Movable ν in the Communicative Greek Classroom

An astute reader pointed out that I have listed the following phrases in my “Classroom Words and Phrases for Hellenistic Greek” and raised the question of why I included the ν in the first case and why it appears as optional in the second.

  • τί ἐστι(ν) τοῦτο;
  • τί ἐστι(ν) ἐκεῖνο;

This is a great question, and it prompted me to add some usage notes in the spreadsheet.

According the the rules for Attic and Ionic Greek the ν should not be used in the first example, but it should in the second. It was added to words ending in a vowel when the following word began with a vowel to avoid having two vowels in successive syllables with no intervening consonant. So… according to this rule, I could have listed the questions as follows:

  • τί ἐστι τοῦτο;
  • τί ἐστιν ἐκεῖνο;

The problem is that by the hellenistic period this rule was no longer consistently followed, so we find, for example, τί ἐστιν τοῦτο; in Mark 1:27 and John 16:18, Εμμανουήλ, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον μεθ᾿ ἡμῶν ὁ θεός (Emmanuel, which being translated is “God with us”) in Matthew 1:23, θρόνος ἐστὶν τοῦ θεοῦ (It is the throne of God) in Matthew 5:34, etc., all of which violate the classical rule. Unfortunately for students of Hellenistic Greek, the rule was regularly violated by many writers.

So, the question becomes, “What should we do in class?”

Do you have opinions on the topic? I tend to think it is worth teaching the rule, but being very clear with the class that Hellenistic Greek authors frequently violated it.

If you take this option, what should we do when a student places the ν where it shouldn’t be according to the rule or leaves it out where the rule requires it? Should we ignore it? Point it out? Restate what the student said using the ‘correct’ form? What do you think?

2 Comments on “Movable ν in the Communicative Greek Classroom”

  1. I teach the rule as a writing rule, noting that it’s often disregarded in Hellenistic Greek.

    I wouldn’t correct it in speech, I wouldn’t even do a recast to add/remove a nu in speech. The value of correction is so low in a communicative context, if any, and there are simply much more important things to be spending time on.

  2. Thanks, Seumas.

    In my work with Spanish and English, I never offer overt corrections because they raise anxiety and tend to reduce students’ willingness to speak. I do sometimes rephrase, offering the standard way of saying what the student communicated, but I work to present this repetition as confirmation that I understood, not as a correction.

    It’s good to hear what you do in your Greek classes. I see your point that there are much more important things to spend time on!

What do you think? Other readers and I would love to hear from you.

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