Why are the 1st, 2nd and 3rd declensions called this way?

The Ancient Greek (Roman-era) grammarians, Dionysius Thrax and Aelius Herodianus, were giants that we are in debt of for a lot of our understanding of grammar, and traditional grammar comes from them.

But they did not quite get declensions. They certainly did not get the number of declensions in Greek down to something manageable. We owe a tractable number of declensions to the grammarians of Latin, who got it down to five. The Greek declensions 1, 2, 3 corresponding to the Latin declensions 1, 2, 3, and were arrived at in the Renaissance, when Greek grammar was brought in line with Latin analysis.

From Thematic list, it looks like the notion of five declensions in Latin is original to Priscian, around 500 AD. I’ve browsed through the text of his Institutions of Grammar, and I don’t see anything like an explicit statement of quinque sunt declinationes linguae latinae [there are five declensions in Latin]; he mentions the first declension in passing in his chapter on letters, and as soon as he gets to the noun chapter, he immediately starts mentioning first or fifth declensions without explaining what they are.

That hints that the notion was already familiar, and there are four centuries between Quintilian, the previous major Latin grammarian, and Priscian. (There’s also Aelius Donatus the previous century from Priscian, but he doesn’t mention declensions in his work at all.)

No justification for the ordering is apparent from Priscian, and the ordering certainly has nothing to do with historical reconstruction and Proto-Indo-European; I can guess the motivation for the ordering though. 1st, 2nd, 3rd are very common, 4th and 5th much less so. 1st ends in –a and 2nd in -u(s/m), so alphabetic sorting might be at work; 1st and 2nd are quite regular compared to 3rd, so they could have gone first as easier to learn.

Is the language of engineers in Prometheus based on PIE?

Yes. See the discussion at Proto-Indo-European in Prometheus?, with participation by Dr Anil Biltoo, the linguist commissioned to develop the language for the movie. David practices his Engineer-speak through reciting Schleicher’s fable, the favourite party piece of Indo-Europeanists.

Why yes, Anil does get a cameo in the movie:

As Anil says,

The language of the engineers in Prometheus is not ‘pure PIE’ (whatever that’s supposed to be, given that all reconstructions are hypothetical). A very pertinent comment was posted by NW, on June 8th, addressing the use of PIE by non-linguists. Any dialogue intended to be learned by actors has to be capable of being pronounced, which does not appear to be a quality discernible in reconstructions proposed thus far. If the dialogue in Prometheus appears to contain words that have an immediate resonance with languages known to the viewer, that is all to the good since it is intended (The use of Proto-Afroasiatic would likely have yielded no such result). The emphasis was less on authenticity with respect to what is generally agreed upon vis-a-vis PIE phonology and roots, and more on ease of articulation, sonorousness and the suggestion of a possible connection of ‘Engineer’ with terrestrial speech.

EDIT: The Answer Details come from a deleted scene: The Mysteries Behind The Prometheus Deleted Scenes – A Discussion With Dr. Biltoo. See also Prometheus Bluray Easter Egg – Language of the Gods.

How is Keneh Bosem translated in different versions of the Greek old testament?

So the passage in question is Exodus 30:23.

The place to look up the other Ancient Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures (Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion) is the Hexapla, a collation by the Christian theologian Origen.

A modern edition has been coming for over a decade, so the edition to consult is still Origen Hexapla : Field, Frederick from 1875.

The Septuagint translates the verse as:

Do thou also take sweet herbs, the flower of choice myrrh five hundred shekels, and the half of this two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet-smelling cinnamon, and two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet-smelling calamus,

(Exodus 30:23 – LXX – Do thou also take sweet herbs, the flower of ch…)

The sweet-smelling calamus is the herb kaneh bosem whose translation is contentious.

The Hebrew word בשמים (bosemim, right?) has the note: Οʹ. ἡδύσματα. Ἀ. ἀρώματα. That is, the Septuagint translates it as “sweeteners” and Aquila as “perfumes”. But that’s the word rendered above as “sweet herbs”. The next divergence noted in the Hexapla is the reference to cassia in the next verse. Kassia is noted as an alternate reading; the Septuagint’s reading is ἴρεως, refering to the genus Iris (plant).

Because Origen did not supply an alternate translation for Kaneh bosem, it is likely that the other three translations rendered it the same way as the Septuagint.

The other translations, btw, were often more accurate than the Septuagint, but they were also later. If the knowledge of what the kaneh bosem was, whether calamus or cannabis or chamomile, had already been lost, then the other translations could well have just copied the Septuagint.

How do I fathom the 3rd declension?

And I weigh in too, though my answer is not really different to Desmond’s.

The way to fathom the 3rd declension is via proto-Greek. That’s what the grammars do, whether it’s the most useful thing to do or not.

Focus on the recurring endings: -(ς) -ος -ι -α -Ø, -ες -ων -σι -ας -ες (or -α -ων -σι -α -α in the neuter).

Focus on the genitive singular, because that always clues you in to how the noun’s declension actually works. ἅρπαγ-ος > *ἅρπαγ-ς > ἅρπαξ.

Don’t focus on each distinct pattern of the third declension. For passive recognition, it isn’t worth it.

Resign yourself to the fact that the nominative singular will be strange.

Treat the dirty vowel stems (3, 4, 5 in your list) as separate declensions. You can, with enough concentration, discern the recurring endings there too; but you might as well not; there’s been too much intervening sound change to make it worthwhile.

Do not even bother learning the highly irregular patterns, like ναῦς and ἀνήρ and γυνή. They’ll be frequent enough that you’ll pick them up from context anyway.

Does the use of line breaks in text incentivize (critical) thinking?

I think you could argue the reverse, if anything, though I still think that linebreaks are preferable anyway.

Let me take an historical approach to this.

We use space and punctuation and typography to chop up written discourse into digestible units. Once we have these units, we use our thinking to build up a model of how those units fit into a rhetorical structure: what is a major point and what is minor, what is a supporting point, what is incidental, and so on.

Those devices are specific to written discourse. Spoken discourse has its own devices—including volume, gestures, eye contact, and pitch—to make the structure of what is spoken clear; written discourse did not have access to those devices, and has had to put up its own equivalents.

In antiquity, those devices of writing were rare to non-existent. There were no italics in Ancient Greek; everything was in all caps; punctuation was invented late and used grudgingly. Several ancient scripts used mechanisms to break up words; Greek and Latin were not originally among them. Recall the new-fangled fancy grammatical terminology that Euripides uses in Aristophanes’ Frogs, including sentences. To his old adversary Aeschylus, there are only epea, utterances, which can be as short as a word or as long as the Iliad.

All this made reading laborious. And that was OK: the number of literate people was small enough that reading could be an elite skill, and the culture of literate people was homogeneous enough that they could fill in the blanks (actually, the non-blanks).

The Alexandrians came up with punctuation and paragraphs, though there wasn’t much spacing involved originally. The notion of the punctuated sentence and phrase, and the spaced word, were stable in mediaeval times; the paragraph reinvented via the pilcrow (¶). By the mid-Renaissance, the tools we now use to chop up written discourse into digestible units were all in place.

Those tools made reading less laborious; and with the advent of first printing and then universal education, reading became more widespread.

But stylistic convention still favoured the long, periodic sentence, by emulation of the Classics. Partly this emulated a time when an elite could take the time to pore over the long sentence, and work out how its bits fit together. Partly this emulated languages which had mechanisms for chaining sentences together, which made much more sense in Greek and Latin than they did in French and English. But the sentences are at least supposed to be periodic—meaning, with identifiable subunits and structure that fits together. If you just take the time to concentrate on the connectives, as both the links between the phrases, and (too often) the separators between the phrases, in the absence of generous commas.

If we fast forward from the 1700s to the 2100s, we are now in a time when long periodic sentences are avoided, in favour of short choppy sentences; when long paragraphs are avoided, and indeed criticised as unreadable, particularly online; and when the internal structure of paragraphs and sentences is often made blatant through dot points and indentation.

This is partly fashion, driven I suppose by Hemingway and modernism. Partly, it is that we have to read more than ever before, we have to read stuff we don’t read for fun and leisure, we need to skim, and we don’t have the patience to wrestle with long Dickensian sentences.

So. In the olden days, there was less white space. People had to look carefully for connectives and punctuation, be conversant with rhetorical strategies, and have a decent amount of cultural preparation, in order to make sense of the structure of written text.

Nowadays, there is a lot more white space. The building blocks of the rhetorical structure are much more obvious; conversely, there is much less signalling of what the connection is between the building blocks, via connectives.

I think this means that the vertical space gives people room to think about what the connections are—and they need the room to think, because some of the other structural cues are no longer used or presupposed. I also think this still causes less of a strain than the olden day long sentences and paragraphs did.