Monday, November 01, 2010

the battle of the G[r]eeks wages on (or, pt. III)

In my previous post on first-year Greek grammars, I briefly laid out four aspects of my Elementary Greek class and what I'm looking for in a first-year grammar in light of those aspects. It's been a while since that post, so here's a quick recap:

  1. The class is quick-paced and intense, so I don't need an intense grammar. I want a text that presents the book quickly, basically but accurately, and without excessive nuance.
  2. I don't need a grammar that is "all things for all persons." A flexible grammar leaves room for the classroom experience to do more than simply read through the book. I will add material as I see appropriate, but my grammar just needs to establish a solid foundation.
  3. I prefer an approach that balances morphological analysis (and the dreaded memorization) with early and thorough-going exposure to actual Greek texts. Students can't do the latter reliably and quickly until they've mastered the former, but the motivation for the former comes from the latter.
  4. I want a grammar that ranges broadly across and progressively deeper into Greek linguistic structures rather than that presents all the material in a certain area (say, indicative verbs) before presenting other material.
If these are my four most basic expectations, how do Black and Croy line up on the issues? Here are my basic thoughts on each.

Regarding my first concern—a basic, quick-and-dirty presentation of the material—both Black and Croy come out strong. This, in fact, is why I have evaluated every introductory grammar in terms of Black's. Croy does explain in a parenthetical comment,
The original endings for the present active indicative were -μι, -ς, -σι, for the singular, and -μεν, -τε, -νσι, for the plural. In some cases, however, the original endings have undergone such changes that it is best simply to learn the resultant forms rather than the process by which they came about. The original endings are preserved in another conjugation to be learned later. (p. 8)

This is about as complex an explanation as I would be willing to give my beginning [nineteen-year-old!] students. Compare the nuanced discussion in Mounce (131–34), which is largely unnecessary. However, one of my students' frustrations with Black is the stuttered presentation of vocabulary. Some of Black's chapters have over thirty vocabulary words to learn (some considerably more than thirty!), while some have almost none. Croy, on the other hand, presents a steady dozen-or-so vocabulary words for each of his lessons. Less intense = good.

Regarding my second concern—a flexible grammar that allows me to tailor my class to my own idiosyncrasies—Croy's discussion of present active indicative and infinitive verbs (Lesson 2) does little more than present the necessary morphology and the very basic grammar of the present-tense verb (i.e., its aspect). Croy does, however, briefly discuss the "accentuation of verbs" (§13; pp. 9–10). But this is ideal for me, as this was one of the areas I would bring into my classes from Black's book. Black has a general discussion of accentuation in an appendix (§§184–87; pp. 216–19). I like that Croy has tailored his discussion of accents specifically to verbs and, later, to nouns (see Lesson 3; §20; p. 15). So this just happens to provide material that I was already providing beyond Black's chapters, and it does so in smaller, more focused bits that fit my purposes.

Regarding my third concern—an approach balanced between inductive and deductive instruction—I'm torn between the two books. Croy's presentation of Greek morphology is . . . well, it's awful. Black has the clear upper hand here. You simply have to compare the look of the page to appreciate how little thought and effort went into presenting the material. Black, on the other hand, employs clearly laid out tables with (in the newest edition) shading to help the student see what's going on. This will be an area where I will have to provide students with more helpful ways of presenting and organizing the information. But Croy provides something Black doesn't: For every lesson, beginning in Lesson 1, Croy has four kinds of exercises. First is the all-too-familiar "practice and review" exercises comprised of made-up Greek (of the "The apostles loose the slaves in the church" ilk). Second and third, however, Croy provides actual texts from both the LXX and the NT, respectively. In order to aid students with these exercises Croy provides a "Vocabulary for LXX and NT Sentences" section at the end of each lesson. Finally, and fourth, Croy provides a few English to Greek exercises. Compare Black's exercises, which are only ever Greek-to-English and which aren't drawn from actual biblical texts until into the second half of the book.

Regarding my fourth concern—a grammar that ranges broadly and progressively deeper into Greek—I rather like Croy's substance even if his form leaves something to be desired. For some reason, Croy doesn't give each lesson a title, so you actually have to look into the subtitles of each lesson to get an idea of what's covered when. But when I do this, I like what I see. The first real lesson—Lesson 2—presents present active indicative and infinitive verbs. Lessons 3 and 4 present the first and second declensions, respectively (I think I would agree with Black in reversing these), and Lesson 5 presents the full form of the article and first/second declension adjectives. Lesson 6 presents feminine second declension and masculine first declension nouns; I think I like breaking these off into a separate chapter. A little further on, Lesson 9 presents the present middle and passive indicative and infinitive verbs, and Lesson 10 introduces the difference between primary and secondary tenses (as well as the imperfect active indicative). Again, I think I like that Croy sticks with the first principal part before jumping to other verb stems. After Lesson 11 (imperfect middle/passive indicative), Lesson 12 introduces the concept of principal parts and then covers the second principal part (future active and middle indicative verbs). While Croy's order of presentation is, perhaps, the point of widest departure from Black's approach, and while I approve of and appreciate Black's approach, I think I prefer Croy's. A year or two in the classroom will help me decide whether or not I actually do.

Related to this last point, I've always thought—first as a student and then later as faculty—that the second half of Black's grammar does not divide the material into sufficiently manageable chunks. Third declension nouns, contract and liquid verbs, and participles each have one whole chapter. Croy, however, offers two lessons on the third declension (Lessons 17 and 25), three chapters on participles (Lessons 18–20), and a chapter each for contract (Lesson 21) and liquid verbs (Lesson 22). In addition, Black covers -μι verbs in a single chapter, whereas Croy provides three (Lessons 28–30). I anticipate my students will find these smaller, bite-sized lessons helpful (though I have some concerns, which I'll raise in a fourth and final post in this series).

I have learned and taught from Black's book for a dozen years now, and I'm very appreciative of Black's approach to Greek pedagogy and grammar. None of my comments here convey a sense of disappointment with Learn to Read New Testament Greek. In fact, I'm a little nervous about switching texts next year. I have never used another grammar, and I anticipate a bit of a learning curve as I figure out how this book fits within the structure of my particular class. But I'm also excited about any new challenges teaching from a different grammar will present. I remember another exciting switch, one that involved a bit of a learning curve but has certainly improved my quality of life. And as long as I continue to experience God's blessing, I shall never go back to using a PC!

1 comment:

Jack Weinbender said...

The more I think about it, the more I realize how superfluous much of Mounce's grammar is. This is best evidenced by the fact that I don't remember reading most of it (though I did)and that I remember almost nothing about the "real" morphology of Greek verbs outside the basic rules of contraction.

Having now officially achieved competency in two other languages, I've come to understand that the best way to learn a language is to just memorize it. Sure, being able to work-through why an ending looks irregular is valuable, but your time is really better served memorizing. I wish I had spent as much time memorizing Greek paradigms (and vocab, for that matter) as I did Hebrew. Then I wouldn't be doing it now!


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