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Understanding Language: A Guide for Beginning Students of Greek and Latin Paperback – July 8, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0813218663 ISBN-10: 0813218667

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: The Catholic University of America Press (July 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813218667
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813218663
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 8.5 x 5.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #261,870 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

"This is an essential companion to introductory texts on first-year Greek or first-year Latin. As students learn less and less English grammar in primary and secondary education, virtually all foreign-language instructors must supplement their standard introductions. Why not do it with a book that teaches exactly what is needed to understand beginning Greek and Latin grammar, no more and no less? Equally valuable for both languages, with little that is superfluous for either, Fairbairn's book is clear, concise, and motivational. I recommend it enthusiastically."--Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary

"Fairbairn's Understanding Language illuminates the complexities of both classical tongues in many helpful ways by anticipating major challenges faced by today's classics teachers in explaining, and their Anglophone students in comprehending, grammatical issues. His emphasis on the functions of forms is especially welcome and impressive."--Judith P. Hallett, Professor of Classics, University of Maryland

"Understanding Language is a unique and helpful book for both students and teachers of classical (and koine) Greek and Latin. It is unique in that it treats the fundamentals of both ancient languages simultaneously; it does not give undue emphasis and priority to English grammar, but presents the `forest,' namely the basic building blocks of language generally conceived, before the `trees,' that is, the specifics of Greek, Latin, and English. The author provides helpful hints for using this book to supplement (but not replace) the material provided in customary Greek and Latin textbooks."--Rev. William B. Palardy, Rector and President, Blessed John XXIII National Seminary

About the Author

Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the author of Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers, Grace and Christology in the Early Church, and Eastern Orthodoxy through Western Eyes.

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Michael Cochran on July 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a much needed book in language studies, often times, when beginning students start Greek you are given the cases and verb systems which will be foreign to English speakers (and you'll just have to memorize and move on). Dr. Fairbairn does a tremendous job of explaining linguistically what is happening (i.e., at a higher conceptual level than most textbooks will do, especially intro textbooks).

The great thing too is the focus that this book has; it doesn't replace in anyway an intro textbook or even cover the same ground. I found that when I understood the concepts behind the grammar such as in Greek how the Dative case is actually made up of the dative, locative, and instrumental (to, for, and with - to make a huge oversimplification) it helps to account for the "oddities" that occur.

Second, his sections on verbs are without a doubt even better than his presentation of the cases (declensions). If you are taking Greek or Latin this book will help you more than you will realize. Besides (obviously my grammar) this book was the best book I had when I started Greek I and II and I am glad my professor assigned it.

Lastly, even other languages can benefit from this book. I am thinking of for instance Czech (which at least at the noun level is similar to Greek), so I would hazard a guess that Russia, Polish, etc. would be helped by it too (but this is only a guess).
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Gregory J. Casteel on June 29, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are several things you have to do if you want to learn a new language. You have to learn to recognize and reproduce the sounds of the spoken language (phonology). You have to learn to recognize and reproduce the symbols of the written language, and know what sounds they represent (orthography). You have to learn how words are formed and modified (morphology), which may require memorizing long lists of prefixes, suffixes, and other variant word forms, along with the rules for how to use them. And, of course, you have to commit lots and lots of words to memory (vocabulary). These are what we might think of as the "mechanics" of learning a new language. They are things that you have to learn by repetition until they become second nature. If you compare learning a new language to learning how to play the piano, these things are like learning how to read sheet music, learning which keys on the keyboard correspond to which notes on the staff, learning how to position your hands in order to play various notes and chords, learning how to work the foot pedals, and learning to play a standard repertoire of simple tunes by heart. There are several methods that can be used in order to help you learn these things; but, ultimately, you've just got to keep practicing until you get good at them.

But there's another thing you have to do in order to learn a new language: You have to learn how the language conveys meaning using words in combination (syntax). In other words, you have to learn the grammatical functions of different types of words, and how those words can be strung together to form larger grammatical structures such as phrases, clauses, and sentences. And you have to learn how to interpret the meaning expressed by those grammatical structures.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ed Peters on November 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
Like Fairbairn, I first came to Latin (and Greek) not as a classics major, but as student who needed Latin for my academic work (in my case, Church law). In the decades since then, I have looked for ways to orient my ancient language students (yes, I teach Latin now, in addition to law) to the very exciting world of "synthetic" languages like Latin, when they are used to using only "analytic" languages like English. Fairbairn has provided exactly the kind of special orientation that such students need. This not a grammar or a composition handbook; it is much more than that: it is a clear explanation of how two closely related, vitally important, but very-different-from-English, ancient languages actually work, explained in terms that English speakers will recognize and understand. I wish I'd had something like this when I started my own ancient language work 30 years ago, but I profited by reading Fairbairn even now.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A-Reader on April 10, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book makes good reading for those interested in studying Greek or Latin. It presumes that the student-reader knows little or nothing about the Classical languages, or even much about English. It presents a linguistic overview of Greek and Latin, explaining both the "good" and the "bad" about what the would-be learner is about to undertake. Fairbairn makes excellent points throughout, the best of which (to my mind) is alerting the student to the mistake of believing that vocabulary in Greek or Latin will have a one-to-one correspondence with English. He suggests that these languages must be viewed on their own merits, not simply by how easy (or hard) they are to learn for a native speaker of English. Also well written is the information on morphology and syntax intended to lay the groundwork for understanding Greek or Latin grammar. This information is neither too cursory or too detailed; it does not overwhelm the student yet manages to present a balanced overview of how these languages operate grammatically. As a teacher of both Latin and Greek, the book succeeds in striking a good balance in its presentation. It does strike me that the book will be more interesting to students who are motivated to learn, or at least interested enough to want to know what they're getting themselves into. It presumes enough interest to work through the terminology of basic linguistics. Latin and Greek are beautiful and infinitely fascinating, and Fairbairn conveys his love for these languages admirably. I would also say that the book is good reading for those who are interested in languages in general. In a world where educational aims are focused on training rather than education per se, where the feeling is that, unless the knowledge can be turned into dollars it is hardly worth bothering with, the book is refreshing, reminding us that the growth of the mind may well be far more important.
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