Metalanguage: pedagogical nuisance or necessity?

Metalanguage: pedagogical nuisance or necessity?

Postby cwconrad » March 12th, 2012, 9:08 am

Paul-Nitz wrote:Method 3, to my way of thinking, would just be one strategy in the intermediate stage of language learning.

I'm not really catching what the debate is about metalanguage. Maybe I don't understand the word. I took it as 'labels for things in the language.' Grammar is essential to comprehension, just as much as vocabulary. But is learning labels for grammar up front good?

Does this analogy work?

    I am about to enter a room full of people I have never met. My helpful friend Herb says,
      "I have a list of names and facts about each one of them. Would you like a look? There's Sandy, a tall grey haired lady who teaches. And there's George, a short energetic guy who farms."
    I respond,
      "No thanks, I'll just go in and meet them. Afterwards, I might have a look at that list."
    Herb insists,
      "But this list is accurate and exhaustive. Did you know George also does carpentry?"
Now, if I am a disciplined, detail minded, visual learner with a capacious working memory, I could spend some profitable time with that list. If I'm an average guy, I better just get in there and meet a few of them.

In my experience, for the average learner who is in the pivotal initial stages of learning a second language, grammatical terms are largely unnecessary and can even be a hindrance to efficient and engaging learning.

At some time after the initial stages, metalanguage can be hugely useful for summing up something learned and for use in talking with others about the language (in advanced form, this the study of linguistics). At that stage, my friend Herbert Weir Smyth is a great help and will increase, not interfere, with my comprehension.


I have split off my response to Paul Nitz from the "Method 3" thread in order to allow a more strictly-focused discussion of the question of the utility of metalanguage and/or metalinguistic analysis in ancient Greek pedagogy.

The terminology employed by Greek grammar and ancient Greek Linguistics to refer to the elements of spoken and written Greek doesn't even begin to encompass what these theoretical frameworks are and endeavor to explain about ancient Greek. For that reason I don't think the analogy that Paul has suggested is adequate: it's far more than a matter of knowing the names of the parts of a sentence. It's a matter of talking or writing about, i.e. describing and explaining the hows and whys of usage that we see in an ancient Greek utterance or text. As I've said previously, I think that grammar and Linguistics serve at least three fundamental purposes:

(1) they constitute a theoretical framework for the systematic exploration of the nature of the language and so constitute an academic discipline apart from other academic disciplines;

(2) the teaching of ancient Greek depends (and always has depended) on either unexamined assumptions about how language functions or upon a recognized framework of assumptions and principles about the nature of language generally and the language being taught and learned;

(3) sooner or later, the student of ancient Greek is going to have questions about how the ancient Greek language functions in a particular utterance or text; the student is going to want or need to discuss the interrelation of elements in that utterance or text with another student or with a teacher. That means that the elements of an utterance or text -- of a λόγος -- are going to need names and descriptions of their functions and that a framework of understandings about how the elements interrelate in phrases and syntactic constructions will be needed in order to talk about how the language works. This is grammar. Mark Lightman refers to it (I think disparagingly) as ἡ τῆς τῆς λαλίας λαλίας λαλία -- "talk about talk about talk." I'd dispense with the third member of that and just speak of "discourse about discourse."

I personally think that a teacher needs to have a grounding in grammar/Linguistics (a translator no less). A student doesn't need it at the outset. I and several others look askance at the traditional "grammar-translation" pedagogy that presents grammar and vocabulary at the outset and keeps on adding new items of grammar and vocabulary -- well, you know the pattern and have probably suffered it. But I think that sooner or later a student is going to need to discuss how the elements of a sentence interrelate syntactically. This will surely come when the student discovers or is told that Greek doesn't formulate certain notions the same way as does his native language; it will surely come as the student comes to understand the work-horse function of verbs and participles in Greek. How do they work? The role of grammatical discussion and analysis may be minimal in the earliest stages of learning ancient Greek, but it will become more helpful -- and essential -- with the passage of time. It is clear from the very beginning that one will need vocabulary tools: glossaries, lexica. But glossaries and lexica already depend upon a grasp of the elements of speech and the way they are listed in a glossary or lexicon. And sooner or later one is going to need one or more reference works that lay out the morphological patterns of types of words and the syntactic structures that are in standard usage in ancient Greek. Some will find that they have to have Wallace; others will find (sooner or later) that Smyth's Greek Grammar is indispensable.

The question, I think, is not whether grammar/Linguistics is essential to learning ancient Greek, but rather to what extent it is essential. I think that the argument is not over the whether but rather over the to what extent.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: Metalanguage: pedagogical nuisance or necessity?

Postby Mark Lightman » March 12th, 2012, 11:43 am

Conrad: The question, I think, is not whether grammar/Linguistics is essential to learning ancient Greek, but rather to what extent it is essential.


ἡμῶν μὲν οὖν ὁ λόγος περὶ τοῦ μὲν «πόσον,» τοῦ δὲ «εἰ» οὐκ ἔστιν.

Hi, Carl,

I may as well be the first to respond to Carl’s query because my position on this is so radical that even I don’t agree with it. I’ll keep this short. I’ll get one end of the spectrum (my end) on record and then I will go back to working on Method 3.

In ESL we use 95% Direct Method and 5% Metalanguage. In NT Greek pedagogy it is roughly 5% Direct Method and 95% Metalanguage. I call for a more balanced approach, by which I mean no more than 10% Metalanguage. I champion Buth’s Method Zero (the Direct Method) and I created my own Method 3, not to eliminate Metalanguage from Ancient Greek pedagogy, but to virtually eliminate it.

My suggestion is simply this, that all of us on B-Greek, in our personal and professional lives, do everything we can, not to eliminate Metalanguage from Ancient Greek pedagogy, but to radically scale it back.

ὑπάγω νῦν.

p.s. Herbert Weir Smyth contributed to the reduction, not the increase, of Metalanguage from Ancient Greek pedagogy by “closing the cannon.” If you have Smyth, you don’t need Robertson or Rijksbaron or Wallace or Stanley Porter. All of these books may be καλά in and of themselves, but pedagogically they are more nuisance than necessity.
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Re: Metalanguage: pedagogical nuisance or necessity?

Postby MAubrey » March 12th, 2012, 1:31 pm

Mark Lightman wrote:I may as well be the first to respond to Carl’s query because my position on this is so radical that even I don’t agree with it. I’ll keep this short. I’ll get one end of the spectrum (my end) on record and then I will go back to working on Method 3.

In ESL we use 95% Direct Method and 5% Metalanguage. In NT Greek pedagogy it is roughly 5% Direct Method and 95% Metalanguage. I call for a more balanced approach, by which I mean no more than 10% Metalanguage. I champion Buth’s Method Zero (the Direct Method) and I created my own Method 3, not to eliminate Metalanguage from Ancient Greek pedagogy, but to virtually eliminate it.
...
p.s. Herbert Weir Smyth contributed to the reduction, not the increase, of Metalanguage from Ancient Greek pedagogy by “closing the cannon.” If you have Smyth, you don’t need Robertson or Rijksbaron or Wallace or Stanley Porter. All of these books may be καλά in and of themselves, but pedagogically they are more nuisance than necessity.


I would have already responded, but it seemed a little silly since I'm already in agreement with Carl.

Here's my own defense of metalanguage. But first as a preface, I should say that my words refer not to students, but the instructors who teach them.

1) Fundamentally, your view appears to not take into account the great differences between English and Ancient Greek. The ideal situation for ESL is students having an instructor who is both a native speaker or a non-native speaker whose knowledge of the language is superb. There are perhaps ten (maybe?) such people who know Ancient Greek today and event then I'm still not sure that I would trust all of them to do G(reek)SL adequately.

2) You're absolutely right about ESL, 95% direct method, 5% metalanguage. But how much metalanguage is used behind the scenes by the teachers with each other? How many millions of ESL books, journals, and grammars are there for ESL teachers filled with metalanguage. Now perhaps you would be satisfied with just a single reference grammar (say, either Pullum & Huddleston's A Student's Introduction to English Grammar, which is excellent, or Mark Lester's Grammar and Usage in the Classroom, which I don't really care for). Perhaps you'd be fine with that, but I know many, many ESL instructors (linguistics and ESL share a building at my university) who would be horrified by the idea. The metalanguage may be less relevant for the students (especially early on), but it is essential for instructors both theoretically and methodologically. Smyth's grammar does not constitute the full knowledge of a native Greek speaker. Why should I be satisfied with a grammar that doesn't answer the questions I'm asking? It answers many questions, that is clear. But it is even more clear that it comes nowhere close to answering all. And since we don't have native teachers, we need resources that can reliably deal with those issues it does not touch on. Is it that those questions simply don't matter to you? It's not worth the time to simply ask questions beyond the scope of Smyth?

3) There is the necessity of defending their understanding a given construction. The minimal metalanguage reader of Greek isn't going to be able to explain to another person why a given construction is what it is or why their interpretation is correct. And then they resort either to some sort of folk etymological answer (which you have done a few times here). That's not going to stand up to scrutiny for laypeople asking serious questions to their pastors who don't have the metalanguage. And its not going to stand up to scrutiny for those who go into academia.

At the end of the day, I'm not confident that our knowledge of the structure of the Greek language isn't yet at a point where we will create anything beyond really terrible Pigeon Greek speakers who can neither function adequately in the church nor the academy and won't accurately understand the text, especially if we're going to throw out everything that we've learned about the language that exists outside of Smyth.
Mike Aubrey
Canada Institute of Linguistics & Trinity Western University Graduate School
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Re: Metalanguage: pedagogical nuisance or necessity?

Postby Mark Lightman » March 12th, 2012, 2:29 pm

Aubrey: Smyth's grammar does not constitute the full knowledge of a native Greek speaker. Why should I be satisfied with a grammar that doesn't answer the questions I'm asking? It answers many questions, that is clear. But it is even more clear that it comes nowhere close to answering all. And since we don't have native teachers, we need resources that can reliably deal with those issues it does not touch on. Is it that those questions simply don't matter to you? It's not worth the time to simply ask questions beyond the scope of Smyth?


Hi, Mike,

I can't aswer your question about whether these questions matter to me until you tell me what questions you are talking about. What question do you have about Ancient Greek that is not addressed by Smyth?
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Re: Metalanguage: pedagogical nuisance or necessity?

Postby cwconrad » March 12th, 2012, 2:57 pm

Mark Lightman wrote:
Conrad: The question, I think, is not whether grammar/Linguistics is essential to learning ancient Greek, but rather to what extent it is essential.


ἡμῶν μὲν οὖν ὁ λόγος περὶ τοῦ μὲν «πόσον,» τοῦ δὲ «εἰ» οὐκ ἔστιν.

Hi, Carl,

I may as well be the first to respond to Carl’s query because my position on this is so radical that even I don’t agree with it.


ἀλλά πῶς οὐ χρὴ φιλεῖν τὸν ὁμολογοῦντα ἑαυτὸν ἑαυτῷ μὴ ὁμολογοῦντα;

Mark Lightman wrote:I’ll keep this short. I’ll get one end of the spectrum (my end) on record and then I will go back to working on Method 3.

In ESL we use 95% Direct Method and 5% Metalanguage. In NT Greek pedagogy it is roughly 5% Direct Method and 95% Metalanguage. I call for a more balanced approach, by which I mean no more than 10% Metalanguage. I champion Buth’s Method Zero (the Direct Method) and I created my own Method 3, not to eliminate Metalanguage from Ancient Greek pedagogy, but to virtually eliminate it.

My suggestion is simply this, that all of us on B-Greek, in our personal and professional lives, do everything we can, not to eliminate Metalanguage from Ancient Greek pedagogy, but to radically scale it back.

ὑπάγω νῦν.

p.s. Herbert Weir Smyth contributed to the reduction, not the increase, of Metalanguage from Ancient Greek pedagogy by “closing the cannon.” If you have Smyth, you don’t need Robertson or Rijksbaron or Wallace or Stanley Porter. All of these books may be καλά in and of themselves, but pedagogically they are more nuisance than necessity.


Well, we may be talking about two very different things, or "to some extent" at least, ὡς φασίν. Insofar as we're talking about what takes place in the classroom for beginners, you can reduce the use of metalanguage to 5 or 10%. I wouldn't place my bet on that, however. But when it's a matter of people talking about the meaning of a text, I'm not so sure that you can conduct the discussion wholly in terms of paraphrases of the original; I think that will probably require a metalanguage and some discussion of how the elements of the text construe with each other. And even if you can conduct the discussion in Greek and employ paraphrasing to the maximum, I suspect that metalinguistic considerations will have a bearing on how the text gets paraphrased. You can speak the language and you can rephrase something said in the language, but you can't talk about how what's being said means what it means without resorting to a metalanguage.

ὁμολογητέον οὖν ὅτι οὐχ ὁμολογοῦμεν ἀλλήλοις.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: Metalanguage: pedagogical nuisance or necessity?

Postby RDecker » March 12th, 2012, 9:12 pm

MAubrey wrote:At the end of the day, I'm not confident that our knowledge of the structure of the Greek language isn't yet at a point where we will create anything beyond really terrible Pigeon Greek speakers who can neither function adequately in the church nor the academy and won't accurately understand the text.


I've tried to stay out of these discussions, but Mike has put his finger exactly on my objections to the current fad of attempting to teach Koine conversationally. I can relate to many of Carl's concerns, but would point out that conversational Koine isn't the only way to address those issues. There have long been efforts to teach Greek inductively for the same reasons. I prefer a mix of inductive set in a framework that is deductive--one that doesn't expect the student to translate everything they read into English or even to understand everything they see in a textbook initially.

And now I will crawl back into my hole and be quiet again. :)
Rodney J. Decker
Prof/NT
Baptist Bible Seminary
Clarks Summit, PA
(See profile for my NTResources blog address.)
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Re: Metalanguage: pedagogical nuisance or necessity?

Postby karivalkama » March 13th, 2012, 2:28 am

I have never taken a conversationalist Greek course, so I do not have personal experience. I do remember, however, that when I studied Greek, we followed a textbook in English, where there were translation exercises from Greek to English as well as from English to Greek. Our professor did not assign us any English to Greek exercises because she told us that we do not need that. I remember thinking that it would have been beneficial, since going both directions would have reinforced the learning, we would have had to think in Greek. I assume that speaking Greek would do the same thing. Thus it does not matter that the students would not be able to produce stylistically good spoken Greek, it does matter that the students would have to think in Greek and as such speaking Greek would be a pedagogical tool. It would also reinforce the notion that Greek is just another language, i.e. there is nothing holy about it.

My 2 cents worth.
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Re: Metalanguage: pedagogical nuisance or necessity?

Postby RandallButh » March 13th, 2012, 6:17 am

I am in basic agreement with what Carl, Mike, and Kari have said above. So why am I writing?

by RDecker » March 13th, 2012, 4:12 am

MAubrey wrote:At the end of the day, I'm not confident that our knowledge of the structure of the Greek language isn't yet at a point where we will create anything beyond really terrible Pigeon Greek speakers who can neither function adequately in the church nor the academy and won't accurately understand the text.


I've tried to stay out of these discussions, but Mike has put his finger exactly on my objections to the current fad of attempting to teach Koine conversationally. I can relate to many of Carl's concerns, but would point out that conversational Koine isn't the only way to address those issues. There have long been efforts to teach Greek inductively for the same reasons. I prefer a mix of inductive set in a framework that is deductive--one that doesn't expect the student to translate everything they read into English or even to understand everything they see in a textbook initially.

And now I will crawl back into my hole and be quiet again. :)


Not speaking Greek is not an option if people want to read Greek at high levels. The person who does not practice speaking the language will carry around a particular 'pigeon Greek' in their heads. And the stories that I could tell about Hebrew profs, but it's not polite. [Actually, all language users carry around a 'pigeon language' in their head. Those doing the most input/output are the ones who are conforming most quickly to the language's equilibrium nodes. (No, I don't have time to unpack this.)]
Here is an anecdote that is positive and helpful. At the fluency workshop last summer, we had a few who were skeptical that working on orality was a good thing for the field. At the end of the workshop they did an about face. Several others also claimed that they could feel the effect on their reading, in little over a week. I would challenge the nay-sayers to try it themselves. It may be compared to composition, as well. Many a Greek student [caveat Mike: we are talking advanced level, well beyond "NTG"] have said that their Greek really started to come together and make sense when they did the dreaded 'comp' course in Greek. Speaking Greek is just comp-squared, theoretically, the amount of input/output increases exponentially. However, our field has barely climbed out of the elementary stages, yet. One of the last great masters of Greek literature and academia was WHD Rouse. For him there was no turning back. Not speaking was to accept a lower standard.

If the field of Greek studies does not practice speaking the language, and does not continue the practice until the day when entering grad students can follow a lecture in spoken Greek, then it will be crawling back into its hole. It is not a 'fad' of the field, but its salvation. We can either work toward slowing this down, or contributing to its success.

And back to the thread--when we have articulate speakers they will certainly control metalanguage, probably as comfortably in Greek as in English. It's not really a debate, unless grammar is presented as the conduit for language learning. In that case, the prognosis for success is not good from an SLA perspective and our field shows the symptoms.
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Re: Metalanguage: pedagogical nuisance or necessity?

Postby Shirley Rollinson » March 14th, 2012, 2:37 pm

"Speaking Greek" can have a variety of meanings, which include -
1. reading Greek aloud and letting the sounds and sense set in the brain
2. attempting to converse - which may be at the level of "Me Tarzan, you Jane"
Given that we are talking about "Biblical Greek" we already have a great text for reading - the GNT itself.
If we want to converse, or listen to a lecture - we would do better to learn modern Greek, with a much larger pool of native speakers, and the hope of being able to communicate with people when/if we visit Greece.
When teaching, I get around this by using plenty of reading (aloud) in class from the GNT, and including some modern Greek greetings and idioms in class (explaining how they relate to koine)..
For students who want to do more, I give the option of drilling with Rosetta Stone.

RandallButh wrote:I am in basic agreement with what Carl, Mike, and Kari have said above. So why am I writing?

I've tried to stay out of these discussions, but Mike has put his finger exactly on my objections to the current fad of attempting to teach Koine conversationally. I can relate to many of Carl's concerns, but would point out that conversational Koine isn't the only way to address those issues. There have long been efforts to teach Greek inductively for the same reasons. I prefer a mix of inductive set in a framework that is deductive--one that doesn't expect the student to translate everything they read into English or even to understand everything they see in a textbook initially.

And now I will crawl back into my hole and be quiet again. :)

Not speaking Greek is not an option if people want to read Greek at high levels. The person who does not practice speaking the language will carry around a particular 'pigeon Greek' in their heads.

If the field of Greek studies does not practice speaking the language, and does not continue the practice until the day when entering grad students can follow a lecture in spoken Greek, then it will be crawling back into its hole. It is not a 'fad' of the field, but its salvation. We can either work toward slowing this down, or contributing to its success.

And back to the thread--when we have articulate speakers they will certainly control metalanguage, probably as comfortably in Greek as in English. It's not really a debate, unless grammar is presented as the conduit for language learning. In that case, the prognosis for success is not good from an SLA perspective and our field shows the symptoms.
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Re: Metalanguage: pedagogical nuisance or necessity?

Postby RandallButh » March 14th, 2012, 3:50 pm

Shirley egrapse
"Speaking Greek" can have a variety of meanings, which include -
1. reading Greek aloud and letting the sounds and sense set in the brain
...
When teaching, I get around this by using plenty of reading (aloud) in class from the GNT


We may need to define terms here a little better.
'reading aloud' is not normally referred to as 'speaking a language'.
Nor does SLA (second language acquistion studies) expect that the sounds set in the brain through 'reading aloud'. (Some studies suggest the opposite, that 'reading aloud' too early tends to fix the first language system into the second language.) The best mechanism for getting the sounds inside a person is lots of listening, especially at the beginning of studies.

Perhaps a comparison may help, if someone wants to really learn German, they do not read a German textbook outloud and call it 'speaking German'.
Nor do second language acquistition researchers consider reading aloud to be 'speaking a language' when they discuss speaking and listening within optimum pedagogies.

Classroom content needs to be flooded with Greek 'comprehensible input'. That means, Greek being used for real communication in a context where the Greek will be understood.
E.g. if students are instructed to do what the teacher says, who then says ἀνάστητε and stands up, the students stand up. They do not yet know that anasthte is a '2nd-aorist imperative 2pplural/προστακτικὴ ἀόριστος, πληθυντικὸς ἀριθμός, δέυτερον πρόσωπον'. But they do know that when they hear ἀνάστητε, they are supposed to stand up. To individual students they hear ἀνάστηθι, κάθισον, ἀνάστηθι, ἄλλου, στῆθι, κάθισον. And to the class:
καθίσατε.

They learn Greek fast. And the irregular forms become 'friends' because they are so common.

This can be contrasted with other 'successful' programs ;) . Imagine a mother speaking to her baby, pointing to herself and saying, "μήτηρ, noun, feminine, singular, nominative . . ." What kind of connections will the baby build in her head?
Communication needs to be comprehensible, meaningful.

ἔρρωσο
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