Review by: Richard Krill, University of Toledo - October 3, 2005
Greek and Latin in English Today:
Teaching More Than the Roots
Richard M. Krill
The University of Toledo
The wide range of topics being discussed by scholars at this conference) gives ample testimony of the influence of the classical tradition in modern times. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident, however, than in the language we speak and the words we write. Almost everyone is familiar with the poet Horace's maxim Homerus auditorem in medias res rapit (Epistulae 2.3.148-149). In a similar fashion you are being snatched and taken to the subject at hand, namely, the teaching at the college and university level of English vocabulary-building courses based on Greek and Latin. While the phenomenon of focusing an entire academic course on such a narrow aspect of the classics may not be unique to institutions of higher education in America, it is my understanding that it certainly has flourished more in this setting during the last two or three decades than anywhere else. Indeed today nearly every college and university where the classical languages are offered include such an elective course in English vocabulary-building. In the midwestern state of Ohio from which I come, for example, nearly all private and state universities have such a course. Most of the time, the course is general in scope, i.e., the examples of word-borrowing are taken from a wide range of subject fields. In courses where this is not so, the focus is usually restricted to the vocabulary of science and medicine. At my own institution, The University of Toledo, our college of arts and sciences offers a general course entitled English Derivatives from Greek and Latin; however, in another division of the university, namely, our community and technical college, a course on medical terminology is available for students pursuing an associate degree in any of the health-related fields. The arts and science general course can be taken as an elective by students majoring in any baccalaureate program. It falls in the area of the humanities. Consequently, in the development of the course an attempt was made to expose students to such things as a history of languages, some wisdom of the past through quoted short phrases, the Greek alphabet, and certain grammatical structures.
No one can argue that a respectable understanding of English word-borrowing is not a natural consequence of our traditional elementary and intermediate Greek and Latin courses. At Toledo, as at very many other American universities, we employ the well-known text written by Frederic M. Wheelock named Latin: An Introductory Course Based on Ancient Authors.2 Those of you familiar with it will recall that much attention is given to this aspect of language acquisition. To a somewhat lesser degree the same might be said about the elementary Greek text we employ entitled A New Introduction to Greek by Chase and Phillips.3 Since English vocabulary acquisition can be enhanced by the traditional manner of teaching Greek and Latin, why, you may ask, do universities bother to offer the technical vocabulary-building course. The answer is rather simple. Too many students at the university level find that they simply do not have sufficient time in their major to commit two years of study to the subjects of Greek and Latin due to various other curricular requirements associated with their major. In too many instances, it was found, very capable students in the professions of law and medicine, the humanities, and the sciences never had any exposure to Greek and Latin. In the traditional courses it would take at least twenty semester hours of credit (or thirty quarter hours) for students to encounter a reasonable level of Greek and Latin vocabulary. In the single vocabulary-building course, on the other hand, the same material can be covered in one tenth the time, i.e., in a single course of two semester hours of credit (or three quarter hours). Granted the traditional Greek and Latin courses have as their primary goal the training of students to read classical literature and consequently they must focus on the complexities of grammar. They also traditionally expose students, albeit coincidentally, to ancient history, philosophy and other important aspects of classical civilization. Our experience with the vocabulary-building course has shown that with each offering a few students become so fascinated with what little they have encountered in the classical languages that of their own accord they take up the traditional study of one of the languages in the next term. In other words, the vocabulary-building course, if approached properly, can serve as a recruitment tool for building enrollment in the traditional classical language courses.
Shaping the content of a college-level vocabulary-building course is never easy. This is especially the case when the students enrolled are likely to be pursuing a great range of academic majors from medicine to law, from literature to geology, from psychology to mathematics. Indeed the textbooks on the market have taken several pedagogical approaches. To be sure, all give representative lists of Greek and Latin roots with corresponding examples of English wordborrowings. Some provide many; others give only one or two per word studied. Presumably, the more examples one encounters, the more likely the original root will be recognized and remembered. However, is there anything additional one should look for in a text on this subject? More basically, what more can we expect students to learn during so brief a period of exposure to both classical languages? Actually there is quite a bit. Here are some considerations:
1) Does the text present Greek and Latin vocabularies using the entire word or does it just employ the word root?
2) Are common Latin phrases strategically and appropriately placed throughout the chapters on Latin or are they bunched in only a single section almost as an afterthought?
3) Is any systematic explanation given for the making plural of certain nouns in English which follow the rules of Greek or Latin?
4) Do students have an opportunity to learn and work with the Greek alphabet while studying the Greek vocabulary, or is everything presented in transliterated form only?
As we investigate these matters, we must keep in mind that for many students4 this will be their only formal exposure to the classical languages. The first three items, just mentioned, are interrelated. If a textbook presents only Greek and Latin word roots and not complete words, students will be at a greater disadvantage in working with complete Latin phrases occasionally found in English. They will also be less in a position to put into effect the Greek and Latin rules for making some English words plural. Let's examine these points in more detail one by one.
Deciding the fundamental issue of whether to present in a vocabulary-building course the entire Greek or Latin word or only the individual root of each word may not be as simple a matter as it seems. I am sure you understand the difference of approach employed by the textbooks in current use. Should we teach Latin vocabulary as aqua, amicus, lumen, luminis, gratus, fidelis, ducere, ductus, and so forth? Or, should we give only the abbreviated forms as: aqu-, amic- lumin-, grat-, fidel-, duc-, and duct-? The obvious advantage of providing only the word root is that teachers can forego the necessity of having to explain declensions and conjugations and adjective and noun agreement. Hopefully the time saved by the elimination of this process would enable students to learn additional roots and word-borrowings. Students given the entire Greek or Latin word, on the other hand, would seem to require an explanation of the process of determining the word root from the larger portion given and consequently would need to know at least the nominative forms, singular and plural, of the various declensions. Certainly one of the chief advantages of demanding this more detailed process is that students would more easily become acquainted with the rules of making nouns plural according to Greek or Latin rules. For example, they would recognize that as criterion and phenomenon of Greek origin are made plural by removal of the ending "-on" and addition of a final "-a", the same rule would apply to less common words as toxon, protozoon, and prolegomenon. Other English words of Greek origin would follow similar patterns. Examples of third declension neuter nouns ending in "-a" being made plural with the ending "-ata" would include carcinoma, phantasma, stoma, and trauma. Rules for Latin could be demonstrated with countless more examples of English word-borrowings. Imagine, if you will, attempting to explain the plural form of bacillus, cactus, calculus, locus, radius, and ramus if you did not know that each of these words ended in "-us" due to the fact that your text only presented word roots. How much more involved would your explanation have to be if we mixed words from other declensions like antenna, corolla, gutta, larva, and nebula or bacterium, biennium, continuum, erratum, and rostrum, but each presented with only the word base. In short, troubles would abound. If students are to possess an understanding of the process of making certain English words plural according to Greek and Latin rules, they must know about declensions, how to form a word base or root, and what the nominative singular and plural forms are. Perhaps it would not be worth the time and effort if the number of words following these rules were quite few in number. My text, however, happens to present more than two hundred examples, and I am sure many were overlooked.
A second advantage for expecting students to learn more than the mere word root in vocabulary lists is that they would be in a better position to understand the agreement of adjectives with nouns in Latin phrases commonly found in English. This is especially so in the sciences with binomial nomenclature. In many instances recognition of agreement is easy because the endings are identical, as in summum bonum, tabula rasa, persona non grata, via media, and locus classicus. For others, the gender of the noun must be known, as in magnum opus, lex scripta, mens rea, and quercus rubra. Of course, there are many instances, however, where the agreement takes place in the ablative or some other case, as magna cum laude, in flagrante delicto, pro re nata and sui generis. These and the hundreds of other phrases with grammatical structures that students will have definitely not studied in a vocabulary-building course require translation and explanation. The fact that they leave certain questions about grammatical structure unanswered serves as an enticement for students to enroll in the traditional language courses. Of course, the proper placement of Latin phrases can contribute significantly to a learning situation. For example, in a chapter where the word locus (place) is presented, it helps to mention in loco parentis, loco citato, locum tenens, locus classicus, and locus sigilli and, if possible, the context in which each may be found. Some texts on vocabulary-building do not take advantage of Latin phrases. Either they do not use them at all or they bunch them all in a single chapter at the end, somewhat as an afterthought. When hundreds are found in English in such fields as law, science, literature, formal writing or in mottoes of states, federal agencies, and educational institutions, they can have a profound effect in this sort of course.
Perhaps the most significant reason for students to encounter more than Greek and Latin word roots in a vocabulary-building course is that most English dictionaries today still present the full word form in the etymology section of individual word entries. If you consult the word misogamy in an English dictionary, you are more likely to find that the form given in the etymology for portion meaning "marriage" is gamos, not just gam-, or that the form meaning "milk" in lactogenic is given as lac, lactis, not just lact-. Since English dictionaries seem to prefer the form of the entire word to the mere word root, courses on English vocabulary-building would seem to do a disservice to this fine tradition by not presenting Greek and Latin entries in their entirety.
With regard to the matter of the Greek alphabet much can be said for its use. First of all, university students already tend to encounter the actual symbols with some frequency in mathematics, engineering and science courses. Moreover, the Greek letters are regularly employed in the names of honorary societies and sororities and fraternities. Certainly there should be no need for classicists to shy away from their use in an English vocabulary-building course. Students should learn to transliterate and work with the Greek alphabet. For one thing, it will enable them to understand some rather peculiar letter combinations as the "phth" f? in ophthalmology and diphtheria or even the "ps" ? in psychology. Certainly Greek diphthongs have presented a few problems in orthography. Most troublesome has been the "alpha-iota" (a?). In British orthography the combination appears in word-borrowings as "ae" in such words as haematology, encyclopaedia, and aesthetic. In America these are now spelled simply with the "e." However, the geographical preference for using "ae" or "e" for this diphthong is set aside in the spelling of proper names with either form permitted in either setting. Examples are Egypt (from ??´´???pt??) and Aeschylus from (??s?????). Add to this benefit the fact that students usually enjoy working with the Greek alphabet and transliteration. Finally, use of the Greek letters helps to make students more likely to remember which words or roots belong to which language. Consequently, they will be less likely to write hybrid words in their compositions or even worse, down the road a bit, coin them as a result of some newly-developed product. After all, the famous lexicographer Thomas Stedman5 once described hybrid words as "barbarous" and "deplorable." In his medical dictionary-he always made it his practice to provide the consulter with the properly constructed term so he could employ the correct form or "continue in his evil course as he will."
The Classical World, a journal published by the Classical Association of the Atlantic States, Inc., for many years has published a biennial survey of "Textbooks in Greek and Latin." In the most recent survey, which appeared in January-February 1992, the section on "Etymology and Medical Terminology Textbooks" contains sixty entries6. Of these listings more than half are not suitable for a general vocabulary-building course for college-level students mostly because they have a limited scope. Twenty, for example, focus on medical or scientific vocabulary. Another seventeen entries appear to have been composed for programs in the elementary and secondary schools. Still a few others appear to be dictionaries rather than textbooks or they treat only one of the classical languages. Although only texts for the general vocabulary-building course are being considered here, specific mention must be made of the recently-published volume Biolexicon: A Guide to the Language of Biology by Charles Blinderman,7 which is included in the CW survey. It is very thorough and well-written. If its price of $39.75 keeps it from being adopted as a textbook for a course on scientific vocabulary, a reference copy should at least be available for students. Of the twenty remaining entries in the survey which might qualify as a textbook for a general course, clearly the depth and sophistication vary. Before mentioning a few possibilities for adoption, I should point out that conspicuously missing from the CW 1992 survey is Burriss and Casson's Latin and Greek in Current Use8, a long-time favorite in college general vocabulary-building courses. I begin with English Words from Latin and Greek Elements9 by Donald Ayers, which first appeared in 1965. Revised in 1986, this excellent work is especially strong in its treatment of scientific vocabulary. However, it presents Greek and Latin words only in their root forms and does not employ the Greek alphabet. Finally, it has fewer than three dozen examples of Latin phrases used in English. Another popular text, A Course on Words, by Waldo Sweet and Glenn Knudsvig,10 first appeared in 1982 with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. but is now published by the University of Michigan Press. Like the other two texts mentioned, it is quite thorough; however, its unusual format with its "programmed approach" takes some getting used to. Like the Ayers' book, it also does not present Greek and Latin words in their full forms but only as roots and does not employ the Greek alphabet. Still, another text that follows a similar structural approach but which offers even less detail is Amsel Greene's Word Clues.11 Those which follow a more traditional fashion of presenting Greek and Latin vocabulary as full words are: Tamara Green's recent book The Greek and Latin Roots of English,12 Luschnig and Luschnig's Etyma: An Introduction to Vocabulary Building front Latin and Greek,13 and my own text Greek and Latin in English Today.14 Both Green's and my text employ the Greek alphabet, Luschnig's does not. Further evaluation of any of these or other texts will have to be undertaken by each instructor separately.
In conclusion, if you teach a vocabulary-building course at your institution, general or specific in focus, you have several fine texts available from which to choose. If your course is general and you would like to teach more than the Greek and Latin word bases for student memorization, you should consider the points that I raised earlier. Is there value in teaching the entire word rather than only the word base? Should students bother to learn those strange English plurals that follow the rules of the classical languages? Consider also whether or not Latin phrases can add a cultural aspect to your course and whether or not they should be presented when the vocabulary word is first encountered. Finally, decide whether or not any significant benefit can be derived from use of the Greek alphabet. I hope you agree with me that they can contribute much to such a course and indeed will make it exciting and rewarding for the student and the instructor.
1. This paper was presented at the Second Conference of the International Society for the Classical Tradition in Tübingen, Germany on 14 August 1992.
2. Wheelock, F. Latin: An Introductory Course Based on Ancient Authors. New York: Harper and Row, 1958, pp. 461, $8.95. Wheelock was professor of classics at The University of Toledo until his retirement in 1968.
3. Chase, A. and Philips, H. New Introduction to Greek. Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1969, pp. 221, $18.50. (first published in 1941)
4. I usually have about ninety students in my class and offer it once per academic year.
5. Author of A Practical Medical Dictionary. New York: William Wood and Company, 1911.
6. Judith Lynn Sebesta, "Textbooks in Greek and Latin: 1992 Survey," pp. 177-225 in The Classical World, Vol. 85, No.3 (January-February 1992). The section dealing with "Etymology and Medical Terminology Textbooks" appears on pp. 220-222.
7. Blinderman, Charles. Biolexicon: A Guide to the Language of Biology. Springfield, IL: Charles Thomas Publ., 1990, pp. 363, $39.75.
8. Burriss, E. and Casson, L. Latin and Greek in Current Use. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1949, pp. 292. First published in 1939, it was one of the few that employed the Greek alphabet and presented entire words, not just roots, in its vocabulary lists.
9. Ayers, Donald. English Words from Latin and Greek Elements, rev. by Thomas Worthen. Tucson, AZ: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1986, pp. 290, $8.95.
10. Sweet, W. and Knudsvig, G. A Course on Words. Ann Arbor, MI: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1989, pp. 367, $14.95.
11. Greene, Amsel. Word Clues. Manchester, MO: Glencoe Publishing, 1962, pp. 254, $10.62 (first published in 1949 by Harper & Row, Publ., New York)
12. Green, Tamara. The Greek and Latin Roots of English. New York: Ardsley House, Publishers, Inc., 1990, pp. 156, $ 29.95.
13. Luschnig, C.A.E. and Luschnig, L. J. Etyma: An Introduction to Vocabulary Building from Latin and Greek. Lanham, MD: Univ. Press of America, 1982, pp. 335, $23.75.
14. Krill, R. Greek and Latin in English Today. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1990, pp. 250, $19.00.
Review by: John Rexine, Classical Bulletin - January 1, 1991
Classical Bulletin 67.1 (1991)
Richard M. Krill, Greek and Latin in English Today. Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1990. Pp. vi + 250. $19.00 (paper).
There is no doubt that the scientific vocabulary in English and other languages has increased enormously with every advance of modern science and technology, and this is in addition to the technical vocabulary for non-scientific discourse and disciplines.
Richard Krill's Greek and Latin in English Today is clear evidence that help is available for those who would like to find a way to master this very necessary vocabulary which is in great part derived from Greek and Latin. Dr. Richard Krill, who is Professor of Classics and Humanities and Chairman of the Department of Foreign Languages at the University of Toledo, has put together a valuable handbook to introduce students and others "to a concentrated study of important Greek and Latin roots commonly found in English vocabulary and to set forth for their benefit the basic principles upon which new words are coined annually even to this day from these ancient languages. The primary purpose of this text is to assist in these efforts" (preface). This book is not a classical languages textbook but it is a book that will familiarize the students with some very necessary Greek and Latin that will enable them to master technical vocabulary in a variety of fields more easily, including literature and the arts, medicine, law, philosophy, theology, botany, zoology, astronomy, pharmacy, chemistry, psychology, sociology, government, and education.
Real Greek and Latin are presented in their complete, natural and original form. More detailed vocabularies of selected fields are included in a special section. There is a wide variety of exercises for the student to practice with at the end of each chapter, and it is obvious that the user of this book will also need a hefty and reliable English dictionary with etymologies.
The three principal parts of Krill's work embrace (1) Derivatives from Greek (with a General Greek Vocabulary); (2) Derivatives from Latin (with a General Latin Vocabulary); (3) Derivatives/Phrases in Selected Fields (including mottoes, degree titles, educational terms, and time expressions). The book uses a graded, incremental approach to building English vocabulary, while at the same time encouraging the student to learn elements and structures derived from ancient Greek and Latin. Krill's book has already actually been successfully tested with hundreds of students in real classroom situations in a number of major universities and is now being made available to a much wider audience. In June 1991 cassettes will be circulated by which students can hear proper pronunciation of the Greek and Latin words and their English derivatives.
Greek and Latin in English Today is a very serious attempt to offer a practical handbook for the use of Greek and Latin in English. Though some will be able to use the book without a competent teacher, most will need a classically trained instructor to get the most out of this book, which will surely replace all previous books on the subject for some time to come.
John E. Rexine
Colgate University Hamilton, New York 13346