Here’s our first response, which has been offered as a comment on his blog, to Daniel Streett’s recent post arguing for a communicative pedagogy for Koine. If you have not yet subscribed to his blog, go do it now.
Thanks for your post. Mike Aubrey and I have gone back and forth a bunch on this. I’d like to interact with your some of your thoughts. Let me say up front that I am currently approaching language description and pedagogy in my classes from a (neuro) cognitive linguistic perspective. Some of this has been dealt with on our blog.
1. Greek is not a dead language. It was spoken long before Dionysus Thraxe first described it in humanity’s first grammar (Tekne Grammatike) and is still spoken today all over the world. Objections to a communicative pedagogy of Greek are silly because there’s probably a native Greek speaker near you with whom you could speak. In fact its for this reason that I have long considered communicative approaches of a reconstructed Koine a waste of time. There’s no need to make-up Greek. Just go to Greece and while you’re there, learn to “read” Homer and the NT.
2. Reading… the process is much more complex than we might think. One term that does not describe it for humans is “easy”. Reading is an enormously complex cognitive skill that literally changes the brains of the literate. For an introduction (without technical literature), see the Brain Science Podcast. The interview with Maryanne Wolf (#29) is a great episode on this topic, but all the episodes are relevant to language students and scholars.
One thing I’ve gleaned from the short list of neurological literature I’ve read- Language acquisition happens early in childhood and no other time. Unless one acquires multiple languages as a child, which is very possible, every second-language (L2) experience one has must be viewed as learning and not acquisition. Once one is past the age of acquisition, L2 learning becomes extremely tough (but the human brain is very plastic and old dogs can indeed learn new tricks) and new L2s are not learned as one’s mother tongue was acquired. Thus, L2 users are using different neurological processes than when they use their native language. As such, it seems that as an L2 user I will never read the GNT as I read the Houston Chronicle. Neurologically, engaging the two will always be different processes.
3. Meaning – From a cognitive perspective, meaning is embodied. It is emotionally driven perception, conception, and memory expressed in symbols: phonological and even orthographical in some cultures. As modern English speakers removed by language, time, and culture, we cannot directly engage the embodied meaning of the Bible as the original audience did, not to mention that of its authors. We are not them and have not lived their experiences. The most we can do is pour over every scrap of data we can get our hands on: textual and archaeological alike. From this, we may attempt to describe what is going on linguistically in the NT, but to say that one can be comprehend Koine as one does a native language is not neurologically or psychologically plausible. First, you have to invent a time machine. Then you’ve still the got battle of L2 neurology.
4. Pedagogy – At Stellenbosch, we teach students to understand the Hebrew or Greek text in Hebrew or Greek by using the best tools available. This includes reference grammars, lexica, encyclopedias, and even the tools of modern linguistics. Once this is done, then we talk about translation, which is a completely different ball game. Translation theory is its own discipline and quick target language glosses cannot be conflated with source language meaning. You are right that too many language teachers confuse the meaning of an original text with a translation.
The immediate benefit I see (and have experienced in a Hebrew ulpan) with biblical language students who learn the modern form of the respective language or otherwise learn communicatively is that of vocab mastery. Using your vocab in communicative situations will cement those lexemes in your memory like flashcards cannot. However, a communicative approach to Koine cannot give you a Koine mind.