Treebanking methodology has proven to be successful in the linguistic analysis of ancient Greek and Latin texts, and it has aroused a continuously increasing interest over the last few years. It is certainly one of the most exciting innovations in the field of Classics. Now it is time to see if it can also play a role in improving traditional education, leading didactics into the digital world.
In spring 2015, I was following a training in the Italian High School “Liceo Classico Socrate”, where I was allowed to lead a little experiment. The school has a solid tradition in Classical education, focused on Greek and Latin culture and language, so it was the ideal environment to test the potential impact of digital tools on the students’ learning process. The theoretical premise for this attempt was that the methodology of translating ancient Greek in Italian High School is similar to the process of dependency treebanking. The traditional method has a strong linguistic attitude: it requires complete analysis of the text divided into single sentences, according to a specific hierarchical structure, and the assignment of morphological and syntactic values to every single element according to traditional grammars. These tasks are performed with very limited use of the dictionary; then, a complete translation follows this established order, in order to ensure an easier conversion of the sentence into the new language. Treebanking seems to reproduce this process closely, but providing an alternative, aesthetically enjoyable and visually useful interface.
The experiment was performed with 22 students of 14 years of age, who were beginners in ancient Greek. These young cavies were involved in a four-days workshop of Ancient Greek Dependency Treebank, which took place in the School’s Informatics Lab. Their regular teacher was an additional and enthusiastic participant.