[b-hebrew] Hebrew and the Elements of Language

JAMES CHRISTIAN READ JCR128 at student.anglia.ac.uk
Thu Aug 23 07:18:51 EDT 2007

KWR: Two questions:

1) Does the sequence of learning indicate importance in a mature
language, or can what was learned earlier become overshadowed by later

2) Does frequency = importance, i.e. what is used most commonly is
also the most important, or can there be a hierarchy of value so that
a linguistic element that is used less often yet can trump a
linguistic element that is used more often?

JCR: Very valid questions which deserve well thought 
out answers. Obviously I am no expert but I will try 
my best to give plausible explanations which fit a 
workable framework of psycholinguistics and of 
cognitive psychology.

I want you imagine the human brain as a computational 
device. However, do confuse the brain with the inferior
devices which sit on our desktops and are able to 
process one piece of information at a time (or two if 
you have a duo). No, I want you to imagine our brains 
as a massive network of reprogrammable circuits (built 
by connections by neurons) with the ability to process 
in parallel. Every stimulus you receive, audible or 
visual, provokes the creation of a new circuit. The 
recreation of that circuit results in recall. With this 
massively complex network of reprogrammable circuits 
you have the ability not only to build an unlimited 
database of cognitive experiences but also the potential 
ability to recall each and every one of them by merely 
stimulating the reformation of the original circuit 
associated with original cognitive stimulus.

I now want you to imagine a child that is born with a 
blank mental state. The neurons in its brain are not 
yet aligned into the complex network of a mature adult 
with many cognitive experiences and 'memories'. It 
merely has a blank slate combined a series of hard wired 
circuits which make its body complete its day to day 
functions and a set of hard wired circuits which 
distinguish it as a 'human' baby. This set of hard 
wired circuits equips the baby with everything it needs 
in order to grow into a skilled adult with a provable 
record of intelligent achievements, they equip the baby 
with 'learning algorithms'. The most powerful of which 
is the starting point in any learning cycle with starts 
with zero knowledge, the inductive learning algorithm.

The inductive learning algorithm is the algorithm which 
allows an agent to observe objects and make 
generalisations. e.g. Baby sees 'Barny', the pet dog. 
Barny is dog shaped, has four legs, barks and wags its 
tail. Baby sees 'Freddy', the neighbours dog which also 
is dog shaped, has four legs and barks. Baby makes 
generalisation that all dog shaped objects have four 
legs, bark and wag their tails. Baby, if old enough to 
understand the word 'Barny' will probably point to dogs 
in the park and say 'Barny' because "All dogs are 
called Barny, right?".

As this baby travels through life its cognitive circuits 
are being constantly stimulated and the blank slate it 
was born with slowly matures into a complex network of 
circuits representing its cognitive experiences. 
However, these circuits are reprogrammable and as the 
baby matures its database of dogs and dog associated 
behaviour matures and is built upon the foundation of 
its first experiences with Barny, their pet dog. 
While the hardware for recalling cognitive experiences 
is reprogrammable there will always be a trace of first 
experiences which a more mature understanding will be 
built on. So child A whose first experience with Barny 
as the lovable playful animal is much more likely to 
have a positive database of cognitive dog experiences 
than child B who was bitten Barny and viciously barked 
at the first time they met.

I hope that has partly answered question 1 which is by 
no means a simple question and calls into play very 
deep psychological factors which I have merely touched 

Onto question 2:

What is important to a child is very different (apart 
from the need to feed and drink etc.) from what is 
important to an adult. The high frequency of the use 
of names of close relatives and toys used by a child is 
a strong indication of what is important to itself just 
as the high frequency of the use of the words Yhwh, 
Isreal, sons of [Isreal], king [of Isreal] is a strong 
indication of what was important to the spiritually 
mature minds of the prophets and authors of the Hebrew 
corpus in general. 

On the question of nouns vs' verbs etc. I ask you to 
consider the following linguistic dilemma. Imagine you 
have an ancient inscription to deal with. The inscription 
is incomplete but the original read something like:

And Yhwh said to the King...

Which partial inscription would be more meaningful to 

a) ...Yhwh...to the King
b) And...said...

Partial inscription a) is the kind of thing you would 
typically hear a child say in one of the early phases 
of linguistic development and can be meaningful to 
a mother. For more examples see of child like speech 
see section 3 of 

I'm not saying that version b) is completely 
meaningless. A good linguist with good instincts could 
extract a lot from it. I'm just saying that the object 
oriented quality of languages makes sentence a) 
prefereable and in a wider context far easier to 

Consider the wider context:

And Yhwh said to the King 'Take the soldiers'

a)...Yhwh...to the King 'Take the soldiers'
b)And ... said ... 'Take the soldiers'

In version a) it is routine to guess the missing verb.
In version b) it is routine to guess the missing 
somebody said to somebody but just who remains a 
complete mystery.

KWR: An example of the first is when first learned, "Pretty is what looks
good", can it later change to "Pretty is as pretty does"? Upon
maturation the verb becomes more important than nouns? 

JCR: It is of course the behaviour of objects that primarily 
affects our cognitive understanding and therefore our 
ultimate opinion of them. But without a noun to 
associate behaviour to the actions become meaningless. 
Just what are we to associate the cognitive experiences 
of behaviour to?

KWP: Or what defines
(WP in Tanakh is not the looks, rather the action, namely these are
all creatures that fly, including locusts and bats?

JCR: Now this is an interesting question. You may be 
interested in reading my language acquisition simulation 
project, http://www.lamie.org/lad-sim.doc . It touches 
on psychological research into the stages of development 
of categorisation by Rosch et al. In summary, there are 
three basic types of object categorisation:

i) Superordinate
ii) Basic
iii) Subordinate 

Taking dogs as an example. The basic category would be 
'dogs', the superordinate category would be
'quadropeds' and a subordinate category could be 
'dalmations'. Children get a grasp of basic 
categorisation first, then superordinate and then 

What you are referring to is a level of superordinate 
categorisation and my suspicions are that it is not so 
much the ability to fly as the possession of wings that 
qualifies the object into this superordinate category.

In any case, again, just what will our Hebrews attach 
the cognitive idea of flying to if they have no memory 
of any objects that fly? Everything will therefore, 
always reduce to objects (attributes and behaviour) in 
any spoken human language.

This brings us onto a point of interest in Hebrew 
linguistics. The concept of 'Yhwh'. Very real in the 
minds of the authors of the Hebrew canon yet the most 
abstract of concepts immaginable to the mind of a child.
What is a Yhwh? What shape does it have? What colour is 
it? Where can I see one? Given the cognitive nature of 
the foundation of our understanding it is easy to see 
why cognitively driven Isrealites would rather serve a 
Baal (which they could touch and see) than a Yhwh 
which by and large they had to see and hear with eyes 
and ears of faith.

Anyway, back onto discussion about reading courses (if 
you are still interested). I once saw a small book 
which made use of cognitive learning mechanisms by 
teaching common words by associating them with pictures . The book progressed into teaching small phrases by 
associating them with cartoons with clear interactions 
between the subject and the object. Any thoughts? 

James Christian Read - BSc Computer Science 
http://www.lamie.org/hebrew - thesis1: concept driven machine translation using the Aleppo codex http://www.lamie.org/lad-sim.doc - thesis2: language acquisition simulation

hem with cartoons with clear interactions 
between the subject and the object. Any thoughts? 

James Christian Read - BSc Computer Science 
http://www.lamie.org/hebrew - thesis1: concept driven machine translation using the Aleppo codex http://www.lamie.org/lad-sim.doc - thesis2: language acquisition simulation

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