Grammar terminologies

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Grammar terminologies

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Redigeret: okt 15, 2012, 4:59pm

On my quest to learn Biblical languages, I am now studying Greek. Attic Greek, to be precise, as I'm taking it in a classics department since my school does not teach it under religious studies. Having spent a year learning Biblical Hebrew, I am finding the grammar terms confusing.

The students in my class who have studied Latin (Classics majors) are having a breeze of a time, because apparently the general patterns and grammar terms used are much similar. For example: verbs in Greek and Latin have moods. In my Hebrew grammar we never once spoke of moods, and have a whole system of different stems (Qal, Niphal, Piel, etc.), a term that I haven't seen in Greek.

So my question (rather vaguely put): in the study of grammar (or perhaps only its presentation in first-year textbooks), how portable are the grammar terms from one language to another? For example, why is it we apply Latin categories of grammar to Greek (and often English) but don't apply them to other languages? Are grammar terms specific to languages, or to language families, or are they more universal? How often are they specific to textbooks, which I have seen at least in Hebrew?

Sorry for the confusing (confused?) nature of the question. For reference, I learned Hebrew on Page H. Kelley's Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar, and am learning Greek on Cynthia Shelmerdine's textbook Introduction to Greek.

okt 15, 2012, 5:55pm

Greek, like Latin, English, Russian, most other European languages, and several north Indian languages are Indoeuropean, so they are at least somewhat similar. Hebrew is Semitic. Very different. (I wish I could even begin to figure out how Hebrew verbs work.)

Grammar as a subject was originally the description of Latin. There are a lot of grammatical terms and ideas that are used in grammars of other languages that are based on Latin. Whether or not they fit can vary a lot. When they don't fit grammarians either try to change the language to fit the grammar, change the grammar a bit to fit the language, or find a new way to describe what they actually see. In general the first two methods are used for most European languages. I got away with the same terms ( and a few additions) I learned in German for Latin, Russian, and Greek.

This is why Hebrew textbooks vary so much. You can't really describe most of Hebrew grammar with the Latin terms, although I have seen it tried.

I think you will find that there is more consistancy between textbooks in Greek - it does fit better, and there is a very long history of using the terms, so when someone tries something different, it feels awkward to the teacher who learned the old standard, and mixes up students who have to use dictionaries and other books with that same standard.

okt 15, 2012, 7:38pm

I'd like to add just one thing to MarthaJeanne's excellent answer.

There really is no formal correlate in Latin or Greek for the complex constructional combinations of consonants and various types of infixes and other affixes in Hebrew. If it's a matter of exposure, then perhaps it could be useful to leaf through grammars of Arabic (those aren't hard to find). While not quite the same, the grammatical system of Arabic should be recognizable, or "make sense" when viewed through Hebrew glasses. Perhaps being aware of similar descriptions in other major languages will help you cope with juggling two grammatical systems in your head.

okt 15, 2012, 10:57pm

MarthaJeanne - just the answer I was looking for. Thank you. Hebrew verbs aren't that bad once you get the hang of them - they look like monstrous charts of stems, person-gender-number combinations, objective suffixes, and weird particles (cohortative) and constructions (vav-consecutives). But like Greek noun declensions there are recurring patterns that can be predictable, unless you're dealing with a weak verb, which is lots of them. Hehe.