Why is the Johannine corpus so easy to read?

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daveburt
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Joined: October 30th, 2017, 11:18 pm

Why is the Johannine corpus so easy to read?

Post by daveburt » December 5th, 2017, 10:15 pm

John, 1 John, 2 John are very easy to read. Reading the elder's address in the letters to 'my children' I wonder whether they were intended to be understood by young people, or perhaps foreigners with Greek as a second language, or if there's some other reason underlying John's choice of simple words.

In order to quickly validate the extent to which they are easy to read, I came up with the following, using James Tauber's MorphGNT and my Duff's Graded GNT software.

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They're 95% readable by first-year students who have just finished the Duff textbook, significantly easier than the next easiest, 2 Thessalonians, which is below 90%. Even half-way through the book a student should be able to understand 75% of the words.

My question is, does anyone know why the Johannine corpus (except of course for the book actually bearing the name of John!) is so easy to read?

Barry Hofstetter
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Joined: May 6th, 2011, 1:48 pm

Re: Why is the Johannine corpus so easy to read?

Post by Barry Hofstetter » December 7th, 2017, 6:48 am

I've been hoping someone else would answer this. It's tempting to say "Who cares why? Don't look a gift horse in the mouth...(unless you happen to be a Trojan at the end of a long war with the Greeks)." By comparison, why do intermediate Latin students often read as their first author Caesar's De Bello Gallico? One reason is that it is written in a style which is more accessible to beginning students. It's perceived as easier to understand and so makes an excellent "real Latin author" early text to read (not that Caesar can't occasionally wax "really Latin" from time to time, but overall). Why? The fact that it's mostly narrative text has something to do with it, but also Caesar was writing it as an apologia for his actions in Gaul. He wants to state thing plainly and in such a way that people really get it. I would suggest that John is doing something similar in his epistles. He wants his audience to get it and so writes in a very simple paratactic style. But having said that, is John, despite the easy paratactic style and high frequency vocabulary for which intermediate NTG students have always been thankful, really that easy to understand? Nobody ever has trouble understanding John, right? Oh, wait, maybe... :?:
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
ἐγὼ δὲ διδάσκω τε καὶ γράφω ἵνα τὰ ἀξιώτερα μανθάνω

S Walch
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Joined: June 13th, 2011, 4:27 pm
Location: Manchester, UK

Re: Why is the Johannine corpus so easy to read?

Post by S Walch » December 7th, 2017, 10:11 am

Well, yes, the Johannine smallish word range is probably what makes it seem 'easy' as opposed to say, Titus for instance.

But I think that's being grossly unfair to Titus.

Yes there's 300 distinct lemmas in the letter, but is it difficult to read? All that's against Titus is vocab - the rest of the letter is more than easily read.

I mean of the 300 words in the letter, 33 are Hapax legomenon (of which 3 are names), but the remaining 227 (giving it fewer distinct lemmas than 1 John (!), which only has 1 Hapax Legomenon) are encountered in the rest of the NT.

Needless to say, once someone's finished Duff's textbook, give them a vocab list for Titus and they'd have no trouble getting through the 659 words of Titus.

There's a question: of the amount of Greek words given in Duff, how many of the words in each book aren't covered?

daveburt
Posts: 18
Joined: October 30th, 2017, 11:18 pm

Re: Why is the Johannine corpus so easy to read?

Post by daveburt » December 7th, 2017, 7:14 pm

You're right in pinning this issue on vocabulary. There are only a couple of dozen words in the NT that use morphs Duff doesn't teach the parsing for (non-indicative verbs in tenses other than aorist and present from memory).

'He wants his audience to get it' sounds good to me. The 'easy paratactic style and high frequency vocabulary for which intermediate NTG students have always been thankful' I think is an understatement. The 95% figure means that a beginning student can comfortably read it (to the point of making sense of it and constructing a mental picture -- obviously there's a depth to it as well). This level of vocabulary is equivalent to an native 2-year-old! In comparison, for a native three-year-old or a foreigner with Greek as a second language, I'm sure Titus' less common vocabulary would make it more difficult to understand.

Note I'm not claiming any other books are especially difficult by any means, just that these Johannine books are unusually easy.

I'll make another list dividing the vocab between Duff words, hapax legomena, and others. That might tell us something more about difficulty for someone studying specifically to study the corpus.

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