Creating a Dynamic Grammar of Ancient Greek

Posted on 11 November 2014

Talk: Yannick Anné and Toon Van Hal (U of Leuven), “Creating a Dynamic Grammar of Ancient Greek”.


Date: Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Time: starting at 17:00 c.t. (i.e. 17:15)

Venue: TOPOI Building Dahlem, Hittorfstraße 18 D-14195 Berlin (map)


The paper will present an ongoing research project (Γ-project from now) aiming at designing a dynamic grammar of Ancient Greek. Just as many other languages, Ancient Greek is characterized by a complex interplay between its rich morphological features, its wide range of semantic roles and its diverse syntactic functions. The nodes where these three types of features intersect are commonly known as grammar rules. This means that grammatical rules, in sharp contrast to their static presentation in grammar books as well as online grammars[i] can be regarded as the result of many-to-many relationships. To secure its dynamic structure, the Γ-project is constructed around these many-to-many relationships. Exploring these relations, students will acquire Greek language skills, while also acquiring a more profound knowledge of language structures. Hence, the Γ-grammar will be a novel instrument for learning and understanding ancient languages. As the technology of Γ-grammar will be available under a Creative Commons license, a similar application for other (ancient or modern) languages would be conceivable.

The first part of the paper will illuminate the functions of the Γ-application. After explaining what kind of information each individual grammar node contains and how this information has been collected, the flexible structure of the grammar will be demonstrated. More specifically, each node offers:

  1. a GRAMMATICAL RULE, written in a formulaic style (e.g. “The dative marks the Recipient as an indirect object.”);
  2. a succinct EXAMPLE illustrating the rule, as well as a number of more extensive examples, all linked to the Perseus database;
  3. an indication of the rule’s (RELATIVE) FREQUENCY (based on text corpora and treebanking initiatives). This frequency also impacts the LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY assigned to each node;
  4. supplementary information, e.g. the relevant HISTORICAL BACKGROUND;
  5. clickable GRAMMATICAL TAGS providing both general and cross-linguistic background.

On the basis of a threefold taxonomy of tags, identifying respectively the relevant formal, semantic, and syntactic features, the Γ-grammar allows students to filter out grammar rules by means of a purpose-built faceted search tool in a Drupal environment. Hence, students can use the grammar starting from:

a. the formal level (for recognizing constructions while reading); b. the semantic level (for active prose composition); c. the syntactic level (for understanding language structures).

The ‘level of difficulty’ functions as a supplementary filter.

The second part of the paper will discuss avenues for further development. Being built in a Filemaker relational database, the structured data of Γ-grammar can be easily converted and exported to various formats, thus ensuring future sustainability. The grammar can be expanded by creating tags related to specific genres, periods and authors of Greek. Faceted search allows for the creation of an extensive grammatical reference work, without discouraging or deterring the less advanced student. The possibilities of quasi-automatically generating grammar exercises (with instant feedback) will also be demonstrated.


[i]: See, for instance, the Internet Grammar of English; the grammis 2.0 project of the Institut für deutsche Sprache, revolutionary in its use of hyperlinks; the Alfagram project, which is in part dynamic (for a description, see Desmet, Piet, Ludo Melis, Gino Vleminckx, Yannick Sturbeaux, Peter Jacobs, and Dirk Speelman. “Un environnement puissant pour l’apprentissage de la grammaire du FLE: le projet ALFAGRAM.” In Actes des Colloques Usages des nouvelles technologies et enseignement des langues étrangères UNTELE / Réd. Abdi Kazeroni. - Compiègne: Bibliothèque de l’Université de technologie de Compiègne, 1:87–100. Colloques Usages des nouvelles technologies et enseignement des langues étrangères UNTELE. Compiègne, 2001.


Or you can download the slides from here (2,7 MB).




Or you can just download the video files (.mp4): talk (350 MB) ; discussion (263 MB).