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

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Thu Jul 24 09:51:36 EDT 2003

Let me add my own experience.

Nobody told me that one year of BH in class was not enough to read Tenakh, so afterwards I started in Genesis, read through to the end of 2 Chronicles, then started again.

While I say that often the Masoritic points are wrong, I couldn’t say that if I didn’t have a reference point to start from, and that reference point is having in my mind how the language should sound in  context. Now I prefer to read the unpointed text, but the pointed text was my nursemaid, telling me how to sound out the words. Before I got a Hebrew text of Tenakh on my computer, I was reading the Qoren edition, or Biblia Hebraica, with a card under the words covering the points, occasionally lowering it so I could see the points where I wasn’t sure how a word fit in. The more I read, the less I needed to lower that card.

I have dyslexia. It was not diagnosed until years after I graduated from college. The way I learned to compensate for it is to sound out words in my mind as I read a text and compare what I hear mentally to how it should sound in its context (no speed reading for me). Before I learned BH well enough to recognize the context, I often misread words. How many times did I look up a non-existant word in my dictionary, or the wrong one, only to realize that my dyslexia had jumbled the letters in my mind? Oooooh! Grrrr! It was even more frustrating before I learned I had dyslexia. However, I think everyone can benefit when he can hear how a language should sound, not just dyslexics.

Another help is to memorize passages, whole chapters if possible. I don’t see how that is possible without being able to hear the language.

A pet peeve of mine is that teachers I had discouraged use of an analytic lexicon. Mine fell apart from heavy use. It was a nursemaid. It held my hands as I learned to walk. Today I don’t need it. How many people are discouraged from reading Tenakh because they try to use scholarly means to understand it when they are still in the analytical lexicon stage?

When reading Hebrew, I think of Psalm 1:2 “ky im betorat YHWH chepetso, ubetorato yehageh yomam welailah” where the “hagah” refers to reading the text out loud, a sort of mumbling to onesself. When I run into a passage that I don’t understand, it often helps to read it out loud. Rarely I need to try out a varient pronunciation or two before I have a meaningful sentence. I understand that Saint Augustine made the first historical reference to reading without reading out loud, putting the Psalm passage in the context that all reading was out loud.

As for IH, I don’t know it. When I hear it spoken, that which I understand sounds like a person from the continent “speaking Ainglisch vis a sick Cherman aksent”. Even though I’m used to looking at the unpointed text, modern Hebrew writing looks wierd. The sounds don’t come out the way I expect. It’s easier for me to read Job than the front page of Ha aretz. I can understand simple, declarative statements that use Biblical wording correctly, but that’s only a small part of modern Hebrew.

Before I started to learn Hebrew, I spoke German and Norwegian, had studied the equivalent of two college years of French and a year of classical Greek. I very quickly realized that BH was quite different and that the best way to learn it was to try, as best as I could, to emulate speaking as a native speaker, the same way I had learned German and Norwegian (as a youth I had lived in those two countries). Even before the two semesters were up, I already noticed that Gesenius/BDB had not studied Hebrew in this manner. It was noticeble in the definitions they gave. As Trevor wrote below, it is important to internalize the language in order to understand it. Since it is no longer spoken, the best way I can think of is to read the text out loud and memorize passages, both which need to recognize vowels.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Trevor & Julie Peterson" <06peterson at cua.edu>
> I think even if a person is not going to learn IH or BH in a format like
> Michael went through, it is important to work on some level of
> internalization. Even the difference between studying vocabulary in one
> direction (for recognition only) and studying it in two (to produce the
> appropriate word for a given thing or concept) is significant. I've
> learned ancient languages according to both systems, and my ability to
> interact with the language was affected dramatically by the method used.
> Reading out loud makes a big difference, too. You can't brush over
> things like vocalization and finer morphological details as easily as
> when you're just scanning the letters with your eyes. With an unvoweled
> text, it really forces you to make sure you understand what's going on.
> (And if you make audible reading a regular practice, when you're working
> on unvoweled texts it forces you to know your morphology. It's a lot
> easier to look at a word, know that it's a D-stem, and vocalize it
> properly on the fly than to stop and look up what the D-stem should
> sound like.)
> There are probably others that I'm not thinking of right now, but I
> think these things are enough. Add the increasing amount of scholarship
> that's being written in IH and the general lack of familiarity that most
> scholars have with post-biblical stages of Hebrew, and I think there are
> a lot of good reasons to pursue spoken fluency.
> Trevor Peterson
> CUA/Semitics
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