Re: Learning Ancient Greek (was: Question Concerning Terminology)

From: Steven Craig Miller (
Date: Mon Jan 24 2000 - 07:59:09 EST

<x-flowed>To: Carl W. Conrad,

SCM: << It seems to me (I don't know if others with concur or not) that the
major task of a beginning student learning Greek is threefold: (a)
memorizing basic vocabulary, (b) memorizing paradigms, and (c) learning
basic syntax. >>

CWC: << But as one who has been teaching beginning Greek students for a
little over forty years, I'm rather bothered by the notion that beginning
to learn Greek is mastering "these three items." I've known people who
actually have mastered "these three items" pretty well and still have a
great deal of difficulty reading idiomatic Greek prose or poetry. I think
that no less important than these three, perhaps (but I hesitate to say so)
even more important, is acquisition of an ever more intimate familiarity
with the IDIOM of Greek. >> (SCM: Other relevant material was deleted, not
because I'm ignoring what Dr. Conrad wrote, but merely to save space. The
above should be enough to remind everyone the topic under consideration.)

As you undoubtedly already know, the term "idiom" often has a couple of
diverse uses. "Idiom" sometimes is used to refer to set phrases in a
language, then it is also used in a more general sense to refer to the
various patterns of usage. I assume (and correct me if I'm here mistaken)
that you were using the term "idiom" to refer to the latter and not the
former. But it seems to me that often the latter become almost a synonym
for syntax (for example Moule's "An Idiom Book of NT Greek" and Porter's
"Idioms of the Greek New Testament"). But I wonder (and perhaps I'm simply
mistaken) if what you meant might be better described as referring to a
practical comprehension of the grammaticalness of a Greek sentence. Hmm ...
I don't know if this really captures the right idea in words. What I mean
to suggest here is that everyone who uses English at a basic competent
level has some inner knowledge of what types of sentences are grammatical
and which are not, even if this person has no real academic knowledge of
English grammar. Is this the idea which you meant to express by the term
"idiom," or something else altogether?

-Steven Craig Miller
Alton, Illinois (USA)
FWIW: I'm neither a clergy-person, nor an academic (and I have no post-grad

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