Re: greek greek!

From: Isidoros (
Date: Wed Feb 26 1997 - 02:56:44 EST

John Oaklands on Wed, 26 Feb 1997 10:22:06

>In my experience both in South America and Australia, students who have
>>the greatest difficulties in learning Koine or biblical Greek, are
>of modern Greek.

Sorry John, but you are mistaken.

These are *not* "speakers of modern Greek." That is what you would
assume. But, I, as a director of an institution which has not only taught in
the last 15 years over 1.700 students modern Greek, several hundread of
them from Australia as well as from South America, at all levels, and as
one overseeing this institution that has hosted several more thousand of
such students, of Greek origin, from the same countries, on scholarship
for a one month history and culture course funded by the Greek goverment,
and as one who has cared to have spoken extensively with them, oversaw
their placement and other examinations, and has taught and lectured to
them, I can tell you that the by far greater (90% pus) percentage of them
are not "speakers of Greek". You have to understand, these are 16, 18, 24,
26 years old young people who are born into homes of first generation
immigrants, most of them laborers and small storekeepers who not only
they had not the time and money to provide their children with a proper
formal Greek education, but they themselves are completely incapable to
provide them the rudiments of a proper Greek language upbringing at home,
and not only as they donot have the time, working most of them, often like
slaves 12-14 hours a day in restaurants and other shops after a shift in
the factory, but as they themselves can hardly speak proper Greek, for
the overwhelming majority of the Greeks of Australia and S. America were
immigrants of the poorest and most deprived educational social strata,
most "drafted" immediately after the long Greek civil war that followed
the equally long WW II (1940-44, 1944-49) ten years during which hardly
anyone had any formal education in Greece. In fact, most of these people,
their parents, were recruited, selected, precisely because they were
uneducated, considered thus to make likely for better workers. Some of
them may had thought they were "speakers of modern Greek"... but how would
they know whether they were or weren't. Not by the 250 basic
words they badly learned and repeated in home like litany? And then who
would be the judge and tell them the difference?!

But, there is another reason, too, why your statement above is so correct!
Do you know how does to a Greek - who is somewhat, say, even little,
aware of the power and the beauty of the NT and the Liturgy of the
greek Orthodox ecclesiai - sounds the the "Erasmian" Greek? And in
comparison?! Well, it doesnot seem that you do. And given your certainties
it does not seem that you ever might. Do you think that does anyone who is
suffering say from glaucoma want to wear smoke darkened sun-glasses?!

>They would say things like, "The word doesn't mean that," or
>"That's not correct grammar," or "We don't say it that way."
>I would have to point out that we were studying Koine and not modern >Greek.

John! You were expecting of poorly educated (and especially in Greek)
ill speaking young people, "grammar"?! Or, proper word knowledge?!
And you are wondering, too, why would they say "We don't say it that way"
when you were offering to their (practically non-existent) Greek, and
anyway *pronounced* in their whatever *modern* mode, to say they "did"
say it the same way with *your* ERASMIAN non-Greek pron-anciation??!
Do I understand this correctly?!

>To indicate that I'm on track, one of my students in Australia, born into a
>Greek family, finally pulled out of my Greek class and went to Greece
>>where he lived in Thessaloniki for a year. He later came back and had a
>>different attitude to Greek altogether. He was twenty years of age and
>had never been to Greece before. He told me that when he arrived in
>Thessaloniki and started speaking Greek, people would look at him as if
>he were strange. They would make remarks like, "We don't say it like that
> any more."

You sure don't seem to have studied very much sociolinguistics. For the
example you have given proves exactly the opposite. That *you are NOT
on "track"*. (i) He had a different attitude not because he "caught up"
with the language as it had developed from the time of his parents, say
one generation, but because he finally learned *some* Greek, since his
parents hardly knew any, nor did they have time to teach him what little
did they know. (ii) he "straightened out" probably quite a bit of whatever
Greek he might had known, as most lower social class immigrants language is
heavily affected by the very-very poor English (or Spanish, Portgeese etc)
of their parents, at an early age, as it is known that they mix the
two to their casual convenience indisdriminately, using in their ordinary
speech those words of the one language they do not know in the other,
their pronounciation been an amalgam in the worst of the two worlds,
(iii) and he purified it probably, too, giving up or purging a lot of the
mixed up words of that little and miserable Greek of home with the
injured of English of the other tough guys on street, the Italians, etc.
(iv) He built probably a vocabulary of 1.500 words, past the 250
- in all - he knew (and how did he know!) for that *is* the basic
vocabulary that an impoverished immigrant munches on at home, day and
night - in addition to the "caro" for the car, and "fabrika" for the factory,
or the "machina", impervious for the most part of the particulars of his
condition - but much able to sense and take into the "difference", the
opporunity, when it arrives, to add on and expand the horizon!!
(v) Changed his "attitude" probably, too, along-and-with his language
aptitude because he overcame the terribly tyranical complex that usually
overwhelm to almost linguistic numbness such youth, as they very soon
develop a love-hate ralationship with the country *and* the language of
their parents, as they had come to realize that that country, in this case,
Greece, not only it did not feed and support and uphold their parents, but
it really rejected them - if "sold them off" one were to say would not
really be far off, and, in fact, at a terrible price, as the post WW II
and civil war governtments not only did little to avert this awful drain,
they actually encouraged it, to let off some social pressure in the
fifties due to the continuing hunger, and then, too, to solve the "political
problem" by ridding of the country of low class city and village leftish
folk after the war they had lost - providing cheap "energy" for the
factories of Australia and Germany, in excange for some, have no doubt
(mostly personal, but public too)...donations to the country. They suffered
a terrible complex most all that youth, and visiting their parents' home-
country did usually go a long way to take care of the problem, giving them
a sense of acceptance, and confidence and pride. And then some Greek!
Should after all these then anyone wonder about their change of

>He was shocked to think that in twenty years the language had changed so
>>radically. It helped me to better understand why such students have had
>>so much trouble with Koine Greek, where the gap is not a mere twenty
>years but close on 2,000. After all, isn't language always in flux?
>It seems that some languages are more so than others.

I am sorry John. There seems to be a "gap" here indeed!! Or, rather, many?

>In fact, I'm afraid that if some modern Greek speakers think that Koine
>Greek is the same as modern Greek, they're probably reading biblical
>>Greek in terms of modern Greek culture and language and are unaware of
>>the language and culture of antiquity.

Ambarassing staff. In case you have not seen it well, please have another
look below my name, to my professinal association - for it is after my
posts that you are writing these, after me, regarding me, let us not hide
behind the generalities - and know that I am president to this center
which has hosted distinguished classics faculty as visiting professors
from throughout the world, including the likes of Gregory Vlastos, Charles
Kahn, John Gould, Robert Browning, Spyros Vryonis, Myles Burnyeat,
Garth Fowden, Walter Burkhart, Olof Gigon, just to mention a few, and
that there there some people, and not only in Greece, who think that I
know my NT exegetics at least as well as anybody, not to speak here of
Plato, or Homer, or the Ionic philosophers. Please.

>But then I'm also led to the following conclusion, that a little taste of
>Greek--like a little psychology, for example--can be counterproductive
>>and even detrimental.

Yes, yes, here we do agree! How about spending, say a couple of months
here, studying the proper Greek Koine pronounciation, and then a few more
months attending regularly an Orthodox church - for the language of it -
or into a mountain monastery?!

>Koine Greek was once a vibrant, exciting, beautiful language--and still >is!

Sure is, and "swings," too -as I think Robie said- in these above ecclesiai.

>And I think it should be taught that way, in its own Sitz im Leben, in
>>terms of what was "in the air", so to speak, in the world of those times.

Agree, agree, too, with what your phrase ought to had really conveyed.
For, "its own" for you is surely the Germanic, and the Anglosaxon, and
even the Romance of dear old Erasmus! Bless be his soul. That is as far
as your "times" might go, to his "times, to that "air". I 'tell you John,
it's so recent a times for me, I could hardly feel Jesus in reaching there,
let alone enter with him in "Koinwnia," and that "air" is so intellectually,
let alone "spiritually" thin, one, truly cognizant of the difference, feels
as if could hardly breath!

>John Oaklands

The Ionic Centre, Athens

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