"Non-Academic" Original Languages?

Trevor Peterson 06PETERSON at cua.edu
Tue Dec 17 14:56:51 EST 2002

>===== Original Message From Clayton Javurek <javurek at asu.edu> =====
>Then you have to make a decision:
>Do you want to reach the masses with the minimum language skills?
>Do you want just a select few who will master the language?

I would generally agree, although I would phrase it differently. First, I 
think we tend to underestimate people's ability to learn language. When I say 
"we," I'm including people's perception of themselves. A lot of it is 
priority--if a person devotes enough time, it's possible to learn. I'm not 
saying it needs to or ought to be a priority for everyone, but I don't think 
we should look at it as a gifted minority vs. the bulk of humanity. Second, I 
don't know what "minimum language skills" means as you're using it here, but 
as I've already noted, I would call the alternative to language mastery 
something altogether different. When I think of "minimum language skills," the 
first thing that comes to mind is the basic ability to communicate as a 
foreigner (asking where the bus stop or bathroom is, etc.), which is 
considerably more than a person could do with the sort of learning you're 
advocating. Not that there isn't a place for this kind of learning--I just 
prefer to call it something different. I would put it in the realm of reading 
a commentary. Whether I read commentary X and see that the commentator thinks 
a particular word has meaning Y, or I read tool Z and see that the editor 
thinks a particular word has meaning Y, I'm still taking someone else's 
judgment as evidence. I might go along with it, or I might disagree, but I 
have no personal ability to refute the point. All I can do is look at another 
resource and see if they agree. Now, I realize that the same situation can 
arise when a second-year Hebrew student looks up a word in BDB and compares it 
with the definition given in HALOT, but hopefully at that point the student is 
developing some facility with the language, so that the lexica can be read 
critically, contexts can be examined personally, and the results can be 
weighed against the student's experience reading Hebrew texts. The other sort 
of student can never achieve this point, because they can never work directly 
with the texts.
>Looking at what Mark referring to in his first post, I would surely
>think he was trying
>to reach as many as possible with a bare level minimal language skill.
>That is why you must train the masses with tools and crutches which
>significantly minimize language skills. For what Mark was referring
>to, using the interlinear text and the analytical lexicon is surely
>the best way to go at it.

Perhaps you're sure of that, but I'm not. My point here is not to argue whose 
view is right--only to clarify that I don't think it's a given that these 
tools are all that helpful. I won't rehash the dangers--only point out that I 
think that there are several better tools for the person who is not prepared 
to learn language, especially an English speaker. Scholars have been working 
for centuries to provide detailed commentary and various translation types. 
The amount that a reasonably intelligent person can do with these resources is 
more than the vast majority of Bible readers ever attempt. I have a hard time 
believing that a significant number of people move beyond this level and lack 
the ability or ambition to continue into language learning.

Trevor Peterson

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