Friday, July 1, 2011

Where are the Native Koine Speakers?

One of the blogs I follow is called Fluent in 3 Months. What Benny, the author of that blog, does is learn a new language from scratch every three months. He's tackled seven languages this way (Irish, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, German) and he's also made runs at Dutch and American Sign Language (he might not be fluent, but he can navigate them well enough). Today he published a guest post on the Art of Manliness blog titled Becoming a Man of the World: How to Learn Another Language. Check it out.

There are many polyglots out there, and they have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves to nail down languages. I look at Benny's blog, and others, to find some tips that can be useful for theological languages (not just Koine Greek and Biblical Hebrew, but also Latin). The challenge (problem, catch) is that polyglots like Benny are learning living languages only. A fundamental technique he uses every time is to learn by conversing with native speakers of his target language.

Our problem (challenge) is that there isn't a cafe in the world where you can strike up a conversation in Koine with a native speaker. Now, we can get away with this to a lesser degree in other theological languages: modern Hebrew, I'm told, is not so distant from Biblical Hebrew, modern German will help you deal with Martin Luther auf Deutsch, and if you hang out with some learned Papists, I suppose you could converse in Ecclesiastical Latin. But I balk at Modern Greek because, in my amateur opinion, there are bigger obstacles to deal with When you compare Koine to Modern Greek. A pair of examples: Modern Greek does not have the Dative case (its uses have been absorbed by other cases), it does have definite and indefinite articles (Koine only has "the article"). There are likely other differences as well. I'm just under the impression that enough has changed between Koine and Modern Greek to the point that learning Modern Greek would probably not be worth the effort if your goal is to learn Koine to read the Greek New Testament. [I'm more than happy to have this assumption challenged, however, and if you or someone you know has insight on this, let me know!!!!]

And we know that all things are better in Koine, but how can we make up for the fact that Koine is a dead language? How close can we get to putting ourselves in a Greek bubble? How many tools can we borrow from toolboxes of the living language polyglots? To what extent can a dead language be "brought back to life?" These are questions I've been pondering for the last few months.