Re: Semesters in Greek

From: Mike Sangrey (
Date: Sun Mar 19 2000 - 15:38:51 EST said:
> on 03/19/00 9:43 AM, l. j. swain wrote:
>> Too often basic level language courses treat language like math.

> Larry,
> What about advanced language studies that treat language like math? I
> have a copy of R. E. Longacre's, "The Grammar of Discourse" (New
> York: Plenum Press, 2nd edition, 1996). This book is the only math
> text in my whole library. I have been struggling with some portions of
> this book. I have not yet been able to put all the pieces of the
> "grand theory" together and make sense out of them. But it is a
> rewarding process none the less.

> Just thought I would point out that the problem you mention is not
> just found in basic courses.

> Clay

If I may chime in here, I think the two of you are talking about
something at two entirely different levels. Which, interestingly,
lends support to both your points. :-)

A lazy 1st year Greek student will view getting at the language as
plug and play. That, some how--magically--parsing and labeling the
different words according to their forms will, insta-bingo, reveal
the meaning. I run across people all the time (I'm sure I'm not
alone) who discover a usage of a Greek word and, making large leaps,
catapult themselves out of the context. First year Greek alone does
not prepare the student to discover meaning. And, if they don't put
forth the effort, they never will arrive at that place.

The mathematics of discourse analysis--here I'm a weanie--is much
more like a tool a craftsman wields to sculpt the meaning from the
stone face of the text.

It is one thing to see planets backtracking their paths in the night
sky; it is another, by way of mathematical insight, to conclude that
what appears to be odd, actually means we are not the center of our
solar system, the sun is; and that the planets make elliptical orbits.

Intuitively, I think some "features" of discourse analysis provide
mathematics which are too complicated. Like explaining the solar
system with the Earth in the center. That is doable. But the math
is too complex. But, it would be imprudent to toss discourse analysis
for that reason. Occam's razor is a mathematicians way of saying,
"Keep it simple stupid."

The analogy is that 1st year Greek as well as discourse analysis
provide tools, at two entirely different levels, to help ascertain
the meaning hidden in the text. No matter how obvious the meaning,
it still doesn't reach out from the text, grab one around the collar,
and say, "Look, stupid, I mean this." Even with all the mathematics,
effort is still required. Begging excuse for the hyperbole, the
meaning of a text takes some work; it is not, no matter how powerful
the mathematics, ever automatic.

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