Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Robert Mondi, Peter L. Corrigan, A Student Handbook of Greek and English Grammar. Indianapolis; Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 2013. Pp. xxii, 150. ISBN 9781624660368. $15.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Antonia Ruppel, Cornell University (antonia.ruppel@cornell.edu)

Version at BMCR home site


Robert Mondi and Peter Corrigan's A Student Handbook of Greek and English Grammar is based on a simple and accurate premise: "By having the familiar explained to you, the foreign should seem much less foreign" (p. xx). Everyone learning a second language already has a first language; many students these days do not have the kind of systematic understanding of their first, native language that would help them understand the structures of any further languages they encounter in school or at university; and while for a long time students of Greek would have acquired awareness of those necessary language structures and categories through their study of Latin, there now is a sizable number whose first exposure to a highly inflected classical language comes in the form of Greek. Mondi and Corrigan, therefore, set out to explain all those elements of modern US English grammar that are relevant for the beginning Greek student, and then to discuss their Greek counterparts.

The structure of the Handbook is straightforward and easy to navigate. In the 'Preliminaries' section, the authors start at the very beginning, explaining and contrasting the meaning of the term 'inflection' for English (intonation) and Greek (use of affixes in word formation), and introducing the parts of speech as well as the concepts of sentences, clauses and phrases as they pertain to English. Section II on 'The syntax of nouns and related words' reviews (first in relation to English, then to Greek) the appearance and uses of number, gender and case in nominal forms in general before going on to discussing adjectives and their use in comparisons, the article, pronouns and prepositions. Section III 'The syntax of verbs and related elements' goes over each of the categories finite verbs are marked for (person, number, tense and aspect, voice, mood) and includes sections on transitive vs. intransitive usage and on negation. This is followed by separate chapters on infinitives, participles, the verbal adjective, on each of the various kinds of subordinate clauses and on questions. Section IV, finally, covers 'Some other grammatical elements': adverbs, particles, conjunctions and interjections. An index completes the book.

The Handbook is intended for use alongside a regular textbook (p. xx) and introduces each topic comprehensively, thus complementing the incremental treatment of subjects suitable for textbooks. Throughout the Handbook, explicit markers stating whether English, Greek or both are being discussed in a given section would thus be helpful: those paragraphs that outline a concept in reference to English are especially valuable when it is first introduced in class, while those discussing the Greek state of affairs will probably be most profitable when the in-class treatment of a subject as a whole (nominal declension, conditional clauses, participles and their uses etc.) has been concluded. With the exception of 'verbals' for 'verbal adjectives' (p. 93) and 'indirect pronoun' for the perhaps more common 'indefinite' or 'general relative' (ὅστις etc., p. 46-7; for the Handbook, 'indefinite' pronouns are πᾶς, ἕκαστος, ἑκάτερος), the grammatical terminology used agrees with that common in reference grammars and college-level textbooks.

The arrangement of the information is appealing and accessible throughout, making sufficient but non-excessive, homogeneous use of spacing, bold print and change in fonts to highlight important elements. All Greek example sentences were composed by the authors themselves. They are short and well chosen, employing straightforward forms and vocabulary and are thus easy to understand; apart from some word-order choices and especially a problematic and pervasive tendency towards clause-initial placement of enclitic forms, they are idiomatic. Except for pp. 101-2, the authors chose not to provide any (word-by-word) grammatical annotations, which does result in a very clean presentation of the material, but may make the sentences more difficult for students to parse. Before assigning a certain section, teachers might thus want to check which forms are unknown to their students at that point.

When teaching any ancient language, it is important to adapt one's translations to the appropriate registers of current speech; and in language teaching in general, a passage may have to be equipped with both a literal and an idiomatic translation. This is done very well in the majority of the Handbook (translation suggestions for particles, for example, include 'yay! hooray!' for εὖγε, 'okay' or 'great!' for εἶεν, and 'c'mon!' for φέρε and ἄγε (p. 145); but e.g. rendering οἴμοι τάλαινα as 'alas for miserable me!' or φεῦ τῶν ἀνδρῶν as 'alas for the men!' (both p. 18) seems not quite ideal. The statement that 'standard modern English doesn't distinguish between singular and plural in the 2nd person' (p. 33) is largely not true anymore at least for spoken US English, which has a strong tendency for explicitly expressing the plural here ('you all', 'all of you', 'does everyone…' for 'do you (pl.)…' (vel sim.), and perhaps even the less and less marked 'you guys'); there seems to be little reason for discouraging use of these constructions when translating from Greek. The translation of 'spared those whosoever' (ἐφείδοντο ἐκείνων οἵτινες, p. 43) could have been supplemented with something more idiomatic ('i.e. 'anyone who''); the section on attributive participles (p. 86-7) should have mentioned explicitly that these are often best rendered into English as relative clauses. Finally, the translation of 'We do this until he should come' for ποιοῦμεν τοῦτο μέχρι ἔλθοι would profit from adding an alternative 'until he comes, which is not very likely'/'until the unlikely event of his arrival' or other more idiomatic phrasing. (The optative ἔλθοι after present-tense ποιοῦμεν furthermore is quite unusual; one might question the need to include this in an introductory reference work.)

The Handbook offers excellent treatment especially of syntactic topics, with the chapters on the various kinds of subordinate clauses particularly noteworthy and helpful. Yet especially in the 'Preliminaries', there are some small inaccuracies and infelicities; and while none of them will prevent the student from understanding the material, they could have been avoided: p. 1 nouns have stems, not roots – p. 2 (and 67) markers such as future -σ- or aorist passive -θη- are suffixes, not infixes – the definitions of 'predicate' on p. 6 and p. 9 are vague and do not quite agree with one another – the definition of 'conjunction' on p. 7 ('link[ing] two or more grammatically equivalent parts') seems to exclude conjunctions introducing subordinate clauses (but these are then discussed on pp. 142-4) – the discussion of adverbs on pp.7-8 would profit from explicitly introducing (and distinguishing between) adverbs such as 'very' or 'eagerly' and adverbial case usage/adverbially used nominal or prepositional phrases – the slightly odd definition of 'phrase' on p.10 ('group of words that forms a grammatical unit but lacks a subject or predicate or both') should be simplified to 'group of words that forms a grammatical unit'; the good list of examples that then follows clearly elucidates what is meant by this – p. 21 the genitive of time frequently expresses 'time when' rather than 'time within which' – on p. 35, it should be pointed out that the Greek use of 'we' instead of 'I' does not necessarily have the same 'royal' connotations that it does in English – in the table on p. 40, enclitic σου, σοι, σε are missing, and μου, μοι, με and should be labelled as 'enclitic' rather than 'emphatic'.

Generally, the layout, table of contents and index make information easy to find; yet at the following points, cross- references would be helpful: Chapter 4.3 on case → 10 on prepositions – 6 on adjectives → 13 on participles – 8 and 9 would benefit from mentioning at the outset the overview tables provided on their respective final pages – 8.4 on relative pronouns → 9.2 on relative pronouns – perhaps 17.3 on future-less-vivid conditionals → 11.7.4 on the optative.

Small formal mistakes in the Greek may be easily identifiable as such for scholars; yet as this book is meant to be used by students, a list of corrigenda may be helpful: p. 14 εἰσί βαρβαρικοί → εἰσὶ – p. 16 ἔβαλε με → ἔβαλέ με – p. 17 ἐνηνεγμέναι εἰσί τοῖς → εἰσὶ – p. 39 τινά ἔδομεν → τινὰ – p. 42 ἐστίν ὅσπερ → ἐστὶν ὄσπερ – p. 44 πάς, πάν → πᾶς, πᾶν; ἑκατέρη → ἑκατέρα – p. 59 ἐστί καλά → ἐστὶ καλά – p. 66 there might be more clear-cut examples of reflexivity than 'to enjoy yourself' – p. 77 Μινόταυρος → Μινώταυρος – p. 82 βούλομαι σὲ εἰπεῖν → βούλομαί σε – p. 90 τῇ ἀθλητῇ → τῷ ἀθλητῇ; μή ἐπαίνων → μὴ ἐπαίνων – p. 112 ἐσμέν εὐδαίμονες → ἐσμὲν εὐδαίμονες (twice) – p. 117 ἄνηρ → ἀνήρ – p. 118 Ἑλλήνων. → Ἑλλήνων; – p. 123 φησί τὸ → φησὶ τὸ (twice) – p. 138 ἀμεῖνον, βελτίον, κακίον → ἄμεινον, βέλτιον, κάκιον – p. 143 ἐτοῖμος → ἑτοῖμος. As for the above-mentioned issue with the placement of postpositives: p. 39 the sentence-initial use of indefinite τινές or τινά is very rare and should thus be avoided here; if they are to be shown in their accented form, this could be achieved by putting them behind a word stressed on the penult – p. 108 ἄν also does not stand clause-initially: ἂν αὐτοὺς ἐνίκα → αὐτοὺς ἂν ἐνίκα or αὐτοὺς ἐνίκα ἄν – pp. 109-10 clause-initial σε (17 times; there is no reason for using emphatic σέ here) should also be avoided. The same applies to various clause-initial uses of enclitic forms of εἰμί and φημί.

In sum, this is a very useful book, which, if teachers using it are aware of certain features that require extra care on their part, will be of great help especially to students who have not had any formal education in English grammar. The reviewer hopes to have offered a comprehensive list of those features here.

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