Computers & Texts No. 14
Table of Contents
April 1997

Learning Greek with Accordance

A.Thomas Kraabel
Luther College

Professor Tom Kraabel describes his use of Accordance, a tool developed for the grammatical analysis of the Greek New Testament, in the teaching of a Biblical Greek class.


The inaugural lecture delivered by Prof. Robert W. Sharples at University College London was on the idea of divine providence in Greek philosophy between 400 BC and AD 1200, but in his concluding section he also had some comments on the state of pre-college education in the UK. He was particularly concerned about currently popular methods of language teaching. 'One of the biggest problems for university Classics departments at present is that of students who have been taught in secondary schools in ways that deny them the grammatical knowledge essential to developing the ability to read Greek or Latin fluently . . . With the introduction of Teaching Quality Assessment in [British] universities, we need to be very careful that misguided approaches to the teaching of classical languages are not imposed on us. Indeed, one of the strongest arguments for computer-assisted learning in the Classics is that by its very nature it tends to emphasize the structural aspects.'1

My own use of the computer, not initially to teach the language but to study Greek texts, brought me to a similar conclusion: Greek is an ideal candidate for some degree of computerized language learning. At least one classical Greek textbook with computer-assisted drills is already on the market.2 It has drawn mixed reviews,3 but will likely be revised and improved; and it is inevitable that others will become available. But in the interim more and more students arrive at American colleges and universities with personal computers, an impressive grasp of computer technology, and a keen interest in applying and extending these new skills. But fewer and fewer of the class of 2001, 2002, and beyond come with any experience of the classical languages: a handful with some Latin, almost none with any exposure to Greek.

If satisfactory 'purpose-built' materials for the computer-assisted learning of Latin and Greek were already on the market at a manageable cost, classicists could capitalize on the technological interests of these incoming undergraduates. For Prof. Sharples is correct: Latin and Greek are particularly adaptable to the computer due to their regular structure and - one might add - to the traditional emphasis of instructors on reading the printed classical text rather than preparing their students to speak, listen to and write in the target language as, for example, the faculties of Spanish or French or German must.

There are surely a few classicists who are attempting to prepare their own instructional materials for the computer.4 However, writing software (for any purpose) consumes considerable amounts of time and finance. The materials which classicists need are unlikely to attract significant 'venture capital' to the commercial software company. Success in the Classics 'marketplace' is not going to produce economic reward of the magnitude which the creator of a new business application or computer game might reasonably expect.

Adapting Research Applications

But for Greek at least, there is an alternative. Readily available software, intended for research purposes, can be adapted to supplement traditional textbooks and classroom techniques. Here I have in mind the materials widely available for the study of the Scriptures. In the United States at least, 1) the traditional 'Protestant' focus on the Bible and the emphasis on its centrality and authority have combined with 2) the 'free church' tradition of independent, self-sufficient congregations and ministers, and 3) the well-known American fascination with technology. The result is a wide-spread 'cottage industry' dedicated to turning the power and the potential of the computer to religious purposes. Products include bookkeeping, scheduling and record-maintenance software and other management tools for the congregation, graphics and other support for desktop publishing, CD archives of traditional texts and music, and quantities of software for personal study of the Scripture.5

Most of the last, the biblical research tools, start from an English translation of the New Testament. The King James (KJV) is almost always available, but more recent alternatives are usually on offer too: the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the New RSV, the New KJV, the New International Version, etc. While some do also offer a Greek text, they are not particularly useful for language teaching because their software is written first for the English and then adapted to the Greek. However, increasingly, products are appearing which work directly from the Greek of the New Testament.6 The balance of this essay will describe an adaptation of one of these, Accordance by GRAMCORD, to classroom use.


The most useful single feature of Accordance is also the most familiar to anyone who has used a computer for classroom teaching: Accordance allows an interactive Greek text to be presented visually in the same way as any other text which a computer might store. Most importantly, it can be projected on a screen in the classroom, making it the focus of attention for every student. A sentence which resists student analysis, a complex and troublesome grammatical construction, even a single word, can be made to fill the classroom screen or printed out, for each student to annotate, diagram, or mark-up in any way they or their instructor find useful. Students report that the lines of Greek become less daunting when they can be seen, controlled and administered in this way.

The heart of this product is a 'tagged' text of the Greek New Testament. The 'tag' for each word includes its 'dictionary form' (the word it would be found under in a basic lexicon) and its parsing information, such things as tense and mood for verbs, case and gender for nouns. The computer sorts and counts these data and manipulates them in familiar ways. Placing the cursor on any word causes the parsing information to appear on a small tablet on the screen. These results may also be projected on the larger screen for classroom use.

In the beginning year the computer can supplement the textbook for classical or Koine ('biblical') Greek to the degree that the instructor finds it productive, although students who want to experiment and go a bit further on their own should be encouraged to do so. After the introductory year the present technology works with reading classes in biblical Greek only (until 'tagged' classical Greek texts are available). This is where the methodology comes into its own, supporting a new format both for the classroom and for student work outside class. What follows are some specifics.

In the first-year Greek class

The majority of American students beginning to learn Greek have their eye on the New Testament, where the language is a simplified form of Plato's or Polybius's, learned in antiquity often as a 'second language' by people who were not native Greeks. Where introductory Koine (biblical) Greek is offered, the kind of text study described here can easily supplement any first-year textbook. In many schools however introductory biblical Greek may not be available. The curriculum begins instead with the more demanding classical Greek. Inserting texts from Accordance into such a course, as is being suggested here, is doubly attractive to many students, providing computer-supported study of a biblical text.

Beginning students can have small quantities of 'user-friendly' real (as opposed to that constructed purely for pedagogy) ancient Greek in their hands from the beginning of the class. The text used as an example here is 2 John, a complete first-century letter all thirteen verses of which can be printed out in 18-point type on one piece of 8.5 in. x 11 in. paper. At its introductory stage it serves the purpose equally well whether the language is biblical or classical. Using one of the first class periods to demonstrate some features of Accordance always piques student curiosity. They quickly become familiar with the computer and software as they use them to analyze ('parse') words and prepare for brief quizzes on the sample texts. Recognizing the alphabet quickly becomes second nature. Students tell of how they can feel the text coming under their control. Greek becomes manageable. For this reason they should be encouraged to begin using Accordance on individual computers as soon as the instructor judges them to be ready.

In these beginning classes the brief sample of 'real' Greek can be used to illustrate new topics as they come up. (In the case of 2 John: subordinate clauses, infinitives, participles). As students activate the parsing figures, they will be picking up the patterns of the language and what Prof. Sharples calls its 'structural aspects.' The well-known interest on the part of many young people to 'play around' with computers, often for hours at a time, can lead to assimilating painlessly a good deal of information about Greek, organized and 'patterned' for maximum utility.

Accordance Screenshot

Fig. 1. The main window shows the first four verses of Second John. The small window, marked 'amplify', may be moved anywhere within the large window or stored out of sight; the bottom of that window displays the parsing for whatever Greek word the cursor is placed upon, in this case the fourth word in 2 John 1:4.

Fig. 1 shows the parsing of an individual word in Accordance. In general, the application's 'parse' command reinforces some basic truths:

After the Introductory Year

Because the computer supports and indeed encourages full analysis of a text, intensive study of smaller amounts of Greek is preferable to the rapid reading of longer passages, for students who have completed the introductory course. Once mastered, such texts can provide patterns of grammar, syntax and sentence structure. Vocabulary-building is straight forward too: the software can provide a full listing of the words used in whatever passage selected. Longer lists may be shortened to quizzes of manageable size by omitting the proper nouns, the extremely common words or those occurring once or twice. Since the quizzes are over the precise vocabulary used in the text the students are studying in class, the assigned reading and the quizzes reinforce each other.

Along with larger portions of real Greek, the second year of a typical curriculum includes a good deal of review. And, indeed, not only then: advanced Greek students in any year will do well to give their attention systematically to details of grammar and syntax. For the instructor using a computer, it is a simple matter to determine where the emphasis in review needs to fall with each new group of students.

Here's an example from a fall semester class scheduled to read the book of Hebrews. The instructor decides that the initial grammar review will be limited to the first five chapters of Hebrews (to keep the number of examples manageable) and will start with the participle. On the first day of term the students would have had no assignment, and may not even bring a Greek New Testament with them; but switch on the computer and projector, and the review can begin. No need to waste a class period, even though instructors in other subjects may be able to do no more than introduce themselves, distribute a syllabus and dismiss early.

The computer highlights seventy-one participles in the five chapters. The instructor picks out several from the first chapter and calls on the class one by one for identifications and any other comments they might wish to make. Soon one student notices an apparent preponderance of nominatives, and asks about it: forty-one of the seventy-one participles, so two quick key-strokes reveal. Another student, sensitive to participles in the genitive case because of a long struggle to master the genitive absolute, notices no more than two highlighted in these ten pages of text. Another quick check revealed a total of only seven genitive participles of any kind; and his count of genitive absolutes turned out to be accurate. The instructor asked him to locate all the genitive absolutes in Hebrews for the next class. The first student and two others were asked to look at the nominative participles and consider whether their relative frequency gave any hint as to the author's style. The software has become a research tool, as they use it to figure out answers to questions and solutions to problems which they themselves had been brought to ask as they observed what the computer could do with their texts.

The software's capabilities suggested to a student in another class an efficient way to becoming familiar with the gospels. She proposed that the class read passages of equal length from each gospel; these samples, done in class with the support of the instructor and other students, would provide a substantial introduction to the Greek of each. Thus prepared, they would be ready to read the full texts - some 68,000 words in all - without taking more class time.

She used Accordance's word-counting capabilities to isolate the first 5000 words of each of the four gospels. It turned out that that meant reading to 9:8 in Matthew, to 7:14 in Mark, 6:18 in Luke and 6:40 in John. In five minutes at the keyboard she had isolated the samples, and created full vocabulary lists for each gospel.

Students in a later class took that research one step further, again on their own. They wanted to know about the frequency of some especially challenging constructions in the four 5000-word segments. They considered subjunctive verbs and also subordinate clauses (including relative clauses) to be among the most difficult challenges in reading Greek. Because they had heard that of the gospel writers Luke had produced the most difficult Greek, they were surprised to find that Luke had managed to compose 5000 words while using only twenty-three verbs in the subjunctive. The other three evangelists required between sixty-three and eighty-seven. Other unexpected results: that John, credited with the simplest Greek, used sixty-one relative pronouns in the 5000-word segment, while the others needed only between twenty-eight and forty-three. And that Luke used only eighty-eight subordinating conjunctions while the others ranged between 126 and 162.

After this exercise the students were no less convinced that John was 'rapid reading' and Luke 'slow going', but they had decided to watch more carefully in order to identify the particular characteristics of each author which made the one easier and the other more difficult.

During that same week of 'playing around' with Accordance they also discovered an error in the Accordance 1.1a identification of relatives (already corrected in 2.0). I was delighted with their initiative, and even more so with what they were discovering for themselves about this language.


Discussions of these experiences with students suggest that the computer also may be breaking down the old distinction between group learning and individual study. Students report that when they study alone, the computer has them mimicking what the class as a whole would do with the same material. The pattern imposed by the computer both on the approach to the language and on the language itself is the same whether preparing for a class, reviewing for an exam, working together in class or studying alone in one's room. Students see this repetition and regularity as a real advantage.

Finally, it is obvious (to me at least) that the computer is a stimulus to student initiative and creativity. Consider the standing joke in many homes that it is usually the youngest person in the family who knows most about computing! Young people who come from such families will likely be less reluctant to take the initiative in new areas which involve the computer. This way of learning Greek becomes another example of the younger teaching the older where the computer is involved.

Not that these ideas are completely new. Thomas O. Lambdin, fabled teacher of ancient languages at Harvard a generation ago, appeared to have instant, total recall of all the elements of whatever language he happened to be teaching. His students once asked him how he kept everything straight. His response was to have them imagine that the space just above his head was taken up with a bank of pigeon-holes, hundreds of them; there he kept - fully sorted - all the necessary bits of whatever language he was currently teaching. Then he pantomimed reaching up and pulling out the form he needed. In his case it would always be the right one; he knew where things belonged for every language taught, (and added new ones on a regular basis). His performance-metaphor reminded his students that the language they were studying had a system and a structure. To them that approach, the invisible pigeon-holes, was the most important thing Lambdin knew. The actual languages were secondary. Now the computer can offer an approach analogous to Lambdin's to every student of Greek.


1. Robert W. Sharples, 'World under Management? Details, Delegation and Divine Providence, 400 BC to AD 1200'. An Inaugural Lecture Delivered at University College London, 1st March 1995, 17 (my emphasis).

2. Donald J. Mastronarde, Introduction to Attic Greek (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) and Introduction to Attic Greek: An Electronic Workbook (1995).

3. See, for example, BMCR 94.5.32 (the book), 95.2.11 (software, beta version), 96.9.13 (software, version 1.01).

4. See Michael Fraser's comments on developments in a related field, 'Greek and Hebrew Tutors on CD-ROM,' Computers and Texts 13 (Dec. 1996), 21-23.

5. For details, see S. Deyo, 'The Wired Bible,' Biblical Archaeology Review (1996) 58-66, 75. The periodical with the significant name Christian Computing [3095 Washington, Raymore MO 64083 USA] is devoted entirely to the larger market.

6. And, more recently, the Septuagint, a pre-Christian translation of the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament) into Greek. Materials for the Hebrew scriptures based on the Hebrew are also available; see Deyo's article again. A similar increase is apparent in the production of books and other printed material about computer-assisted Bible study.

Information about Accordance 2.1 for the Macintosh is available from OakTree Software Specialists at Details of GRAMCORD for Windows are available from

[Table of Contents] [Letter to the Editor]

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