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.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?
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.
- 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."
- "No thanks, I'll just go in and meet them. Afterwards, I might have a look at that list."
- "But this list is accurate and exhaustive. Did you know George also does carpentry?"
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.
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.