Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ørberg for Ancient Greek

I've thought a bit about this sort of thing. I've written a few passages, but nothing good enough to share. And I realize that the project needs to be approached quite a bit differently than Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. In part this is an intellectual challenge. Polis, Athenaze and Reading Greek are all creditable books—and probably hard to really make an improvement on.

Some challenges
  • the alphabet
  • the pronunciation to use—though probably ignorable
  • not so many obvious derivatives
  • the dialects
  • contracts
I'm really not quite sure how to deal with the alphabet. It's not hard to learn, but teaching it through context is another story. Pronunciation is somewhat a moot point, as Ancient Greek isn't really a spoken language. On the other hand, sound recordings are valuable resources.

The derivatives are a major problem. Ørberg uses the preposition in on the first page. English, German, Italian, Dutch and Swedish use the same word to mean the same thing. Spanish is one letter off. There are no diacritics. Place names add yet another layer of familiarity to the first chapter. The fact that Latin's ablative case in the first declension looks like the nominative with a diacritic also helps too.

Greek on the other hand presents a challenge. ἐν looks more like ev—nonsense, unless you've thoroughly mastered the alphabet. While not difficult, beginning students will occasionally slip. Ἑλλάδα, on the other hand, doesn't look like any work a non-Greek student knows. Then there's the morphology involved with the dative case in Greek…

But that's no real matter. I don't think Ørberg's first chapter works with Greek. It would probably have to look more like Ørberg's chapter 2, but without the genetive case. I suspect that a different entry point would be necessary anyway.

The dialect situation is also a concern. Attic Greek is probably the best place to aim at. Epic has fierce morphology, since it is somewhat an amalgam of several dialects. It also has the disadvantage of being entirely in verse, which isn't the easiest way to present material to beginners. On the other hand, you can't completely ignore Epic either. Authors will quote it and figure you know what they're quoting. Koine is straightforward after Attic Greek, so no need to worry about it after Attic. Either Koine or Attic would work well, given that there are lots of examples of both written down. Lots of fodder for corpus mining. In any case, Attic is the best given the ease of entry into Koine and the availability of stuff to read. But the Attic dialect presents its own challenge.

Verb contracts. This is a major wrinkle. Verb contracts have to be taught and mastered. On the other hand, some dialects—Epic and Ionic in particular—don't contract. I think I know how to get around it: start with Ionic Greek. Herodotus, among others, is written in this dialect, and it solves the contract problem for a few chapters.

The angle

The story should probably start in Asia Minor and follow the characters across the Aegean to Athens. This story angle allows for a start in non-contracting Ionic Greek but also builds in the eventual shift to contracting Attic Greek. One problem solved.

Another story angle would be to work the Greek gods into the narrative in some way. From the beginning. If for no other reason than people are familiar, at least passingly, with Greek myth. It also solves, to some degree, the derivative problem mentioned earlier. People may not know Δημήτηρ right off hand, but at least sounding the word out will give them a chance. Ζεύς will be transparent to the newbiest newb. So that's got to be a consideration.

The other nice thing that the journey across the Aegean would solve is the sheer volume of nautical terminology that seems to pervade Ancient Greek.

The sequence

Here's one point that I've not gotten as far with. Or at least I've not gotten answers that satisfy me. The sequence of learning Greek is going to be much different than Latin's sequence. Naturally: it's another language. Indirect speech? No problem. Greek is virtually English on that point. The article is a problem. You've got to use it, but defining it isn't very transparent in an Ørberg-style environment. Since the article lines up so nicely with the first and second declensions, morphology on that point won't be too vicious. Same with the 3rd declension—the article to the rescue again.

I'm also not quite sure how to present verb tense. Clearly present at first. But which first? -μι verbs? Or add on the imperfect and aorist? Which of those two first? Imperfect seems obvious, but aorist is frequent and useful. The whole mess of the verb's principal parts is an ugly question too.