Paperback / softback
July 8, 2011
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.65 Pounds (US)
$19.95 USD
v2.1 Reference

Understanding Language

A Guide for Beginning Students of Greek and Latin

Why do students today find Greek and Latin so difficult and frustrating to learn? Perhaps the primary barrier preventing us from learning another language successfully is that we often subconsciously believe that English is the standard for the way languages must express ideas, and therefore we unwittingly try to fit the new language into the structure of English.

This book seeks to break students out of "English mode" as soon as possible, at the very beginning of study. Rather than constantly relating Greek and Latin to English, the book starts with a big-picture discussion of what any language must do in order to facilitate communication. It then explains how Indo-European languages in general accomplish the tasks of communication, and how Greek and Latin in particular do so.

Understanding Language includes major sections on the noun and verb systems of the classical languages. In both cases, the book deals first with function (what nouns and verbs must do) and then explains how the forms of Greek and Latin achieve the needed functions. As a result, the book helps to make the hard tasks of memorizing forms and learning syntax easier and more enjoyable. Students gain a broad understanding of the way the classical languages work before they begin the details.

This book gives students some of the conceptual benefits of studying two closely related languages, even if they are studying only one of them. Students do not need to be studying both Latin and Greek (or even to know the Greek alphabet) in order to profit from this book. Teachers may choose to have students read the entire book at the beginning of their study or to read sections at various points in the first year.


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.


"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

The Catholic University of America Press

9780813218663 : understanding-language-fairbairn
Paperback / softback
240 Pages
$19.95 USD

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