[b-hebrew] Ancient Language Acquisition

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Tue Mar 2 16:58:05 EST 2004

Dear Philip:

This has two answers, depending on where one 
wants to go with his studies. There are 
advantages and disadvantages no matter which 
side of the coin one chooses.

I personally have chosen the route of knowing 
only Biblical Hebrew. Part of that was 
unintended—I had little access to other 
Semitic languages for many years, and part of 
that was intentional—I wanted to react to the 
language as closely as possible as would a 
native speaker of Biblical Hebrew. Knowing 
other Semitic languages would have made it 
more difficult to achieve my second goal.

For example, I am a native speaker of English. 
I also speak German and Norwegian, and have a 
reading knowledge of French, all of which are 
cognate languages of English. My use of 
English is not pure, but influenced by those 
cognate languages. Likewise, were I to study 
cognate languages to Biblical Hebrew, like 
modern Hebrew, Arabic or others, it would make 
it harder to read Tanakh as I would not have 
as clear an expectation of what I am reading 
(something that is important to me, as I have 
dyslexia, which I was able to overcome by 
reading in context: not having a clear context 
to look forward to makes it harder to read a 

Yigal mentioned that knowing cognate languages 
helps in a scholarly analysis of a language, 
further there is much literature published in 
modern Hebrew concerning the Biblical times, 
its archeology and language, much of which is 
never translated to English.

My conclusion is that there are advantages and 
disadvantages to either route, and what you 
plan to do with your study of Biblical Hebrew 
should end up as a guide as to which route to 

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "A. Philip Brown II" <pbrown at GBS.EDU>

> Trevor Peterson wrote:
> Incidentally, I would be curious along the lines of this thread to know
> what people think about the notion that a person ought to learn Modern
> Israeli Hebrew or spoken Arabic first, before learning ancient Semitic
> languages. The potential disadvantage is that modern speakers sometimes
> assume too much continuity between their language and the ancient forms;
> but if it were done deliberately, I think this hazard could be easily
> avoided
>  --------
> I had two years of modern Hebrew as a 7th and 9th grader, long before
> tackling BH in grad school.  Although I did not achieve fluency in those two
> years, I was a good ways ahead of my fellow grad students. Getting used to
> some of the major grammatical differences between MH and BH took a little
> while, but the overall 'feel' for the language I had acquired more than made
> up for this.
> My one hesitation regarding Modern Hebrew study is that some who teach it
> appear to think this is little to no difference between MH and BH. Such an
> inaccurate assessment of the languages does a disservice to students of BH.
> Philip Brown
> GBS, Cincinnati, OH
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