Tuesday, August 4, 2020

21st Century Classical Greek -- our first aspect

So let’s start with the first conjugated verb in Thucydides. We’ll start building our aspectual structure, and I’ll give you something to memorize, and then I’ll inventory the verbs in the 1st section of the 1st book of Thucydides to fill out the table.

Ksunegrapse is a compound verb. It has a prefix, ksun, and Thucydides typically uses ksi instead of sigma for prepositions and prefixes; so this is actually sun- “with, together”.

The root of the verb is grafo. To understand how Thucydides got graps out of graf, go to White’s grammar, his page 2, section 7, on “mutes”. There are consonants which, under some conditions, transmute into other consonants. In this case, phi transmutes into psi. To explain why it’s psi, you have to know the aspect of the verb.

There are three aspects in Greek: imperfective; progressive; and perfective. Russian doesn’t have progressive; it does other things to get the same result. Biblical Hebrew has progressive; Arabic doesn’t.

Every aspect has two flavors which I label “eventive” and “conceptual”.

ASPECT         FLAVOR =>  eventive           conceptual
Imperfective
Progressive
Perfective

Imperfective verbs are marked by a sigma before the modality/person/number endings. (There is an exception which I will leave for a different post.)

So first, the phi in grafo loses its dentality and becomes a labial “p” sound, and then it is followed by an “s” sound. Instead of writing this out pi-sigma, the Greeks went for psi. In a sense, psi and ksi were invented by the Greeks specifically for their grammar. Note that in Biblical Hebrew, “p” and “f” are the same letter with or without an internal dot called dagesh. In Russian the two sounds are different letters; the Russian alphabet is mostly derived from Greek. Arabic has no “p”; languages like Persian and Urdu that use the same alphabet have different ways of representing that sound.

Now click on ksunegrapse in Thucydides, and you get the Perseus Word Tool. At the top left is the verb form previously known as the “infinitive”. Copy that. Now start a new tab and paste it into a search engine. Delete any English characters and click. The top result should be a Wiktionary entry. Click on that.

Like its cousin Wikipedia, Wiktionary is not perfect, but it can be useful. Scroll down the page to the panels labeled Present, Aorist and so on. One of them is labeled Future. At the right it says “show”. Click on that.

In the row labeled “active”, “indicative”, first, you see suggrapso. Notice it has the same psi as ksunegrapse. That’s the clue that made me think classical Greek was aspectual; it pointed to a relationship between aorist and future. This same relationship shows up in Assyrian in the imperfect aspect. In Biblical Hebrew, one of the conjugated verb forms points to a general event which, with a prefix, represents actions in an ongoing narrative about past events. This prefix is cognate to the “augment” which I will discuss below.

ASPECT         FLAVOR =>  eventive           conceptual
Imperfective                            ksunegrapse    ksuggrapso
Progressive
Perfective

The tense formerly known as aorist is the aspect imperfective eventive. The tense formerly known as future is the aspect imperfective conceptual. With one exception which I’ll discuss later (and it’s an entire class of verbs so it will be important to memorize), imperfective verbs always have this sigma infix, which results in transmutation with the consonants shown in the left-hand column in White.

Now what about that -eta- between ksun- and -graps-?

The name for it is augment. There isn’t one in the imperfective conceptual. Augment does not mark imperfective. It marks the eventive flavor of a verb.

You used to have to memorize that the aorist, imperfect, and pluperfect tenses have augment, with some exceptions. I’m turning that around; a verb with augment is the eventive flavor of one of the three aspects. P.s. we will still have exceptions but they will not be this picayune.

Next time I’ll explain that double gamma and tell you what imperfective aspect is about.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

21st Century Classical Greek -- Thucydides and aspect


Possibly the most important reason for understanding aspect in classical Greek, is that it’s what the Greeks of Thucydides’ time understood from what he wrote.

Thucydides did not write in a vacuum. When he uses grammar, he is copying what he learned in immersion, heard in public and in private, in the agora and the courthouse and the council chamber. Sure, he had to learn grammar when he was growing up, as part of the trivium. But he had the full range of expression at his fingertips, 24/7, from infancy. Contrast that with the scholars of past times who didn’t start on Greek until they were nearly 10 years old, spending a few hours a week in among half a dozen other subjects and other school activities, and then just possibly going on to work with the desperately few survivors of what we know was a much larger corpus in what by then was a dead language, having nothing to do with their social lives.

The result is that what the scholars put into their papers and their grammars is based on less data and less experience than Thucydides had to work with. Naturally the lack of data produced inaccuracies and gaps in every work on the grammar of Classical Greek. I will also point out signs that the post-Renaissance grammarians ignored data that their predecessors ignored, as well as data that disagreed with their claims.

Thucydides wrote for his own class, the class with a liberal education in the trivium and maybe the quadrivium. He had to use grammar that presented him as an educated man, not a clod. He also had to use language people understood, not make things up or torture the grammar for effect. Thucydides didn’t have time to make up his own grammar. He was active in the events he recorded. He even came down with the plague like so many other Athenians, although he recovered, unlike Pericles. Using verbs aspectually, not according to tense, was natural to him. He uses perfective aspect for poetic works, not because those works are the products of past times, but because once they were written, they became fixed in the culture instead of being rewritten over and over. And he didn’t have to explain using “present tense” for something that happened before he was born, because he used it for situations and everybody in his audience understood that.

It’s easy to dismiss the idea of aspectual verbs in classical Greek as nutty, unless you know that 21st century scholars of Greek in Christian scripture realize that it has aspectual features. And that ditching the half-tense, half-aspect description of Greek verbs in favor of a completely aspectual description wipes out a lot of notes in William Goodwin’s old-fashioned grammar, notes that nearly contradict the main points he inherited from his sources. For example, we won’t have to explain why “aorist tense” is used for imperatives which clearly envision future action; our imperfective aspect is the default verb form and an imperative in any other aspect will have special nuances.

So I’m not stepping onto uncharted ground here. I’m pushing a concept to its limit, the way I did with Biblical Hebrew. And it will buy you understanding of Thucydides’ material, without stressing your memory as much as Goodwin would, because I can set down some objective definitions and show how they relate to Thucydides’ meaning.

If you want Goodwin to look at when I refer to it, you can bookmark or download it here:

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

21st Century Classical Greek -- the article


Warning. You will have to memorize things to get the most out of this blog. I’m sure you can find websites that will say you don’t, and I hope you will use them if that’s what you want.

I said last week that John White’s First Greek Book had useful paradigms. The grammar explanations are old-think and are not complete. White’s online text is locked against editing; that’s why I give you page numbers, you can’t set your own “here” notes inside it. 

And for your first task, turn to White’s paradigms, his page 234, section 758. Memorize the definite article. White has a couple of dozen sample paradigms for nouns, which will be hard to memorize and at any rate are not as useful as the old grammarians thought they were. But memorize the article and, when the writer uses it, you will know for sure what gender, number, and case the noun is in. Now go through the first section of Thucydides and identify all the articles.

The declension of Greek nouns is rather Protean. Proteus was an old Greek god who could assume many forms. Nouns take many forms in declension, but the article only takes the one set of forms.

Of course, not all nouns come with definite articles. Once you know the plural forms of the definite article, you know the plural endings of many noun declensions. The two facts combined will help you with something like 75% of nouns. The plural endings also work for adjectives and some verbal derivatives that you used to call participles (I’ll label them something else), so that helps you recognize about 80% of non-verbs.

I won’t give you reasons for everything I ask you to memorize. I will try to put the important or high-frequency ones first.

So that’s enough for this week. Next week we’ll get started on revolutionizing the verb structure in Classical Greek.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Good Thursday morning

If you were looking for the next post on 21st Century Bible Hebrew, that thread has ended. The menu of posts is here.

I did, however, start a thread on 21st Century Classical Greek. The introductory post is here.

The menu for the rest of those posts is here.

If you want to see other topics on my blog, see the menu on the right here.

Take care of yourself and wear that mask in enclosed spaces!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

21st Century Classical Greek -- Resources and general principles


This blog is about a description of the grammar of Classical Greek that does three things.
1)         Applies 21st century concepts, replacing the old labels.
2)         Explains terminology objectively.
3)         Simplifies conjugations and eliminates clumsy terminology and faulty explanations.

As you may remember from last Thursday, I developed this description after realizing that the old one had all the confusing terminology and faulty grammatical explanations I had found in pre-21st century grammars of Biblical Hebrew. If you want that material, here is the start of that blog.

Our text is going to be Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, a long prose work. The link goes to the first section of the first book. If you don’t already know Greek, don’t worry. Just use the Greek alphabet and sound out the words. Find a way to tag Mr. T so you can come back to him easily week after week.


Perseus texts are live. You can click on any word and if it’s not a proper name, you will get an entry in the Perseus Word Tool. It links to several lexicons; we will be using “Middle Liddell” (Liddell and Scott abridged) and LSJ (Liddell Scott and Jones with links to examples, AKA “Big Liddell”).

The word tool will sometimes return several possibilities. Look for the one with a pink highlight. This will sometimes be appropriate to Thucydides’ context, but not always. I’ll tell you when it isn’t. As you get used to Greek, you’ll become able to figure it out for yourself.

The lexicon information is formatted based on morphology, not on meaning. Do not leap for the first translation when you use the lexicon. In my grammar, CONTEXT IS KING. When you compare Thucydides to the lexicon, you will often find that the best meaning for what T says, is at the end of the lexicon entry.

Word tool entries label verbs according to tense. We are going to translate all the tense labels to reflect aspect. There may be several sets of labels for a given spelling. Don’t sweat it; sometimes the same spelling in English has more than one use and Greek is the same way. I will explain to you how to figure out which one is correct. It will not always be the one that is highlighted. The “votes” were aggregated for all data on Perseus and Thucydides sometimes goes his own way.

Because CONTEXT IS KING, I will not ask you to memorize conjugational endings; that is morphology. I will ask you to memorize entire verbs that show up more than once in T, either stripped or with prefixes.

In the word tool, the word at the top left is the dictionary entry. To find entire verbs, you will copy the dictionary entry and paste it into Wiktionary. Sometimes you will have to remove a prefix. If you get part of the English, delete that. Wiktionary is not perfect, but it tries to distinguish between attested forms (in blue) and others (in red). I will not ask you to learn the philological information or every last translation. Remember, CONTEXT IS KING and the translation depends on the context.

I will often refer to two old grammars that are free online. See the Textkit website and bookmark or download John White’s First Greek Book and William Goodwin’s reference grammar. White’s declension paradigms are useful. As for Goodwin, you will find me arguing with him more often than agreeing with him, but that’s only because he is an example of old-think. You can’t bookmark pages in these books (☹) so I will give you page and section number of whatever I want you to look at.

I will go very slowly this first year, just a bit each week. I’ll pick up the pace after that; sometimes I won’t explain everything in a given section because you can use the word tool and Wiktionary to help you with it.

Next week I’ll tell you where to find declensions of the definite article and the week after that I will tell you something about Mr. T.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

21st Century -- what?

And now to prove that I am crazy, sort of. All the research that went into this version of Hebrew grammar got me thinking about Greek. If the grammar foisted on BH during the Renaissance had Latin labels on it, and turned out to be monumentally wrong, what about Classical Greek which is also painted with Latin labels?

Well, I’ve done it. I picked Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War to work with because it is so long it ought to have examples of most Greek grammar. It’s also prose, so I don’t have to worry about the complications of poetry. And it’s not rhetoric, either.

And it works.

The “tenses” of Greek translate perfectly into a table of three aspects, each of which has two flavors with differing nuances. Those nuances do not incorporate timing the way tenses do. The first thing the redefinition does is gets rid of exculpatory statements in the old grammars about finding "present tense" in past situation. Thucydides uses uses “present tense” in historical situations, because he’s talking about situations or habitual action. 

Participles aren’t. They are gerundives that function mostly as adjectives or nouns. Their use instead of conjugated verbs allows Thucydides to be rather descriptive of actions occurring than positively stating that they occurred. Due to the agreement in number case and gender with an antecedent, I have labeled these “personal gerundives”.

This is in contrast with the “infinitive” with its invariable endings that depend on voice. I call them “impersonal gerundives”; they represent actions as specific classes of substantives according to the aspect. This is a third and lower level of definiteness compared to personal gerundives, not even relating to an antecedent. When you convert Greek to an aspectual description, you lose the cognitive dissonance of “aorist infinitive” because it’s actually an imperfective eventive impersonal gerundive. 

Charles Conrad once wrote that the voices have no objective definition. Passive voice, I decided, is for intransitive use bordering on the descriptive. On the contrary, “active” voice is for the actions of individual agents, performed deliberately to get results, which I call executive.

Since all the grammars admit that “future perfect” is actually used as a passive, it does not belong in the table for perfective executive voice. It belongs in the imperfective conceptual column for passive voice.

There is a whole class of verbs in Greek that has passive voice with no executive, the -mai verbs (except erkhomai which is a suppletive). And yet they have an alternative conjugation, usually labeled middle or middle passive. 

The middle (in imperfective only according to Conrad) is usually labeled reflexive but Thucydides never uses it that way. Reflexivity is carried by pronouns, not verbs. 

The -mai verbs in progressive or perfective are labeled “middle-passive”. Their conjugations are 80% identical to the imperfective "middle". 

Since the conjugation endings in middle and middle-passive are so much alike, I have combined them as “base voice”. This voice shows up in transitive contexts for action that is not deliberate. In other words, it's for everything else. The impersonal gerundives ending in -sthai are all in base voice.  

After classifying verbs as -mai or non-mai, I realized that a -mai verb can have a non-mai verb with nearly the same meaning. Why? It turns out that the -mai verb occurs with evaluations of an action such as bad or good, while non-mai verbs show up in other cases.

Next I attacked the issue of mood, which 21st century linguistics calls modality, once again helped out by my Hebrew studies. The deontic modality is represented in Greek by “imperative mood”, but this isn’t the only way to issue commands. One alternative is explicitly with the verb keleuo. The other is to use an impersonal gerundive, which carries the nuance of the action being due and owing. The last uses the impersonal gerundive, cognate to the use in Biblical Hebrew of an aspectless verb (“infinitive’) with a finite version of the imperfect aspect, such as mot yumat, the phrase for capital punishment resulting from due process in court.

BH has two epistemic modalities, certainty and uncertainty, reflecting the speaker’s investment in the truth of a statement. Greek does not have a separate certainty epistemic; an indicative verb is about as certain as it gets. It turns out that the “optative” is an expression of uncertainty about facts; sometimes it provides a spoiler that a persuasive speech is going to be unsuccessful. I have renamed it the epistemic; the speaker is not invested in the truth of what he is saying.

By contrast, a speech that eventually proves successful uses the “subjunctive” but never the “optative”. I renamed subjunctive as oblique, despite its difference from the BH oblique modality. The latter is used in a subordinate clause which relies for acceptance on the specific or general truth of a main clause – which is a connection to the use of subjunctive in conditionals. The oblique in Greek is an action for which there is no evidence that it will happen or did happen, but which is highly likely; the epistemic is for something the speaker is less certain happened. This replaces the confusing concept of “future more/less vivid” and applies outside of conditionals.

When you realize that the oblique is an action that hasn’t necessarily happened (yet), you notice that the conjugational endings for the “aorist subjunctive” (imperfective eventive) are identical to endings for imperfective conceptual (formerly known as “future tense”). Moving that conjugation to the conceptual flavor makes conjugations more regular.

I did not relabel passive voice because I discovered anti-passive structures in Thucydides. Passive structures use a nominative noun as the logical object of an intransitive verb. Anti-passive structures use the grammatical object of one verb as the logical subject of another, which is an impersonal gerundive. The grammatical object that is in the accusative case is the basis of the claim in old grammars that “the subject of an infinitive is in the accusative case.” Anti-passives simplify expression by avoiding a change in case.

Then I came across a structure that used a nominative noun, a second aorist verb conjugated in executive voice, and an animate agent in the phrase hupo X. The second aorist verb is intransitive. This turns out to be an ergative structure. It was required in Hurrian, which has no passive morphology, for intransitivity. It is different from a passive structure because it does name an agent. The ergative is a middle ground in transitivity between a full passive (available only in -mai verbs and in the imperfective of non-mai verbs) and an executive voice (available only in non-mai verbs) in a transitive structure with an agent in nominative and an object in an oblique case. It turns out that there are five or six such structures in Book I of Peloponnesian War. I should probably rename “second aorist” as “intransitive imperfective eventive”.

These conclusions were all the more satisfying because they consist of sets of threes:
Aspect – imperfective, progressive, perfective
Definiteness – conjugation, personal gerundive, impersonal gerundive
Certainty – indicative, oblique, epistemic
Voice – passive, base, executive
Transitivity structures – passive, ergative, transitive
Overall verb classes – non-mai, -mai, and suppletive

The anti-passive as well as the ergative structure are found in the Hurrian language. Another analogy to Hurrian is what old grammars call the cognate accusative. The old grammars disagree with each other on a definition; they also disagree with the definition for Latin by Allen and Greenough. Lack of a consistent definition suggests there is no such thing.

Instead I would substitute something else in Hurrian, the Adverbial Equative case or more properly structure. This would be two occurrences of the same verb in different forms, one having adverbial effect. Biblical Hebrew has an adverbial equative structure although it is rare; Burton’s translation of Arabian Nights makes it seem as if this structure is endemic in Arabic. A similar structure occurs on Greek poetry and rhetoric; I found it in plays and in Demosthenes.

Greek scholars in the 21st century are not strangers to aspect. It has been taught in Europe for decades, according to a correspondent of mine. Some American scholars are inching toward it but don’t quite realize that, being more successful at explaining prose usage, it ought to be substituted for tense in grammars; that is an example of the Test of Occam’s Razor. At any rate, the simplification of grammar, the coordination with the 21st century description of all languages, and the debunking of some old grammatical claims, are certainly worth a look, even if you have been reading Greek for decades.

And if you haven't, you have until Tuesday to learn the Greek alphabet.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- the last chapter

After three and a half years of posts, there are gaps in this grammar presentation. As you go forward in your studies, you will find them. But what’s more important, you are going to have vocabulary problems.

Dictionaries will not help. Dictionaries are based on their sources, unless they are the OED; the OED foundation does basic research into the use of English language. There’s no OED for Biblical Hebrew.

Most dictionaries of Biblical Hebrew are ultimately based on Gesenius. There are revised editions of Gesenius, but they haven’t incorporated 21st century grammar, and they are far too heavily invested in the horrible Septuagint.

I have a study of Septuagint and Biblical Hebrew on my blog called “Lost in Translation”. It will show you both examples and theory (in the scientific sense as a tested hypothesis) on why the Septuagint is horrible. Most translations owe far too much to the horrible Septuagint.  That’s why learning Biblical Hebrew in its 21st century description is so important.

The mantra on my blog is “translation is not meaning” and it should be your mantra as well.

But there’s another part to the mantra: context is king. Most translations ignore the context of the vocabulary of Torah, not only in terms of the text, but also in terms of the culture. The first law of Sapir Whorf Linguistic Theory is that languages use words to express the culture, and cultures behave in accordance with their understanding of their own language. (It’s sort of the same thing as the Einsteinian “Space-time tells matter how to move; matter tells space-time how to curve”.)

So your translation mistranslates a lot of words because the translator didn’t understand their role in Jewish culture. I discussed this a long time ago when I ranted about melakhah.

I discuss the cultural meanings of words such as eved, tameh, and tahor on my blog. I go into greater detail in my book Narrating the Torah, which brings together everything I have learned in a period of more than 40 years up to the High Holy Days that begin the Jewish calendar year 5781. I will not be posting the contents of Narrating online.

So you’re stuck between a rock and a hard space. A dictionary is useful to you only as a crutch if you won’t spend the time studying Torah in its cultural setting. But it’s hard to understand that culture unless you go on to study Mishnah and Gemara (Talmud). The hard place is that you won’t get much out of Mishnah unless you know Torah thoroughly. Rabbi Yehudah ben Tema is quoted in Mishnah Pirkey Avot 5:21 as saying, “At five years of age the study of Scripture; At ten the study of Mishnah; At thirteen subject to the commandments; At fifteen the study of Talmud…” Jewish boys were immersed in Torah for five years; they studied it, they lived the culture. Only then were they ready to learn Mishnah. I’m slow, I had to go over Torah something like 20 times before I got much out of Mishnah.

You have to decide for yourself whether you want a deep understanding of Torah. I highly recommend that you read my Fact-Checking blog to see what kind of urban legends have arisen out of not understanding Torah deeply. It covers issues I don’t address here, including what I have learned about the relationship between Jewish and Samaritan scripture (in two places).

When you finish, you should understand more about what is wrong with translations of, commentaries on, and interpretations of Torah. It will give you more time to decide how far you want to go studying Jewish scripture. And that decision is totally up to you. To help you make it, look at the resource links, particularly Sefaria. You may find it inspiring.

Next week I'll post an intro to a new topic which I will post about on Tuesdays. If you thought this stuff was insane, you ain't seen nothing yet!