Re: deponency

Stephen C. Carlson (
Tue, 21 Jan 1997 22:36:43 -0500

At 07:56 1/20/97 -0600, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>Of cousrse, I believe that this is largely quibbling over terminology. And
>I quite agree that "meaning is to be inferred from usage and context, etc.,
>BUT I'm really contending over something different, I think. I believe that
>the way traditional grammarians have used the term "deponent" has hampered
>the pedagogical enterprise of explaining to new learners of Greek exactly
>how the ancient Greek voice system worked. And, however subtly, it fosters
>the notion that grammatical structure of a foreign language is a sort of
>catalogue of the queer things that the foreign language does differently
>from the way one's native language does them. It fosters a notion of
>language learning as acquisition of a mechanism to transform the "alien"
>thought-patterns of the other language into the "natural" thought-patterns
>of one's own--or, as Edward Hobbs says, learning how to translate Greek
>rather than learning how to read it.

Of course, I'll have to defer to your experience in teaching Greek, and
the maxim "active in meaning" is especially egregious. My own experience
in the classroom, only as a student, with Greek deponents was that I was
told that they were similar to Latin deponents and that was the extent.

I may suggest, however, that the problem with teaching deponents is not
so much the connotation of the term (another meaning of "deponent" in
English is "one who testifies under oath in a deposition" -- perhaps
that's negative!) but an insufficient linguistic exposure, especially to
many different languages. What is the typical language background of
your students? Is it a good idea to study Latin before studying Greek?

Stephen Carlson

Stephen C. Carlson                   : Poetry speaks of aspirations,              : and songs chant the words. :               -- Shujing 2.35