"Non-Academic" Original Languages?

S. L. lyosovs at cityline.ru
Wed Dec 18 11:28:43 EST 2002

>The extreme form of this method, of course, is to do away with the
>introductory stage altogether. I've never gone through such a format
>but I've heard of classes where instruction in a dead language begins with
>reading directly from a real text in that language. Vocabulary and grammar
>are acquired in context, or at least that's the idea. Memorization is still
>required, but some of the rote qualities are removed. Perhaps some middle
>approach is better than either extreme, but the fact still remains that by
>whatever means material will need to be memorized if the language is to be
>learned adequately.
  As far as dead languages are concerned, I believe textbooks with made-up
texts using syntax not found in the sources  (Lambdin) or phrases taken out
of their contexts and therefore incomprehensible for the student unless
(s)he  consults a translation (Seow) do not lead directly to the study of
the original texts. I mean the gap between the world of textbooks and that
of the original works remains. Every reader  of the BH knows that not so
many verses of the  Bible  are completely  free of philological or textual
problems, and these problems + the limited amount of texts + about 1/3 of
the lexicon  (near) hapaxes  is what makes learning BH distinct from
learning, say, Spanish.
  The textbooks are useful, but mostly for motivated autodidacts  who
(still) do  not have much philological experience  and therefore cannot
start teaching themselves just with a descriptive grammar + lexicon + texts.
Huehnergard's Grammar of Akkadian is to my mind by far the best paragon of a
dead Semitic language textbook, Jenni's Lehrbuch - the best one for BH.
  But if there is a teacher available, I would now prefer - if I were  a
beginning student  of BH - to  start with a real text (Ruth, Gen 37-48,
Jonah, etc.) after having been taught Einleitungsfragen (main periods of the
history of Hebrew, etc ),  the  writing system, elements of phonology and
the basics of nominal and verbal morphology. Normally it would take one some
four lectures to cover these topics, then the  students start exploring a
text on their own using BDB (or HALOT) + a grammar (preferably
Gesenius-Kautsch)  and in  the coming  lessons they get information they
have been  looking for while doing their homework (and much more, of
course).  Well, it is an ideal picture:  the students are supposed to be
motivated and not extremely lazy.
 Within this approach the words are memorised in contexts, due to  constant
re-reading + regular tests. Still one has to learn the paradigms more or
less by rote, but (morh)phonological and historical explanations can make it
an easier and a more interesting task, I mean Barth's law and things like
Do you think it is extreme?
  Serge Lyosov

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