[b-hebrew] Re: organic language learning (was: "Basic question on Qal, Piel, and Pual")

Sameer Yadav sameer_yadav2 at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 24 01:04:21 EDT 2003


Your illustration is poignant, and I agree that a
language is best studied in conjunction with its
living tradition.  

However, I wonder if you could make the relation
between the legitimate study of a classical language
and its living tradition more explicit.  Does the
inability of a scholar to interact with the living
tradition invalidate his contribution to the study of
its classical predecessor?  If so, why?  

And if it does not *invalidate* it but in some other
way undermines it or weakens it, then how, exactly? 
Is such an unfamiliarity an Achilles heel to studying
classical Hebrew *in principle*, or must each
scholar's contribution (originating from a lack of
familiarity with modern Hebrew) be examined
individually?  If the latter, then precisely which
points of neglect have the tendency toward errors in
judgment regarding a linguistically adequate
description of classical Hebrew?

This is not intended as a rhetorical way of refusing
to take the problem you raise seriously, but as a
request to focus the nature of the problem, so that,
if legitimate, I can know what to do about it.


--- Deborah Millier <deborahmillier at yahoo.com> wrote:
> T. Peterson wrote:
> > Aside from classical scholars 
> > and people with physical 
> > handicaps, almost no one 
> > reads a language without 
> > knowing how to speak it. 
> > Certainly, living writing 
> > systems are not designed for 
> > people to do so--they are 
> > developed by and for 
> > native speakers and work 
> > because they presume a 
> > certain level of oral 
> > competence with the language. 
> Near the school from which I recently graduated
> (Jerusalem University College) there is a gate
> leading
> into the Old City of Jerusalem:  Zion Gate. 
> Attached
> to an outside wall is a brass plaque commemorating
> one
> of the Israeli Army's Engineering units pulling down
> enemy positions and clearing mines from the gate
> area
> in 1967.  
> One of my Hebrew professors at JUC, Randall Buth,
> was
> taking a well-known hebraist friend of his from the
> States (Randy graciously never revealed his identity
> but assured those of us in class that day that we
> all
> would recognize his name) on a short tour and they
> stopped off at Zion Gate, where the brass plaque
> hangs.  
> "What does that say?," the celebrated author of a
> few
> Hebrew reference works asked my professor.  
> "Read it yourself," replied Dr. Buth.  
> The famed hebraist strained then finally gave up
> saying, "I've tried but I'm used to only biblical
> Hebrew.  It's just no use."  
> Dr. Buth was taken aback.  Here is a plaque that any
> Israeli third grader could read, but this man, the
> author of several authoritative books on the Hebrew
> language, could not make out its simple message. 
> Furthermore, every word on the plaque save one could
> be found in some form in the Bible.  However, the
> Hebrew on the plaque was not pointed or in a
> biblical
> setting and therefore threw the American professor
> off-kilter.  He was used to and quite capable at
> dissecting Hebrew into components for analysis, but
> not used to just reacting to it as a living language
> which can be absorbed and utilized naturally.  His
> is
> not an isolated case.
> On another occasion Dr. Buth was at an SBL
> conference.
>  He ran into a German man who had recently written
> an
> article on some aspect of the Hebrew language and
> published it in JBL.  When Dr. Buth began conversing
> with the man, it became clear that the German
> academic's English was not quite up to snuff to
> discuss certain points.  After several unsuccessful
> tries in rusty German, it dawned on Dr. Buth that
> they
> both had a common language in biblical Hebrew. 
> However, when he tried just a few sentences he
> realized that the man was staring at him
> dumbfounded. 
> "What language was that that you were speaking?,"
> asked the German man.  The author of the article on
> Hebrew could not even recognize the language he was
> such an expert in.  Why?  Because the German man,
> like
> so many of us, was used to reading it as a dead
> language, but could not converse-- much less think--
> in Hebrew as a living language.
> My first two weeks in Hebrew class under Dr. Buth
> were
> spent in a garden without a notebook.  My class
> practiced TPR (total physical response) and acquired
> a
> "feel" for the language, internalizing vocabulary
> and
> grammar before we ever started analyzing Hebrew.  We
> graduated to skits, then texts.  Then paradigms and
> grammar.
> I guess I say all this to illustrate what Trevor
> mentions above: "living writing systems
> are...developed by and for native speakers and work
> because they presume a certain level of oral
> competence with the language."  Few of us on this
> list
> are native (modern) Hebrew speakers.  None of us
> were
> raised in an environment wherein biblical Hebrew was
> what we heard in the kitchen.  But we might do
> better
> pedagogically to treat biblical Hebrew as a real
> language, to be heard and spoken BEFORE we ever
> teach
> students to read and write it.  Much less analyze
> it.
> -- Michael Millier
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