Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.05.04


Gerda M. Seligson, Greek for Reading. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994. Pp. xxx + 325. $27.95. ISBN 0-472-08266-3.


Reviewed by John M. McMahon, Le Moyne College, (mcmahon@lemoyne.edu).

Designed as a companion volume to Latin for Reading (Knudsvig, Seligson, Craig; Ann Arbor: 1986), Greek for Reading is intended for the undergraduate or advanced high-school audience. While the author's original intent was "to revise J. T. Allen's The First Year of Greek according to the principles found productive in Latin for Reading" (p. vii), in the end that proved logistically unfeasible. The result, however, is a visually pleasing and organizationally lucid volume that retains a selection of the readings from the older text, included as review passages at the end of the volume, but balances the traditional concentration on morphology and vocabulary with an emphasis on syntax and semantics (p. xv). Thus its role as an elementary text is to emphasize the sentence as the basic sense group and to prompt the student to use syntax and semantics to arrive at meaning.

The book is carefully organized, with clearly demarcated sections that facilitate both classroom discussion and self-learning, and the Introduction, directed to the instructor, outlines the approach to the material as a whole and to the individual elements. The first of these, the "Pre-view" (pp. xviii-xxviii), is primarily meant for reference during the actual instructional program. In addition to the basics of the Greek alphabet and pronunciation, it includes clear explanations of those elements of Greek which often require repeated emphasis: punctuation, diacritical marks and accentuation, contraction, syllabification, enclitics and proclitics, and orthographical changes. Exercises on the topics in "Pre-view" are included.

Following the preview section is a concise "Glossary" defining essential terms (pp. xxix-xxx). This is designed as an easily accessible resource to accompany the more complete explanations in the Lessons proper. The terms themselves (e.g. "kernel", "gap", "sames") reflect the semantic and syntactical approach of the text, with special emphasis placed on the concept of "expectations." These latter, ranging from the fundamental to the complex, enable to reader to determine meaning through an understanding of morphology, syntax, semantics, and practical contextual information.

The next section, "Speech Acts" (pp. 1-3), presents those linguistic notions "basic to language and to this course" (p. xvi). Its purpose is to familiarize the student with the scope of spoken expression before the study of Greek proper begins. Explained in simple, non-threatening language, the concepts of the statement, question, command, exhortation, wish, and deliberative question provide a foundation for understanding. Examples and exercises in English introduce the further refinements of sentence completeness, subject, predicate, and complement. Finally, the contrast of word order and morphology as indicators of sentence meaning leads to the definitions of analytic and synthetic languages and the concepts of case and paradigm.

The body of Greek for Reading consists of twenty-six lessons, the whole divided into five units each followed by a comprehensive review consisting of practice sentences, vocabulary lists, an overview of terminology, and answer keys to lesson exercises. The first unit (Lessons 1-5; pp. 4-59) concentrates on the Greek sentence as the most basic carrier of linguistic meaning, "the unit for the initial processing of words" (p. 4). Seligson's approach is to introduce the concepts and terminology associated with the sentence and to apply structural linguistic methodology in order "to determine meaning by observing form" (p. 5). Lesson One begins with analyses of simple Greek sentences and their English equivalents and concentrates on nouns, verbs and articles with the morphological basis of Greek forming the bulk of the chapter. The technique of metaphrasing Greek sentences is explained, and exercises afford practice. A fairly extensive vocabulary (including present, future, and aorist principal parts of given verbs and nouns of all declensions) concludes the lesson. Lesson Two focuses on connection between sentence kernels and the three ways it is accomplished: with coordinating conjunctions, punctuation, and the presence of a gap (/) where one or more items are left out. First declension nouns in -A are also introduced. Questions are the topic of Lesson Three along with interrogative and indefinite pronouns, an important semantic distinction being made in this regard between the animate and the non-animate aspects of nouns (p. 29). Adverbial modification and prepositional syntax make up Lesson Four, and the discussion of the former is continued into the next lesson. Lesson Five treats gender and the syntax of adjectival modification, outlining the paradigms of adjectives of all declensions, and introduces neuter nouns of all three declensions as well. Nominalization in the form of the articular adjective and adverbial expressions of time concludes the lesson and the unit.

The second unit consists of three lessons (Lessons 6-8; pp. 60-87) and introduces essential elements of the verb. Lesson Six concentrates on the middle and passive voices and develops the attendant concepts of the deponent verb and noun agency. In connection with these, semantic categories (manner, accompaniment, etc.) are outlined according to case, and the most common prepositional usages are presented. Transformation exercises afford substantial practice. The relatively brief Lesson Seven focuses on nominal, adjectival and verbal number and agreement. intransitive kernel, and the future tense. Lesson Eight presents the specialized uses of the dative case: in intransitive sentence kernels (with verbs that take the dative) and in non-kernel uses (means, cause, indirect object, etc.). The lesson concludes with the introduction of future tense.

The third unit (Lessons 9-15; 88-163) is the longest in the book, and it covers a great deal of material. Lesson Nine introduces the genitive case with the intransitive kernel and its other uses, i.e., possession, partitive genitive. Introduced as well are the morphology of the aorist in -A (active and middle) and the paradigm of PA=S, PA=SA, PA=N. There are two main foci of Lesson Ten: the concept of the linking kernel (EI)MI/, GI/GNETAI, etc.) and the predicative position; and the concept of the factitive kernel, i.e., verbs taking an object and an object complement (KALEI=N, POIEI=N, etc.). The paradigms and syntax of the demonstrative pronouns conclude the lesson. The next two lessons (Lessons 11-12) introduce the student to clauses. The former concentrates on dependent clauses as adverbial modifiers and outlines their various semantic functions (time, cause, concession, etc.) with the appropriate Greek word markers. Lesson Twelve is concerned with relative clauses in both their adjectival and nominal semantic functions. The paradigms of the relative pronouns as clause markers are introduced, and close attention is paid to the concepts of definiteness and indefiniteness in this connection. The next two lessons (13-14) constitute a concentrated presentation of verb structure. Lesson Thirteen introduces the grammatical categories of aspect and time, and aspects stems (progressive, aorist, perfective) and their associated principal parts are carefully explained at the outset; then the contrast between verbal aspect and verbal time (past, present, future) is specifically treated. The linguistic phenomena of augment and reduplication as tense/aspect markers lead into the presentation of the morphology of the active voice verb: the progressive: present, future, and the past (imperfect); the first and second aorist, both sigmatic and asigmatic; and the perfect (present and past). In conjunction with these forms, the student is also introduced to the technique of synopsis. The lesson vocabulary consists exclusively of verbs given with all principal parts. Lesson Fourteen continues this concentrated study of the verb. The first section of the lesson is devoted to the present and future active forms of athematic verbs (DI/DWMI, I(/STHMI, TI/QHMI).

The remainder is devoted to middle and passive voice forms for the progressive, aorist, and perfect stems of both thematic and athematic verbs. Thus by the end of the lesson the complete morphology of verbal finite forms has been introduced. Lesson Fifteen deals exclusively with the participle. A brief discussion of the difference between the English and Greek participle leads immediately to the morphology of active and middle/passive participle. The second part of this lesson is devoted to the participle as modifier and includes the important concepts of attributive and predicative position, the participle in clauses, and the articular participle. As might be expected for such a comprehensive and lengthy unit, in terms of vocabulary the review itself is extensive.

Unit Four (Lessons 16-20; pp. 162-207) is considerably shorter than the preceding and examines a variety of grammatical and syntactical topics. Lesson Sixteen is devoted exclusively to the comparison of adjectives and adverbs, both regular and irregular; a brief section discusses correlative comparison. Lesson Seventeen introduces the morphology of the infinitive and its chief syntactical uses: complementary and articular. The most frequently encountered irregular forms of the defective verb OI)=DA are presented as well. Noun clauses and indirect perception are the primary subjects of Lesson Eighteen and Nineteen. The former examines non-finite noun clauses: indirect command and indirect statement, each presented according to the ideas of the kernel structure introduced earlier. It also introduces the irregular verb FHMI/. The latter concentrates on finite noun clauses (indirect question and the finite variants of indirect perception, indirect statement, and indirect command) and the introductory words for each. A short section on adverbial modification (accusative of respect) and the morphology of the verb EI)=MI completes the lesson. The very brief Lesson Twenty deals exclusively with the genitive absolute and, in keeping with previous lessons, classifies it as a non-finite adverbial clause. As in the previous unit the vocabulary heavily emphasizes the verb.

The final unit of the book comprises of five relatively brief lessons and concentrates on additional speech-acts and the subjunctive and optative moods (Lessons 21-25; pp. 208-240). The imperative mood, the vocative case, and the concept of the command as a speech act make up the entire content of Lesson Twenty-One. Lesson Twenty-Two introduces three more speech acts: exhortation, negative command, and deliberative question and with them the morphology and syntax of the subjunctive mood. On the same model Lesson Twenty-Three presents the morphology of the optative mood and the syntax of expressing wishes: the "hopeful" wish by the optative; the "hopeless" by the indicative. Building on this foundation, Lessons Twenty-Four and Twenty-Five concentrate on the particle A)/N and its use in various speech acts. The former introduces the concepts of potential and contrary-to-fact statements and questions, and an important and useful feature of this lesson is the chart (p. 227) which summarizes all speech acts, their corresponding Greek moods, the appropriate negative particles, and simple examples in Greek with equivalent English translations. The latter lesson presents conditional sentences, individually treating the syntax of the indicative, optative and subjunctive moods and contains a useful listing of the most important clause markers that combine with the particle A)/N and introduce general clauses with the subjunctive mood. Lesson Twenty-Five also features the first of the readings drawn from Allen's text, Euclid's explanation of triangles. After the unit review, one additional lesson remains: Lesson Twenty-Six (pp. 241-244) systematizes the numerous uses of the particle W(S, conveniently outlining its many syntactical possibilities.

A "Re-view" concludes the pedagogical section of the text. This relatively brief section (pp. 245-249) is not, however, a review of Greek per se but rather an overview of the essential grammatical, syntactical, semantic and linguistic concepts, common to language in general, upon which the approach of text is based. Such familiar elements as parts of speech, word order, inflection, and agreement are defined and compared and contrasted to English. Similarly, those linguistic concepts introduced and applied to understanding Greek in the body of the text (e.g. kernel, sames, and so on) are neatly summarized. One paragraph is devoted to the concept of sense, "the kind of meaning associated with words and sentences by the language system, and not the individual speaker's meaning" (p. 249), and introduces the student to the field of pragmatics, the meaning derived from an awareness of the context in which the sentence, the basic unit of meaning, is situated.

Following the "Re-view" are eight pages of annotated but unaltered readings taken from Allen, in all a little more than one hundred twenty lines. The exemplary basic sentences, numbered as they appear in the main text from each lesson, are repeated in a section following the readings (pp. 259-263), presumably to serve as a review of the concepts from each lesson. The morphology section (pp. 264-286) is the standard arrangement of forms for reference, while the listing of principal parts includes the most common regular and irregular verbs each form arranged neatly under headings to facilitate comparison. These principal parts are also listed in a separate section called "Verb Roots" (pp. 293-294), rearranged according to final consonant (labial, palatal, etc.), final vowel (contract verbs), and the like. Lastly there is appended a "Stem List" designed to facilitate vocabulary building and word recognition (pp. 295-303). A typical elementary Greek-English and a (very limited) English-Greek vocabulary are included for use in the lesson exercises.

As a classroom text Greek for Reading has many things to recommend it. It is an attractive book to work from, and the highly legible text is neatly arranged on the page in a way that can only be described as inviting. For example, the combination of an ample amount of white on the page and the clear print type insures a uncongested appearance; this is especially appreciated in the reference section on morphology. Bold-print is effectively used for emphasis. The book is very well organized overall, and the division of the text into twenty-six individual lessons lends itself to systematic coverage. Each lesson presents material in a consistent and predictable manner, with a regularity that benefits both instructional presentation and student understanding; and the progression from simple linguistic concepts to the more complex and then on to their semantic and syntactical applications forms the reliable and steady framework of each lesson. The quotations from ancient authors are a valuable contribution to the general theme of each lesson, and the basic (i.e., introductory) sentences, exercises, readings, and practice sentences are specifically designed to reinforce each lesson's target concepts. This variety of approaches (synopses, recognition drills, etc.) achieves that objective, and the appended verbal information, especially the "Stem List", is quite helpful.

On the other hand, several features of the book may limit its overall utility for every pedagogical situation. The text seems best suited for an intensive approach to learning, one where daily, concentrated exposure to the language presupposes rapid progress by motivated individuals. For example, the student is often referred to the morphology in the back matter of the text for further information. The number of exercises and other practice resources, despite their variety, are limited to reinforcing only the learning of the sentence kernel, the author's intent to be sure; but in order to better reinforce the large number of vocabulary entries accompanying each lesson in a future edition these might be incorporated into more sentences for practice. Furthermore, while Seligson's linguistic approach to instruction is carefully and lucidly crafted and flawlessly integrated throughout the text, the amount of material covered per lesson and per unit is somewhat uneven. (See above on Unit Three.) To remedy this and to make the text more useable in a standard three or four credit course schedule, a series of readings like those in Allen's text (which, admittedly, the author has regretted not being able to incorporate into this edition), ought to be included to encourage the student's sense of accomplishment, and to contextualize vocabulary when possible. Nonetheless, despite these shortcomings and even without substantial editorial changes, for the instructor wishing to approach Ancient Greek from a different perspective, Seligson's Greek for Reading, because of its structure, organization, and unified approach, can be used with profit in the Elementary Greek classroom.