thinking Greek

From: Warren Fulton (
Date: Thu May 18 2000 - 06:48:10 EDT

In this interesting thread, a number of views have been put forward as to the relationship of Modern Greek to Koine. On the one hand, Mark
Beatty sees a very close connection:

> Is this really the case that "Greek" is not a living language? I have been wondering
> about the relationship between Modern and Koine Greek and the value of studying
> Modern Greek to get insights into Koine.
> First let me state that I have concluded that the differences are linguistically
> (though not communicatively) rather minor.

On the other hand, Kimmo Huovila classifies them as separate languages altogether:

> I guess a good grasp of modern Greek would help, but I wonder
> if modern and KOINH Greek are not better seen as two related
> languages than as two dialects of the same language. A native
> Greek speaker once told me that he can understand about 70%
> of the NT in the original ...

The issue behind this debate is the value of learning Modern Greek not only to gain "insights" into Koine, as Mark put it, but also to boost
fluency, a skill one can only acquire in a "living" language (see "importance of audio/oral" thread from March). If Kimmo's 70% figure is
anywhere in the ballbark of mutual intelligibility between the Modern and Hellenistic periods, then it would indeed seem worthwhile using the
modern language as a vehicle for oral/aural practice facilitating communicative crossover or fluency transfer into the older idiom. The
objective of "thinking Greek" would be much easier to attain than with translation/analysis methods which tend to ignore the activating verbal
skills of speaking and listening.

Are Modern Greek and Koine close enough for this kind of skill transfer to take place? Unfortunately, it is very hard to set fixed percentages
of congruity between different stages of evolutionary development, particularly in a language with such a high degree of persistence as Greek.
Throughout the modern period, Greek has conscientiously preserved older elements, which continue to maintain a life of their own beside newly
emerging forms. Neoatticism, purism, natural insularity, the struggle for cultural identity during the Ottoman period, the conserving traditions
of liturgy, the role of the Orthodox church in teaching, the continued use of the original NT in both ecclesiastical and everyday speech, all
have contributed to a bewildering mishmash of co-existing styles and registers in the Modern Greek language. Even so-called "radical demotic" is
overlaid with traditional structures and peppered with ancient forms. DOXA TWi QEWi! (Who says dative is dead?) What a tragedy it would be if
the Greek linguistic legacy became extinct and was put in a museum.

OK, Greek is heterogeneous, but is Greek all that different? Every living language exhibits a wide range of dialects, not only historical and
regional varieties, but also applicational lingos and jargons. Supposing a modern-day high-school student stumbled across the b-greek list, how
much of our discussion would s/he follow? 70%? Isn't B-Greekese a dialect? Not in the sense of "substandard" but a distinct "subset" of English.
I thought I was fluent in German until I had to explain to a friend of mine the other day how to change the film in a camera. That was a
sub-idiom of German I was completely unfamiliar with. I might have the same trouble in English, come to think of it. I find I'm much more
comfortable teaching bankers how to read and draft international loan agreements, a dialect of modern English most of the subscribers to this
list would no doubt find puzzling and strange.

This was one of the points Joel D. Kalvesmaki was making yesterday:

> In terms of my own experience in Greek, I find that the more I read, the
> less secure I am in claiming that I "know" the language. Working this last
> semester with Pachomius' Life, the Life of Antony, Porphyry's Life of
> Plotinus, Evagrius of Pontus' corpus, the Theolegoumena Arithmeticae,
> and the Life of Daniel, among others, showed me how much wider and
> extensive Greek is than I ever expected.

Shakespearean English? Is it modern? Thou and thee aren't exactly modern forms, but they are still current. Are you at home in it? You are if
you've been exposed to it enough. The same is true of NT Greek for a modern. Take a NT text to a Greek Orthodox priest or an Modern Greek
translator or just any educated, church-going, linguistically aware Greek you run into and start up a dialogue. You will see that Modern Greek
has not cut off its access to Koine, that in fact the modern idiom provides an excellent platform for interacting with the past. MG, in its
tendency to both streamline and synthesize, is KAINH KOINH. The Koine we are all trying to master is one if its many historical dialects
operating within a very narrow and specialized applicational framework.

Yesterday we had a discussion going on about Mark 7:2. Since I have the text open, let me just go on with the next verse:


The above "translation" was made less than a decade ago.

Warren Fulton
Inlingua School of Languages
Vienna, Austria

B-Greek home page:
You are currently subscribed to b-greek as: []
To unsubscribe, forward this message to
To subscribe, send a message to

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:36:26 EDT