[b-hebrew] Ancient Language Acquisition

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Tue Mar 2 19:35:15 EST 2004

This raises an interesting question: how far 
apart in language change can we get before we 
have confusion?

Let’s take English as an example:

For me, Shakespear and the KJV translation are 
actually harder to read than Chaucer. The 
former sound so similar to modern English that 
the differences rise up to bite me. I have 
never been taught where Elizabethan English 
differs from modern English, therefore I’m not 
looking for those differences, therefore I 
don’t recognize many of them, with the result 
that I often misunderstand passages. With 
Chaucer, OTOH, I don’t expect to understand 
it, I am more ready to look up what I don’t 
understand and as a result I make fewer 
mistakes. Beowulf is closer to modern 
Norwegian than modern English, therefore I 
read it as a foreign, cognate language. (By 
the way, what’s a “grendel” or “grindel”? 
Apparently it was a large, nocturnal, bipedal 
carnivore that had large jaws but small and 
weak forearms which tended to live in 
marshlands. Similarly, how many animals 
mentioned in Tanakh are now extinct?)

If a person is taught modern Hebrew and 
Biblical Hebrew where the differences in 
grammar, overlapping but different vocabulary, 
are taught, sort of like the differences 
between modern English and Chaucerian, a 
student who is not a scholar may be able to 
keep them apart, but if he is taught all these 
plus all the intermediate steps, will not his 
understanding end up being a rather mish mash 
of all and not really understanding any of 
them well? That is, unless he has the time to 
become a scholar?

As for Biblical Hebrew, its use seems 
remarkably consistent with little evidence of 
dialectal differentiation. The biggest 
difference that I noticed is chronological: 
books written before Galut Babel such as 
Isaiah and Jeremiah, tended towards complexity 
while those written afterwards, such as Ezra 
and Nehemiah, tended towards greater 
simplicity. Yet even there, the grammar and 
vocabulary tended to remain consistent.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: Jonathan Walther <krooger at debian.org>
Date: Mon, 1 Mar 2004 18:22:58 -0800
To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Ancient Language Acquisition

> On Mon, Mar 01, 2004 at 06:39:02PM -0500, Trevor Peterson wrote:
> >can exercise, but even then there are questions of whether samples from 
> >the biblical corpus represent one or several dialects. It would seem 
> >counterproductive for students to internalize a conglomerate that is not 
> >really any one dialect.
> When I learned to read English as a lad, I did just that; I steadily
> read my way backwards from Alice in Wonderland, to Howard Pyle, to
> Shakespeare, to Chaucer.  Beyond Chaucer I could not go; Beowulfe feels
> very familiar, but is gibberish as far as comprehension goes.  My
> English is a conglomerate of all the variations and developements from
> the past thousand years.  Would it be a bad thing to understand ancient
> Hebrew or koine Greek in the same way?
> Dialects are always forming and disappearing; is it really productive to
> worry about separation of dialects when my experience of English is that
> a broader view allows all dialects to be expressions of a single, rich,
> underlying language?
> Jonathan
> -- 
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