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CJ-ONLINE  March 2009

CJ-ONLINE March 2009

Subject:

CJ Online 2009.03.02 SHELMERDINE, Introdution to Greek

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Introduction to Greek, Second Edition. By CYNTHIA W. SHELMERDINE. 
Newburyport: Focus Publishing, 2008. Pp. xiv + 317. Paper, $36.95. ISBN 
978–1–585–10184–9.

Order this text for $28.08 from Amazon.com using this link and 
benefit CAMWS and the Classical Journal:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect-home/classjourn-20


Previously published CJ Online reviews are at 
http://classicaljournal.org/reviews.php


CJ Forum Online Exclusive 2009.03.04

The second edition of Shelmerdine’s Introduction to Greek is in many ways 
a solid textbook. It has a pleasing layout, a detailed and helpful table of 
contents and a straightforward approach. But a few issues make me unable to 
recommend the book fully, and I hope that the concerns expressed below can 
be taken into account when the next revision is completed.

First, in almost every chapter of this book, there is vocabulary or a 
grammatical point used in the exercise sentences which has not yet been 
presented; sometimes this comes from the next chapter, sometimes from 
several chapters ahead. Including a form or word taught in one chapter in 
the paragraph of Greek for reading included at the end of the preceding one 
is an acceptable way of looking forward to the material to come. The 
constant presence of unfamiliar ideas in the exercises, on the other hand, 
is more easily understood as a lapse of editing which simply confuses 
students, who begin to doubt the textbook as much as their own memory as 
they struggle with the exercises. The revision and reordering of this text 
thus seems to have been somewhat carelessly carried out.

Second, when forms are mentioned in the body of the text as not discussed 
elsewhere, it would have been helpful could those forms (e.g. the future 
perfect, mentioned as excluded in Chapter 2) at least have been included in 
the appendix. Because they are referenced at all, nervous and overeager 
students will likely ask for them to be explained; and if the forms were in 
the appendix, a teacher could refer students there, if they came up in 
supplementary readings. In addition, students would also be able to use the 
text as a grammar in the transitional phase from textbook to extended 
primary readings.

Some additions and changes in the second edition will be particularly 
beneficial for teachers and students. The chart on p. 8 is a very clean 
introduction of the concept of an inflected verb form. The new exercises, 
like the fill-in-the-blank exercises which focus on endings, are also 
excellent; it would be nice to see more of them throughout. Giving the 
uncontracted form beside a chart also helps students comprehend the 
linguistic explanation of the finished forms. There are nonetheless 
problems here as well. Some explanations of noun forms are likely to 
overwhelm students. If in Chapter 3, for example, the 1st-declension nouns 
are to be grouped as types A to D, it would be helpful to group the 
vocabulary list within the chapter in the same order, so that students do 
not have to wade through a mixed list at a time when their understanding is 
at its shakiest. An enormous amount of time is also spent explaining the 
3rd-declension nouns. If the groups into which these nouns are divided 
could be approached as lists of vocabulary with slightly different 
spellings for each (almost always covered by looking at the dative plural, 
an oversimplified explanation many teachers use), perhaps students would 
not freeze up at the concept of stem-changes. But breaking the 
3rd-declension nouns up over eight chapters, with new charts at every 
introduction, is overwhelming.

Another revision puzzles me: Why break up the vocabulary into groups? If 
some words are non-essential, it would be better to omit them altogether 
and simply say that some words must be looked up in the end-material when 
the exercises are done; or perhaps such words should not be included in the 
exercises at all. To be honest, it is hard enough for a teacher to remember 
which words are part of the students’ vocabulary lists at any point, when 
making up worksheets or tests, without also requiring them to remember 
which words the students are not expected to know. The students too are 
more likely to be confused by the presence of words which they have 
encountered but which they do not have to know.

There are also some problems with the order in which concepts are 
introduced. Leaving a chunk of -mi verbs until the final chapter, for 
example, amounts to inviting these forms to be dismissed and forgotten, 
while the perfect tense is introduced much too late (in Chapter 31 of 34); 
among other considerations, students would better understand the aorist if 
they had the contrast of the perfect close at hand. Enormous emphasis is 
placed on nouns in the first third of the book, as if an attempt was being 
made to get them out of the way. More work on the verb system, for example 
by introducing the perfect tense, would make a manageable addition to the 
stream of nouns, as students usually find the verb system easy to grasp in 
any case. As it is, so many verb forms are piled on at the end that 
students are bound to be confused by forms which should be manageable, a 
problem compounded by the heavy conceptual elements in the same chapters.

Part of the idea in this revision seems to have been to leave some easier 
concepts and forms (e.g. reflexive pronouns in Chapter 24, and indefinite 
pronouns in Chapter 30) until close to the end, in order to offer a rest in 
the section of the book that covers the more difficult constructions 
dependent on the subjunctive and optative moods. As noted above, however, 
shifting a few more challenging concepts forward would have been useful to 
the classroom teacher. Likewise, breaking up the acquisition of the 
principal parts means that the same verbs are introduced several times. It 
might seem that doling out the principal parts piecemeal would make 
learning them easier. But my students, at any rate, consistently find this 
more confusing than seeing the full set of forms early and knowing from the 
start what exists for each verb. Because the principal parts are given in 
spurts, I now hear, “Wait—don’t I already know this verb?”

A final issue with the organization of this book, and one that would be 
easy to address, is the inclusion of traditional construction charts only 
in the appendix, on the ground that they are helpful for English-to-Greek 
rather than for reading. But this is a grammar-based text, and hiding these 
charts in the appendix does not make it any less so. Repeating them within 
the relevant chapters would not take up much more room, and would help 
students better understand the material at hand. Moreover, there are as 
many exercises requiring students to work from English to Greek as from 
Greek to English. As English-to-Greek is the more difficult, adequate 
attention should be given to the techniques involved.

Several of my complaints thus have to do with the revision and expansion of 
this textbook. Many concepts are over-explained within the chapter in a 
quest to simplify the ideas involved. It is as if the book was designed for 
independent study or to train the teacher along with the student, whereas 
if the more complex explanations were moved to a teacher’s manual, the 
chapters would not be as overwhelming for the student. To be clear: the 
explanations offered are thorough and potentially useful, but they are 
excessive for a student’s initial encounter with the material in a 
classroom setting. It would be better to give the teacher a chance to give 
the linguistic background of a concept when appropriate, rather than piling 
all this on at the initial encounter of the form or construction.

Shelmerdine’s Introduction to Greek is thus a useable textbook, but seems 
to have hit some snags in the second edition. What the text needs, however, 
is not a rush to a roughly corrected third edition, but a careful 
reconsideration and thorough editing before the next printing. The general 
concept and plentiful exercises here are what I seek in a beginning 
textbook. But the finished product does not live up to its promise. [[1]]

KEELY LAKE
Wayland Academy

[[1]] I also note my personal distaste for the growing convention of having 
a tilde stand for the circumflex throughout, although I recognize that this 
may be a decision by the press that rests outside the author’s individual 
control.


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