functional vs. etymological

From: yochanan bitan (
Date: Fri Oct 22 1999 - 03:51:05 EDT

cairete filoi
there is an interesting phenomenon that is raised by the recent discussion
on 'present'.
it is important for our understanding and pleasurable reading of greek.
the distinction is a functional understanding of something versus an
etymological discussion. (both are important in their place.)

take #1
picture a television commercial.
a good looking lady comes on, dressed in a clean-lined business
attire/dress, around thirty, standing calmly and smiling, who says,
"I run".
5 seconds pass.
We have already processed this and accepted the fact that she claims "to
jog". We wonder where the twist will come? Why is she saying that? Who is
paying for it? We will not be surprised if there is some 'pun' or word play
to come.
Then a message appears at the bottom: "paid for by the president's council
on fitness", and we realize that the first, immediate communication was the
final one.

take #2
picture a television commercial.
a good looking lady comes on, dressed in a clean-lined business suit/dress,
thirti-ish, standing calmly and smiling, who says,
"I am running".
5 seconds pass.
We know something is not right because it is not "true" that she is
running. She wants our vote? She is an ideal escapee from a battered
home/marriage? In any case, we case see that she has said
"I am running ...". With three dots ... More information must come because
she is not running.

this relates directly to things like greek, and even hebrew. [(hebrew
comment first) you wouldn't believe how many bhebrew professors assume that
a normal present tense CANNOT be "ani roeh". it must be "ereh", because
some grammarian said so somewhere. (did he know hebrew? more probably
arabic.) etymologically they are "right", since roeh uses adjectival
morphology. but "roeh" is the default present tense in the bible in an
immediate, "real" context.]
now for greek. how do we say "to eat"?
yes i'll give you a few "filler" lines so that your 'first thought' comes
//filler lines//
>>i wouldn't call 'he runs' a simple present at all.
>>actually, 'he runs' is basically "habitual" in english.
>>and he is running is a "real present".
>>randall buth
>Randall, my friend, mayhaps you have been living in Israel too long....
>But seriously; isn't it interesting how our "feel" of our native language
>(since the vast majority of us have never given such things a second
>thought in our mother-tongue) influences how we view these kinds of subtle
>things in another language. One of the things that leads me to believe
>I'm correct about the Present is that I tried to look at this issue from
>the perspective of not only English, but German (which has but the one
>Present form) and Hebrew (which comes at this in a totally different way).
and here comes 'to eat':
"fagei'n" as in
the'lw fagei'n ti. 'i want to eat something'.
most students would probably first think
"esthi'ein" "=to be eating" and perhaps triplely process and search out
"fagei'n" to be complete and safe.
if the above process occurs, it shows how "unfunctionally" most learn
greek. fagei'n is the basic infinitive and esthi'ein is a more nuanced
form. grammarians will agree with this, and so much so that many will now
ask for "esthi'ein" to be called the continuative infinitive rather than
its etymological name "present infinitive". we can even see this in the
history of the language where the old classical future edomai "i will eat"
is replaced in the koine by "fa'gomai".

so part of the bottom line is:
how do we train students so that they naturally think correctly in greek?
someone asked me yesterday, what would the greek have sounded like for
"prophesy!" as the taunt in the gospels. i said "profH'teuson" without
stopping to think, and then they asked, "are you sure? did you read that
recently?" to which i said, "no, i'm not sure, it's just that that comes
first". (as an aside: you never know what will happen when a
non-aspectually-distinguishing language like hebrew* influences the
gospels, nor when greek itself will idiomatize something because of a
natural correlation with lexical durativity. (poreu'ou "be going!" is
common, for please leave now.) (i mean, why else do you think all those
verbs developed pairs like trexei and edrame or ferei and Hvegke?) [*heb:
hinnave! (though of course only in a report, not in the mouth of a roman

if we consider functional, communicative meaning, our view of language will
change and our teaching strategies will need to come around. everyone will
win because readers of old greek texts will find more pleasure and less

randall buth

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