Language about Language

From: clayton stirling bartholomew (
Date: Sat Aug 22 1998 - 15:21:37 EDT

Last night I watched an interview recorded back in the early 90's with John
Mack, who was at that time a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard. The interview
was focused on Mack's research into Alien Abductions. During this interview
Mack recalled a conversation with Thomas Kuhn*, during which Mack had
complained about the risks of doing research outside of the scientific mainstream.

Thomas Kuhn's response (as told by Mack) was two fold:

One: Forget about science. Science is a religion, the central dogma being the
denial of any phenomena which cannot be observed directly with the senses.

Two: Beware of language, language controls and structures the way you view phenomena.

Mack spent some time elaborating on this warning about language and as I
listened I could not help thinking about the way the traditional categories of
greek grammar control the way we understand the language.

In the recent thread about "indirect objects" I tried to find some data for a
response and discovered that this was quite difficult since I do not even use
the construct "indirect object" in my analysis of language. I have this
problem all the time on b-greek.

There is an approach to language that reminds me of collecting butterflies.
Each element in a clause is netted and killed and then nailed on a board in a
glass case under the proper phylum, subphylum etc. Once the butterfly is
nailed down the collector smiles triumphantly and rubs his hands together and
says that is a fine specimen of a blue tipped yellow monarch. For NT Greek,
the butterfly will be called a "genitive of reference" or an "ingressive

Obviously if we are going to have any kind of intelligible discourse about NT
Greek we need to have some terminology which is accepted by the participants
in this discourse. But we also need to be aware that accepting uncritically
the time worn categories of past generations of grammarians will severely
limit our ability to make any "progress" in the understanding of language.

The danger of throwing away all the old categories is that NT Greek as a
discipline would begin to look like the field of linguistics which is a
veritable tower of babel where the scholars are incapable of holding
discussions with anyone outside of their own school of thought.

Anyway, I think Thomas Kuhn's warning about language is very pertinent to the
study of NT Greek.

Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062

*Thomas Kuhn was the author of "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions."


I am not unaware of that Thomas Kuhn's comment about language opens up a pandora's box of problems related to epistemology. However, since epistemology is way beyond the focus of this list, I chose to read his statement in a straight forward and naive way and apply it to the study of NT Greek.

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