Con Campbell Responds to Criticism of his Advances in the Study of Greek

Con Campbell Responds to Criticism of his Advances in the Study of Greek December 14, 2015

Con Campbell’s fine book, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament, received quite a barrage of criticism from Nicholas Ellis and Michael Aubrey in a recent review in Themelios. My good friend Con asked me to post his rejoinder of their critique and I’ve gladly put it up here for all to view.

A Response to Aubrey and Ellis

Years ago I was sitting in a jazz club in Sydney with some friends who were uninitiated in jazz. During a set break we talked about the music we had been listening to, and the conversation turned to the saxophone—my own instrument. One of my friends asked about the origins of the saxophone, and I answered that Adolf Sax invented it in 1840. My friend was amused to learn that Sax shared the same first name as Adolf Hitler, and made a disparaging joke about the saxophone as a result.

A few minutes later, in the restroom, a fellow saxophonist, who had evidently been listening to our conversation, harshly rebuked me. He said, “It’s Adolphe Sax—with a ph!” His point was that Sax should not be associated with Hitler because his first name was spelled differently. I had forgotten this fact, and had unwittingly misled my friends to think that Sax and Hitler shared the same first name.

The other saxophonist was incensed because he loved the saxophone and wanted to protect the honor of its inventor. Also, he wanted to correct my error (he is one of those kinds of people), as minor as it may have been. I was bemused by his reaction, though I will not quickly forget the correct spelling of Adolphe Sax.

I was reminded of that experience in the jazz club as I read the recent review of my latest book, Advances in the Study of Greek, by Mike Aubrey and Nick Ellis in the newly released edition of Themelios. While I thank them for the positive things they say about the book, there are also some harsh criticisms. Some of these may represent genuine errors on my part, but I want to show that this amounts to the same kind of mistake as thinking Adolphe was spelled Adolf. It may really matter to people in the know, but it is almost irrelevant to the people to whom I’m speaking. Linguists are not the intended audience of my book, but rather those who likely have little to no background in linguistics. An irascible rebuke is hardly warranted.

First is the minor critique of my chapter 5, on aspect, and Aktionsart. The chapter is criticized for its “narrow focus, focusing on conversations about aspect and tense that began in the early 1990s between McKay, Porter, and Fanning, now supplemented by Campbell’s own contributions.” The reviewers complain that broader literature, such as by Bhat, Bybee, Dahl (cross-linguistic), and Armstrong, Bak(k)er, Napoli, Rijksbaron, Sicking and Stork (Greek) should have been included. While the reviewers helpfully note at the beginning of their review that the book is not intended to be comprehensive, they seem to forget that point at a few points in their review, and this is one. The reviewers may or may not know that I have interacted with several of the aforementioned Greek scholars in my monographs on verbal aspect. But they were not addressed in this book because (a) it is not meant to be comprehensive, and (b) the focus of the book is on NT Greek scholarship. None of these authors focus on the NT, nor have they directly participated in the conversation about NT Greek. Armstrong and Napoli, for example, are mostly interested in Homeric and Attic Greek.

The reviewers are no fans of the “perfect storm” discussion between Porter, Fanning, and myself, preferring a fourth approach (not stated in the review). Well, that’s fine, but there is no question that we are currently the major voices on the subject within NT Greek scholarship—for better or for worse. We await the reviewers’ own contributions on the subject in due course.

Second, the reviewers critique my handling of Saussure in chapter 1. Their critique takes approximately half the total word count that I devote to Saussure. They claim that I ignore Saussure’s use of the comparative method and its contribution to the diachronic study of European languages. My discussion of Saussure begins by noting, “most of his career dealt with historical rather than synchronic linguistics” (p. 35), but my truncated treatment of Saussure precluded space for much more. They also correct my claim that Saussure established principles that are now foundational to all subsequent linguistic schools (p. 37), noting it is not true of all linguistic schools. The error is one of mild overstatement. We may accurately say that Saussurean principles are fundamental to many linguistic schools, perhaps even most. Such criticism is nitpicking therefore in light of the intended audience.

Third, the reviewers correctly point out that I mistakenly characterize Chomsky’s deep structure as being about “underlying semantic principles” when in fact his deep structure is about underlying syntactic principles. This is a fair point, and the title of the book I cited, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, could have alerted me to this mistake. But was it necessary to devote as many words to make this point as I use in the volume for my description of Chomsky? I thank them for correcting my misstatement, but does it dangerously mislead my audience? Of course not. If one reader decides to start studying Chomsky, they are not likely to misread him because I accidentally used the word semantic instead of syntactic. In fact, I doubt they will even remember my statement. The important point is that Chomsky has been introduced, and, I think, fairly, given the aims and intended audience of my book.

Fourth, the reviewers critique my summary of a few linguistic terms, stating that my chart of the branches of linguistics (p. 58) is unhelpful. They claim that descriptive linguistics “is not limited to the study of specific languages.” On this charge, I will remind the reader that these categories are explicitly drawn from John Lyons’ summaries. If Aubrey and Ellis have a problem with my descriptions, they must also hold that eminent linguist in error too. While they may complain that Lyons is dated (yes), David Crystal (2008) says that descriptive linguistics aims “’to give a comprehensive, systematic, objective and precise account of the patterns and use of a specific language or dialect, at a particular point in time.”[1] That is what I claim, and no more.

The reviewers also complain, “applied linguistics is not linguistics applied to specific functions.” But Crystal says its “primary concern is the application of linguistic theories, methods and findings to the elucidation of language problems which have arisen in other areas of experience.”[2] On these very small matters, I have Crystal on my side, not to mention Lyons. If such statements really are inaccurate, much greater authorities than I are also incorrect. While I can appreciate that such terms may have developed broader reference within the literature generally, I opted for more formal definitions.

Finally, they critique me for focusing on Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), claiming that I have engaged with out of date literature. Actually, the main source for my discussion of SFL is the latest edition of Halliday’s grammar, published in 2014.[3] It had only just been released as I wrote the book! Besides that inaccurate criticism, they say that SFL has been summarized for NT studies already, so I should have focused on a different linguistic school. But therein they have vindicated my choice: it is precisely because SFL has had prominence in NT scholarship that it was appropriate to introduce it to my audience. They need the tools to engage linguistic approaches within NT scholarship, and SFL’s prominence makes it the obvious choice for an introductory book such as mine.I gladly accept that there are other useful linguistic theories with application to the NT, but I decided to canvass only one to give readers a taste.

The reviewers offer the above criticisms to claim that chapters 1–2 of my book are unreliable. I think they are mistaken. While I freely admit that for some of the material addressed in those chapters I am on less comfortable ground in terms of my own research, I took care to ensure accuracy and clarity. Having peers such as Stephen Levinsohn, Steven Runge, and Moisés Silva read the manuscript was one such step toward that goal. While I take full responsibility for any remaining errors, I take comfort in the fact that they do not regard these two chapters as unreliable.

I want to thank Aubrey and Ellis for their overall commendation of my book. However, some of their critiques are wrong, some critiques simply reveal their own preferences, and some are over the top harsh for no useful purpose. I appreciate corrections where needed, but overall the critique stems from a mistaken understanding of my intended audience. To such readers, these issues are about as significant as misspelling Adolphe.

[1]David Crystal, A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics (6th ed.; Malden: Blackwell, 2008), 139.

[2] Crystal, 31.

[3] M. A. K. Halliday and Christian M. I. M. Matthiessen, Halliday’s Introduction to Functional Grammar (4th rev. ed.; London: Routledge, 2014).

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