Monday, December 27, 2021

Another Book on Linguistics?

I am a schizophrenic when it comes to the subject of linguistics. I have an overabundance of passion for the field. For instance, three of my books have the word "linguistics" in their titles. This doesn't include the journal articles I've written in which I've tried to approach a New Testament text from a linguistic point of view. I have a ridiculous number of books on the subject in my library. You get the picture.

On the other hand, I am a downright pessimist when it comes to the application of linguistics to biblical studies. We are not living in the day of A. T. Robertson, where linguistics was basically morphology and little else. You can only do so much with apophony and ablaut, with Grimm's or Verner's Laws. Some of my concerns about how we do linguistics today in evangelical circles are discussed in this interesting video. 

The speaker lists 5 pros and 5 cons of why a person should study the field of linguistics. 


  1. You will gain a fuller understanding of language.
  2. You will learn what makes us human.
  3. You will be able to follow your own interests.
  4. You will get an access to different ways of doing science.
  5. You will not just learn about linguistics. You will learn how to do linguistics.


  1. Studying linguistics is not a vocational training.
  2. Linguistics has internal conflicts.
  3. Linguistic terminology is a mess.
  4. Most linguistics texts are terrible to read. 
  5. Linguistics combines the worst of the humanities and the natural sciences. 

Now let's be clear. If you has asked me in the 1980s to write a book that attempted to integrate linguistics with the field of New Testament Greek, I would have told you to find someone qualified for the task. I've never taken a course in linguistics, never earned a degree in the field, never started a school of linguistics. The reason I did write such a book was that no one else more qualified than I seemed to be interested in doing that. Today, we have the opposite situation. As in textual criticism, we have an embarrassment of riches. Assessing their value, on the one side there are books on New Testament Greek linguistics that helpfully walk our students through an astonishing number of subjects they need to be familiar with. On the other side, I see a failure on the part of writers to communicate effectively with their audiences. As the speaker in the video says: 

It would be unfair of me to say that all linguists are terrible writers. What I can say is that many of the foundational texts that you'll have to read are just plain awful.

The man doesn't mince words. But he is right. This is why new introductory textbooks are needed going forward. Beginning students don't need more SBL papers. "Rabbi, I want to see." Blind Bartemaeus was asking for one of the most basic of human needs. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but my guess is that many students are pleading for basic books that smooth out the internal conflicts in the field, standardize the nomenclature, and are readable and engaging. If I'm taking my cues from many mainstream evangelical linguists, then only experts and Ph.D. students care about linguistics. What the what? I can't shake the idea that there are many beginning students out there who would appreciate learning how languages work.

Will I be writing another book on linguistics? Not on your life. I've paid my dues. So for now, I'll just kick my feet up and watch to see what happens. In 1988, when I published Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek, I was a lot more impudent than I am today. I owned my temporary insanity and published a book that, by God's grace, is still in print 33 years later. But that can't last forever. 

Okay there. I've said it. Now who will take up the mantle?