of Arion and ride on the back of a dolphin!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Classical Greek the fast way

I have just passed the halfway point in my intensive summer introduction to Classical Greek. We go through the whole thick textbook (Greek: An Intensive Introduction, by Hardy Hansen and Gerald M. Quinn) in six weeks! The book is 588 pages plus a long appendix that serves as a reference grammar. Each class day is equivalent to a week in a normal semester.

Even though I have a good knowledge of New Testament Greek, by the fourth day of class we were getting into new territory for me: the optative mood. I knew what it was in general terms, but in the NT its use is limited to little more than a few frozen expressions. I am also being required to produce a large variety of forms: the active, middle and passive voices in the indicative, middle, passive and infinitive moods, in the present, imperfect, future, aorist, perfect and pluperfect "tenses," plus participles in many combinations of the above. We have also been through all three declensions of nouns.

Today we had our second test, after three weeks of class. It is the midterm exam in this short course, equivalent to the final for the first semester of the regular course. I had to do a lot of review to make sure I was reasonably ready for this test. What I and some other students are finding is that we have a lot of verb suffixes floating around in our heads, but it can be difficult to associate them with the right labels, especially in isolation, as they appear on some sections of the test. I think I did well on the test, but tomorrow will tell. Our instructor, a very capable graduate teaching assistant, has the fun of grading all the tests before class tomorrow. Reminds me of my days as a TA for introductory grammatical analysis back in the fall of 1983, and for introductory Spanish in 1990-91.

Anyway, now that we have reached the halfway point, we still have contract verbs, -mi verbs, imperatives, deponents and other pieces of fun to cover before the end of course. After this, I will be taking a three-hour course of readings in Classical Greek. Once I am done with all this, I should be able to read the Greek patristic writers who so strongly influenced Syriac writers for several centuries. With only a knowledge of NT Greek, this would have been extremely difficult indeed, since the Church Fathers modeled their style on the sophisticated variety of Classical Greek, not the rather simplified variety found in most of the NT.

I prefer this fast introduction to a language to the slow, very dull speed of normal semesters. If we were trying to learn to speak it, of course, we would have to go more slowly. But since our goal is just to read it, we don't have to spend time learning to deploy grammar and vocabulary in coherent speech, or learning to understand it when spoken by fluent speakers.