[b-hebrew] Using an unpointed text

JAMES CHRISTIAN READ JCR128 at student.anglia.ac.uk
Fri Aug 24 05:43:07 EDT 2007


Hi Yigal,

YL: The post below emphasizes why insisting on teaching the text without the 
Masoretic points is so problematic.

JCR: It's not so much an insistence as making reading 
the text unpointed more accessible to students who 
recognise the linguistic benefits of doing so. A market 
which seems, at present, to be uncatered for.

YL: Any native speaker of a language grows 
up learning his language's grammar "naturally"

JCR: And so I am sure why you can appreciate that 
learning Hebrew via a similar method would lead to 
greater instinctive understanding of the text.

YL: it is only the non-native 
speaker who must actually "learn" the rules.

JCR: Must? I am a non native speaker of parts of eight 
modern languages. I can assure that the wrote learning 
of grammar rules has had little to do with this 
achievement.

YL: Compare the way in which an 
American high-schooler "knows" English, with the way in which a European 
teenager learns it

JCR: Yes! In a traditional classroom the student is 
brainwashed with grammar rules to which there are more 
exceptions than cases where the rule actually applies. 
Their first attempts at speaking English generally 
consist of attempts to form phrases by using poorly 
pronounced versions of English words combined with 
their native grammar and frequently run into confusing 
situations which usually a prompt a question of the 
form "But my teacher said...". After going through 
this painstaking sequence they, if they are lucky, 
eventually realised that the only way to master the 
language is the old fashioned way, through hands on 
experience, and actually start making something that 
can be called progress.

YL: Speakers of Hebrew in the Iron Age and in the Second Temple Period did not 
need the nikkud - the nuances of their language came "naturally".

JCR: Please allow me to relate some of my valuable 
experiences as a CELTA qualified English teacher. I 
used to own a small chain of English schools in North
Italy, the Trentino-Alto Adige region to be more 
specific. One of my schools was on the dolomite 
mountains. An area which is a popular training ground 
for Italian Olympic athletes. In my courses I had a 
mix of students ranging from locals who wanted to know 
a bit of English for when they were on holiday or to 
speak with tourists in their own valley to dedicated 
Olympic athletes who needed English as a medium of 
communication for television interviews after winning 
a race or event of some kind. 

The athletes were typically non academic folk whose 
knowledge of English was the result of hands on 
experience, travelling the world and using English as 
a medium of international communication with athletes 
of other nations. Trying to explain grammatical 
structures to these guys usually provoked the kind of 
expression of strained mental effort you see from 
beginning Hebrew students who are told that Hebrew 
verbs do not grammaticalise tense and just can't get 
their heads around the concept. Forcing the point and 
insisting on teaching grammar rather than functional 
language to these students is usually more detrimental 
than beneficial to these students.

Yet of all the students, including your academic 'gimme 
more grammar' types, they demonstrated the most 
accurate understanding of English grammar by their 
ability to form functional and grammatically sound 
phrases in contexts which fit perfectly.

Contrast this with the case of Alberto de Chiusole, one 
of my best students who was already over the age of 70 
when he found his way into one of my classes. Alberto 
is a very nice man and the owner of Hotel Sole, 
http://www.hsole.it/ , a very nice hotel in a gorgeous 
location if ever you get the chance to go. When I met 
Alberto he was one the many victims of the grammatical 
method of teaching and on paper in tests of 
grammatical nature he outperformed everyone in the 
class, including the fresh out of uni kids that had 
undergone similar fruitless grammar bashings. However, 
when Alberto started to speak it was painstaking. After 
patiently waiting for the poor bloke to formulate and 
poorly pronounce an unintelligible yet grammatically 
correct phrase you had already forgotten what you had 
asked him. Alberto is a rich man and he paid for and 
sat through a number of expensive private lessons with 
me the large focus on which were not linguistic in 
nature but largely constituted in helping Alberto 
understand why so much study had led to such poor 
oral results. After about two years of moulding Alberto 
into a language learner with good linguistic instincts 
(it is not true, you can teach an old dog new tricks, 
it just takes that little bit longer) it all finally
clicked into place and he started being functional 
about the whole thing. He stopped insisting on talking
about grammatical forms in Italian in our lessons, let 
go of his fear and started to speak in our meetings. 
Shortly following this he purposefully employed two 
New Zealand girls (with virtually no knowledge of 
Italian) to work as Animators in his hotel. He had them 
sit at his table each meal and converse with him and 
the family. His improvement was exponential. Within 
a matter of weeks he was rabbiting away grammatically 
correct and contextually functional phrases at close 
to native speed with none of the old analytical 
approach to phrase formulation but relying on his 
new linguistic instincts. I was both happy and sad 
when Alberto stopped coming to private lessons. Happy 
because of the sense of satisfaction that my job had 
been done and that Alberto was now an independent 
learner but at the same time sad as I had grown 
accustomed to regularly meeting with Alberto and it 
felt like I was losing one of my very best friends.

YL: And while 
it is true that by the time of the Masoretes nobody had been a "native" 
speaker of Biblical Hebrew for a thousand years (well, let's not argue about 
the dates), there was an unbroken tradition of how to read the text and what 
it meant. Now "unbroken" does not mean that the Masoretes pronounced every 
word exactly as Isaiah would have, and of course there are mistakes and 
corruptions in the Masoretic tradition, but it does mean that they had a 
whole lot of knowledge, which our just throwing out the window would be 
foolish.


JCR: Nobody is suggesting throwing it out of the 
window. It certainly has its place as a reference 
point for a workable model of pronunciation matters 
but it has no role in helping students gain the 
instinctive level of understanding a native Hebrew had.

YL: In a way, the Masoretes represent the transition from those who could read 
the Bible as "natives" (not in the sense that they spoke Hebrew on the 
street, but that they did learn the text and its pronunciation as children), 
and those who needed aids to guide their learning. The Masoretes provided 
those aids. I'm sure that they can be improved upon - but assuming that we 
know better and throwing them out seems nonsensical.

JCR: For me the achievement of the masoretes was that 
in a time when the traditional reading of the text was 
in danger of dying out and being lost entirely they 
provided a reference point of what their traditional 
reading was at the time. From a historical and 
linguistic point of view this provides a wealth of 
useful information. But as stated above, this 
reference point has little use for bringing a student 
to the point where he can instinctively read the 
unpointed text of rich finds such as the DSS.

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






















































































provides a wealth of 
useful information. But as stated above, this 
reference point has little use for bringing a student 
to the point where he can instinctively read the 
unpointed text of rich finds such as the DSS.

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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