RE: What is "bad Greek"?

From: Stevens, Charles C (
Date: Tue May 18 1999 - 16:02:35 EDT

At 10:55AM on 18 May 1999, Randy Leedy commented:

<<Either they are genuinely bad (i.e., the consensus of educated hearers
among the intended audience would have viewed these passages as
grammatically unacceptable--is that a reasonable definition of "bad
grammar?") or that we simply have not yet discovered enough data to validate
such language as acceptable.>>

I'm not personally qualified to judge whether or not various passages in the
New Testament are "good Greek" or "bad Greek". But I do have some
background in linguistics that bears on this. And I'm not willing to accept
your definition of "bad grammar".

What is truly *ungrammatical* is truly *unintelligible*, I think. So long
as a given passage is intelligible to the listener or the reader, a
*descriptive* grammar at some level will find the passage grammatical.
That's not the same thing as striking the eye of the educated contemporary
reader (or the ear of the contemporary listener) as being a well-formed,
educated, erudite exemplar of the language, which is what a *prescriptive*
grammar (as I understand it) defines.

The following constructed statement I think illustrates my point:

[[ I got to say I just ain't got no problem with taking for true what got
writ down by some cat on account of he don't use high-flown talk and cain't
seem to put words together on paper none too good neither. ]]

A descriptive grammar of some dialects of informal spoken American English
would almost certainly recognize the preceding restatement as perfectly
grammatical, precisely because it's very unlikely that any native speaker of
American English would fail to grasp any aspect of what the citation intends
to convey. In fact, I'd contend that any native speaker of American English
would recognize that such an utterance would be exceedingly unlikely from
anyone *but* another native speaker of American English!

But is it "good English" as defined by a *prescriptive* grammar? I contend
not. Would an educated speaker of English be likely to cringe upon hearing
or reading it? Yes, I think so. By today's standards of *taste*, this is
bad English, even though it's perfectly intelligible.

Throughout history contemporary standards of *taste* and *erudition* have
differed to a greater or less degree from contemporary standards of
*intelligibility*. I find it unlikely to believe such a difference did
*not* exist during the period the New Testament was written. And I also
find it unlikely (as well as wholly unnecessary to presume) that the authors
of the New Testament adhered to the highest standards of the prescriptive
grammatical rules (written or otherwise) of their day.

        -Chuck Stevens

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