[b-hebrew] Beginners unpointed text reading course

JAMES CHRISTIAN READ JCR128 at student.anglia.ac.uk
Fri Aug 24 02:50:13 EDT 2007

KWR: Getting back to teaching unpointed Biblical Hebrew, the biggest
challenge that I can see is in teaching students to recognize the
different binyanim. In teaching Masoretic Hebrew, we can say "This set
of points define a Qal, and this other set a Piel" and so forth, but
without the points, the difference between the Qal, Piel, even many
Hiphils, Hophals, Niphals, etc. will have to be recognized by their
function in context as their consonantal forms are often identical.
Have you given any thought to this question? How would one teach to
recognize those functions? Have you given any thought to teaching
students to recognize functions?

JCR: If we are to make the assumption that the aim of 
the course is to bring the student to an instinctive 
reading of the text similar to that of a native Hebrew 
then I would make the following observation.

The level of analysis of the Hebrew verb system we
refer to as the Qal, Hiphil etc. is the invention of 
medieval Hebrew grammarians and while useful for a 
high level analysis of the language provides little use 
for understanding the text. I would suggest that your 
average native Hebrew had little more than a passive 
understanding of these forms and was more concerned 
with the meaning of words in context than in their 
actual form and in the grammatical conventions used 
(none used at that time to the best of my knowledge) to 
describe them.

I would therefore treat these consonants as any other 
combination of consonants which have multiple possible 
pronunciations. I would leave the context to dictate 
the correct pronunciation and therefore the meaning. 
This is why I feel that my n-grams are such useful 
units of teaching. They are ready made natural lexical 
chunks that can already provide enough collational 
evidence to make the decision.

Regards the use of images as a learning aid. I guess 
the thing I really liked about the book is the fact 
that it is language independent. Anybody of any nation 
could pick that book up and learn basic Hebrew 
vocabulary and phrases independently of their mother 

Another thing I like about it is the fact that it 
represents the natural way of learning language - 
associating words with objects/situations. The main 
problem with second language learning is that in the 
process of associating target language labels with 
first language labels the student is running the risk 
of falling into traps of assuming that there is a 
100% 1:1 mapping of concepts. Another problem with this 
method of learning is that it inhibits the student's 
ability to start thinking in the target language 
because instead of going from:

cognitive understanding -> audible label

they go from:

cognitive understanding -> audible label in first language -> audible label in target language

and so are taught from the very outset to translate 
mentally rather than to understand directly.

Another point in favour of the use of images is the 
psychological research that different learners learn 
in different ways. Modern English courses are based on 
this philosophy and generally present a good mix of 
images, texts, audio samples to take advantage of the 
whole array of learning mechanisms.

Perhaps, a mix of images and first language equivalents 
would be the best way forward. What do you think?

Anyway, I forgot to mention pronunciation. Perhaps the 
first chapter should be dedicated to syllable 
pronunciation. Traditional grammar tend to deal with 
pronunciation on a per letter basis but I feel that 
this betrays the natural mechanisms of phonetic
training. In every language I know of natural phonetic 
training consists of phonetic training at the syllable 
level. Perhaps our course should also follow this 
tried and tested model.

Any thoughts? Feelings?

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

ys the natural mechanisms of phonetic
training. In every language I know of na

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