Category Archives: language

Gnomic Aktionart

I am learning about gnomic Aktionart. As intriguing as that sounds, it actually has nothing to do with lawn ornaments.

Aktionart is a grammarian’s way of describing what “kind of action” a verb describes in its context, whether a repetitive action, an action beginning, or a state of being, for example.

“Gnomic” is an adjective that describes some universal, timeless truth. So when James writes, “For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits” (James 1:11), he uses aorist verbs (for those of you interested in such things) which are ideally suited in their aspect for creating a gnomic Aktionart, expressing a general statement about reality.

Verbal “aspect” (since you asked) is a way of communicating the speaker’s viewpoint upon the action. If the speaker describes the action as from a viewpoint spacially or temporally distant, he employs a perfective aspect. If he describes the action as unfolding right before his eyes, he employs an imperfective aspect.

Zondervan has just published Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, by Constantine Campbell. Constantine argues that classical and koine Greek actually did not employ tenses (past or present) as we do in English, but instead used aspect. When translating the Greek Testament in to English, we need to pay attention to aspect and context to determine what English tense to employ.

I’m something of a hobby linguist and Greek nerd, so I found this book fascinating. Russian language also uses aspect, so the concept in Greek was not completely foreign to me. All the same there were still some parts that left me scratching my head saying, “Huh?!?” Undoubtedly, that is no fault of Dr. Campbell’s.

Shortly, I plan to post something more along the lines of a book review here on Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, but for the moment, I merely wanted to gush about Greek grammar. It’s the coolest evar!

Campbell is blogging this week about his book over at Koinonia.
[Post 1 of 5] [Post 2 of 5] [Post 3 of 5]

His book just happens to be available at Grace Books International.

From the Pentateuch to the Pizza Parlor

Tonight I am reading an article by TMS professor Dr. Michael Grisanti in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.

In this article he makes reference to the development of the Hebrew language over the course of the thousand-some years of OT compositional history. As an example of evolution in language, Grisanti includes a poem written in English over 400 years ago:

Svmer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu, cuccu;
Ne swik þu nauer nu.
Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

I was curious about this character “þ” and googled it. Turns out it sounds like our “th” (this much I had guessed), and the letter is called a “thorn”.

The Wikipedia article listed several abbreviations used in Middle English that incorporated the thorn; for example, the thorn with a superscript “t” means “that”, and the thorn with a superscript “e” means “the”.

Over the course of time, the thorn gradually became indistinguishable from the letter “Y”, and still shows up today in examples like this sign which should actually be read as “The Olde Pizza Parlor”.

Suddenly it all makes sense! I always figured the pizza guy was guilty of bad grammar, using a nominative pronoun where he should have used a possessive pronoun. Turns out he was only guilty of cheesy decor! (Well, maybe still bad grammar.)

I realize this may not be new to some of my career linguist readers, or my classically educated readers, but I am now a much better informed pizza lover.

Уe things I learn in seminary!

Speaking in Tongues

Recently I was working in our bookstore on a Sunday afternoon. Sunday afternoons are usually pretty quiet, and this particular Sunday was no exception.

But towards the middle of the afternoon, I saw a group of tourists, complete with cameras draped around their neck, stroll onto campus. They posed for pictures in front of the seminary library, and then made their way into the bookstore.

My guests were very excited to find the Rose Chart Book, and after loading up, they began to make their way in twos and threes to my register.

I inquired of the first group where they were from: “Korea,” came the reply.

My knowledge of Korean is limited to the following three words (and I won’t pretend to know how to transliterate them correctly):

  • anyonghaseo – hello
  • muksanim – pastor
  • gamsamnida – thank you

So I said to my customers, “Anyonghaseo.”

They nodded politely and replied, “Anyonghaseo.”

I asked, “Muksanim?” They nodded their heads in the affirmative.

I rang up their purchase and handed them their Rose books and said, “Gamsamnida!

They replied, “Gamsamnida,” and wandered back outside to take a few more pictures.

A few minutes later, the second group came up to the register with their arms full of Rose books, and I repeated the same dialog: “Anyonghaseo… Muksanim?… etc.”

Very pleased with myself I handed them their books and receipt and said, “Gamsamnida!

To which they replied:
Danke schön!