Alphabet Flashcards


When I returned home after SBL a package was awaiting me from CARDDIA entitled Biblical Greek Alphabet. Angelo Cheung, the producer of these cards had offered to send them to me several weeks ago so that I could give my assessment of them on this blog. I was delighted to see them and opened the package right away. Let’s start with a description of what the cards provide.

The set includes forty-eight alphabet cards, 24 upper case and 24 lower case, plus eleven additional cards covering diacritics and punctuation. Each alphabet card provides the target letter in an attractive large font on one side and key information about that letter on the back, including guidance on the stroke sequence needed to write the letter, the letter’s alphabetical order, its Greek name, the form not shown on the front (upper case for lower case letters, lower case for upper case letters), the usual English transliteration, a pronunciation suggestion, and one or more forms of the letter found in manuscripts. This last detail is a welcome addition to what such products usually provide.


Punctuation and diacritics cards show the relevant mark with a gray letter or word on the front of the card and give an explanation on the back.


Each card is 8.6 centimeters (almost 3.5 inches) across and 6.1 centimeters (almost 2.5 inches) tall. The clear print allows a surprisingly large amount of information to be legibly presented in this small space.

When the producers of the cards first contacted me about writing a review, the cards gave pronunciation suggestions using the Erasmian system, and I recommended that they revise them to provide the reconstructed Hellenistic pronunciation. They have clearly attempted to do this, but with mixed results. The card for β recommends “v as in vote” which does pretty well approximate the Hellenistic pronunciation of that letter, but the recommendation for τ is “t as in time,” and this aspirated pronunciation was not in fact used. The letter was pronounced like the “t in stand” where there is no aspiration. The card for ζ even retains the Erasmian recommendation!

The discussion of accents is particularly problematic as the editor has merged pitch accent with stress accent. The recommendation for the acute, for example, is as follows:

The acute is used to indicate a syllable with a high pitch, it marks the stressed vowel of a word. (e.g. χρόνος)

Pitch accent had disappeared before the period of “Biblical Greek” and mixing the two systems is simply confusing.

My recommendation to students who use any such cards along with a course in Greek is to ignore the pronunciation recommendations and listen to your instructor. It is the other features of the cards that are particularly useful anyway, and the quality of production of this set places it above any other I have seen.


SBL Presentation Including a Greek Lesson in Greek: Mark 14:22

SBL Atlanta from the OmniThe presentation that Jonathan Robie and I gave at SBL this past Sunday was well received, and discussion afterward was productive.

Our talk began with a brief discussion of language acquisition theory and it’s practical implementation, then Jonathan gave a brief introduction to the ways we are using queryable databases to support the development of Greek lessons using a communicative approach. In the last ten minutes of our talk I presented a brief Greek lesson taught in Hellenistic Greek.

Here is the plan for that lesson:

Mini-Lesson on Mark 14:22

bread-wholeBuild Background

  • Place a whole loaf of bread in front of the students (not sliced bread).
  • Point to the bread and say: ἄρτος. ἄρτος ἐστίν.
  • Ask, τὶ ἐστιν;
  • Allow two or three students to answer, then say ναί. ἄρτος ἐστίν.
  • Pick up the loaf of bread. Say, κλῶ τὸν ἄρτον and break the bread.
  • Ask, τί ἐποίησα;
  • Allow two or three students to answer, then say ναί. ἔκλασα τὸν ἄρτον.
    As you say ἔκλασα, place your hands against your chest. As you say τὸν ἄρτον point to the bread. Repeat this sequence, but as you say ἔκλασα this time, place your hands against your chest, then mime breaking the bread.
  • Take one half of the bread in each hand as you say, λαμβάνω τὸν ἄρτον.
  • Ask, τί ἐποίησα;
  • Allow one or two students to answer, then say, ναί. ἔλαβον τὸν ἄρτον.
  • Lift the bread high and look toward heaven as you say, εὐλογῶ τὸν θεόν.
  • Ask, τί ἐποίησα;
  • Allow two or three students to answer, then say ναί. εὐλόγησα τὸν θεόν. As you say εὐλόγησα raise your hands toward heaven.
  • Break off a piece of the bread, say ἐσθίω τὸν ἄρτον, then eat it.
  • Ask, τί ἐποίησα;
  • Allow one or two students to answer, then say ναί. ἔφαγον τὸν ἄρτον. νῦν ἐσθίω τὸν ἄρτον. Break off another piece of bread and eat it.
  • Break the bread into enough pieces for your students, hand each one a piece as you say δίδωμί σοι ἄρτον. Retain one piece of bread for yourself.
  • Ask, τί ἐποίησα;
  • Allow one or two to answer, then say, ναί. ἔδωκα ὑμῖν ἄρτον.
  • Say ἐσθίετε τὸν ἄρτον. Eat the piece you reserved for yourself.

It should not be necessary to teach εἶπεν· λάβετε, τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου. It is highly likely that your students will deduce the meaning of this statement from the context of this story plus their own contextual experience in the church. If you have students who lack that experience, however, you may need to add a section dealing with this last sentence.

Read Mark 14:22 

Pick up a copy of the Greek New Testament and say, ἀναγινωσκῶμεν τὸν εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Μάρκον.

Read the text slowly, using gestures to reinforce the connection with the background exercise above.

Mark 14:22 Καὶ ἐσθιόντων αὐτῶν λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐλογήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς καὶ εἶπεν· λάβετε, τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου.

Assess Understanding of the Text (Identify Student Success)

Ask each of the following questions orally. Possible answers are given in parentheses.

  1. τί ἐποίουν οἱ μαθηταὶ ἐν τῷ λάβειν Ἰησοῦν τὸν ἄρτον;
  2. τί ἐποίησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῷ ἄρτῳ;
    (ἔκλασεν τὸν ἄρτον, εὐλόγησεν τὸν θεόν, ἔδωκεν τὸν ἄρτον τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ)
  3. τί ἐποίησεν πρῶτον ὁ Ἰησοῦς; Hold up your index finger as you say πρῶτον.
    (ἔκλασεν τὸν ἄρτον)
  4. τί ἐποίησεν δεύτερον; Hold up two fingers as you say δεύτερον.
    (εὐλόγησεν τὸν θεόν)
  5. τί ἐποίησεν ἔσχατον ὁ Ἰησοῦς;
    (ἔδωκεν τὸν ἄρτον τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ)
  6. τί εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ;
    (λάβετε, τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου.)

Hand out copies of what is printed below the horizontal line below, and say, γράψαντες ἀποκρίθητε ἕκαστον ἐρώτημα.

Comprehension Questions on Mark 14:22

Mark 14:22 Καὶ ἐσθιόντων αὐτῶν λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐλογήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς καὶ εἶπεν· λάβετε, τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου.

Γράψας ἀποκρίθητι ἕκαστον ἐρώτημα.

  1. τί ἐποίουν τοὺς μαθητὰς ἐν τῷ λάβειν Ἰησοῦν τὸν ἄρτον;
  2. τί ἐποίησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῷ ἄρτῳ;
  3. τί ἐποίησεν πρῶτον ὁ Ἰησοῦς;
  4. τί ἐποίησεν δεύτερον ὁ Ἰησοῦς;
  5. τί ἐποίησεν ἔσχατον ὁ Ἰησοῦς;
  6. τί εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ;


As the students write answers to these questions, circulate among them offering support. This exercise should NOT be used as a test. It is a learning exercise. Give students advice on how to improve their responses. Make sure your comments do not sound judgmental, but also do not offer false praise when students’ writing is poor. Your comments should be supportive while pushing students to do better.

If you have any comments on this lesson, feel free to post them. If you were at SBL in the session where this was presented, I’d love to hear your feedback on that as well.

Looking forward to SBL

Atlanta Skyline

It’s less than two weeks till the national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Atlanta, Georgia. I will be presenting jointly with Jonathan Robie in the session, Applied Linguistics for Biblical Languages; Global Education and Research Technology (S22-206). Here’s the abstract for our presentation:

Systematically Generating Examples from a Syntactic Treebank for Internalizing Language

This presentation is about systematically generating the materials needed to teach the Greek verb. The verb is particularly difficult for many Greek students to master, and difficult to teach. In keeping with best practices in research based language instruction, we argue that using authentic texts with appropriate scaffolding is essential to achieving reading competency. But finding optimal examples in large enough quantity to use in such instruction can be overwhelming. We believe that intelligent use of a syntactic treebank can greatly simplify this process, creating teaching materials that can greatly improve mastery. We generate a complete set of examples for each verb in the New Testament using XQuery and syntactic treebanks to illustrate the constituent patterns and morphology, starting with the most common uses of each verb, then less common uses. Teachers can select the examples they want to use, either for classroom instruction or computerized presentation. We also show how to convert these examples for use in existing software commonly used for language instruction and learning.

If you plan to be there, feel free to contact me using the contact form on this blog. I would be delighted to meet you.

During the meeting I will be tweeting about my experience from @grklinguist.

The Persistence of Dialect and the Diffusion of Koine

I have added the following article to the bibliography here at

  • Vit Bubenik, “The Persistence of Dialect and the Diffusion of Koine,” Studies in Greek Linguistics 29 (2009) pp. 315-324.

Bubenic traces the parallel diffusion of the Hellenistic Koine and reduction of other ancient dialects. He cites documentation from Arcadia for the decline of the local dialect and the rise of three ‘high’ Koine varieties: general Hellenistic Koine, Achaean Doric Koine, and the North-West Doric Koine.  He argues that  writers and speakers moved on a continuum between the ‘high’ and ‘low’ varieties of the language in an increasingly diglossic society, and explains the ‘choice’ between the high and low varieties in terms of ‘domain’ of language use.

Studies in Greek Linguistics is an online journal hosted by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. You can read Bubonic’s article online there.

Historical Changes to Basic Word Order in Greek

While constituent order was quite flexible in both Classical and Koine Greek, sound arguments can be made for considering certain orders as more basic than others. In “How Does a Basic Word Order Become Ungrammatical? SOV from Classical to Koine Greek,” N. Lavadas argues that the Hellenistic Koine was pivotal in the eventual disappearance of SOV as a grammatical order. (That order is ungrammatical in Modern Greek.)

  • How Does a Basic Word Order Become Ungrammatical? SOV from Classical to Koine Greek, Studies in Greek Linguistics 35 (2015) pp. 323-335.

You can read the article online at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. I have added it to the bibliography here at