Why study intro Greek? You could produce compelling performances of Greek poetry and prose in one semester.

Gregory Crane

If you are an accomplished performer, you should be able to begin performing Greek poetry and prose, with an understanding of every syllable of what you are reading, by the end of one semester. I base that on the preliminary results that my collaborator Farnoosh Shamsian observed after 30 hours of instructing Persian speaking students Homeric Greek. We desperately need passionate and compelling performances of Greek and other languages to bring these sources to life. We can use podcasts and YouTube videos to reach a global audience. We have compelling sources. We need performances in different voices by people from different backgrounds.

Performances would be published in the new version of “beyond-translation,” version of Perseus, alongside exhaustively annotated editions of the source text. Ideally, performers would create performances in both Greek and English, with viewers able to go back and forth over the same statements in each language, comparing performances in both languages at the word and phrase level.

We could start with the Antigone — we have a lot of annotation for this play and are hoping to make it possible for learners to internalize all the grammar that they need to understand every last word in the play (insofar as anyone understands it). But we also have a lot of poetry and prose with dense linguistic annotation (treebanking) that would allow readers to get past a translation and quickly (one semester) begin to see how the Greek works.

I have written about how the way we learn Ancient Greek and other historical languages is changing and how we are implementing those changes in our fall 2022 introductions to this language at Tufts. Here I wanted to describe a use case that should be compelling for the field and attractive to students.

In print culture, we trained people to work with inert editions available on paper pages that could not interact or answer questions. Now the dominant use case must be to train learners how to use a growing network of annotations to go back and forth between one or more translations and the source text (in multiple editions if that should be relevant). Learning how to perform Sophocles or Sappho is doable. Those who wish to do do or who wish to go on to study ancient languages professionally can internalize more.

Will people learn less over time? Will they have to go back and relearn things more thoroughly if they start pragmatically? Or will the incidental learning that they acquire from interacting with Greek early and often provide a broader foundation in which more active mastery of traditional paradigms and production will be more firmly grasped? Or will we simply have more people who get started and don’t quit after plodding through made-up exercises and learning paradigms and vocabulary that they may rarely see in their actual reading?

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