[b-hebrew] Using an unpointed text

JAMES CHRISTIAN READ JCR128 at student.anglia.ac.uk
Sun Aug 26 04:13:11 EDT 2007

YS: No.  First, the original statement in the sbl-site article is:
"My students are required to learn the vowels for forms such
as the strong verb and some pronominal suffixes. This is
mainly for pronunciation purposes. For most other verb forms,
they must know consonantal changes ..."  This hardly
suggests that the data for the Massoretic text should not be

JCR: Sorry! I thought you were debating with Karl and I 
and whoever else on this list sees the benefits of 
reading unpointed hebrew primarily and using the 
Masoretic text only secondarily. I didn't realise that 
the author of this article was a member of the list. 
In any case I haven't seen him respond yet. Until he 
does would you like to debate the opinions of 
participating members making careful attention not to 
misrepresent their views as they have been clearly 
expressed for your convenience?

KWR: Karl has his own idea of a syllabic structure
for Hebrew that is odds with both the Massoretic tradition
and all spoken and written Semitic languages.

JCR: No he doesn't. He expressed a workable historical 
model and the pros for it. He made it quite clear that 
he is undecided either way because of the lack of 
decisive data. I respect your experience with Hebrew 
and its cognates and I respect your active participation 
in this list which has helped many issues to be 
resolved. You have always proved to be on hand to 
provide useful and relevant data from academic sources.
However, I cannot respect your occasional 
misrepresentation of other member's views, especially 
when they have been so clearly spelled out for you.

YS: You
suggested a "Beginner's unpointed text reading course"
which "should bring the student to be able to read and
understand as much authentic (non-doctored) hebrew text as
possible in as short a time."  If you think one can learn to
read unvocalized Hebrew without having first mastered
vocalized Hebrew, or if you think this doesn't mean "abandoning
Massoretic data," you're mistaken.

JCR: Well you can safely rest assured that this is not 
my view and that I am not as mistaken as you 
misrepresent my views. Nobody is suggesting teaching 
Hebrew without vocalisation. Just how would students 
pronounce the words they read? All I am suggesting is 
teaching students to read vocalised Hebrew without the 
need to have printed, potentially incorrect, vowel 
points on the medium they are reading from. I am 
suggesting that students should be familiarised with 
the variant vocalisations that the same consonants can 
have and to be taught to make good use of context to 
make the decision. Where do we get the possible 
vocalisations from? Yes! That't right! From the 
massoretic tradition. Now, just how could you possibly 
label that as 'abandonging the Massoretic tradition'.
The Massoretic text is an excellent reference point for 
passages with genuine ambiguities. When the student 
comes across such a genuine ambiguity there are several 
questions they can ask themselves:

1) What are the possible readings?
2) Which readings make sense?
3) Statistically speaking, which reading is most likely?
4) Which reading would my instincts prefer?
5) What does the Massoretic tradition prefer?
6) What does the LXX tradition prefer?
7) What does the Vulgate tradition prefer?
8) If my instincts are contradictory could I make a strong linguistic case for abandoning the Massoretic, the LXX and the Vulgate traditions?

YS: Being able to spot
potential ambiguities comes not from learning the unvocalized
text, but from learning the vocalized text to such a degree
that one can understand the various vocalizations each word
can take.

JCR: Agreed! Where we differ is in my opinion that it 
is better to practice reading a vocalised text without 
vowel points to reach this level of understanding.

YS: In general, my position is that one needs to be adept at the
Massoretic tradition, as well as be familiar with one additional
NWS language (preferably Ugaritic or Phoenician), and have
access to some relevant resources (DNWSI, HALOT).

JCR: Knowing a cognate well could help but does not 
automatically give a superior knowledge. Nor does 
owning good reference works automatically give a 
superior knowledge. You evidently have good knowledge 
of cognates and of reference works to the point where 
you can find relevant academic references in very 
short periods of time for participation in discussions.
But ask yourself this honest question - if you were 
to abandon your reference works for a day and pick up 
a photocopy of the Isaiah dead sea scroll just how 
confident do you feel in your ability to read the 
entire scroll with no reference to the Massoretic 
tradition and no reference to any other form of 
knowledge base than information that you have in head 
as a result of hands on experience with Hebrew text?

YS: With
all this preparation, one can then begin to analyze such texts
as the DSS, nor will it be an experience where one can pick
up a text and read it through.  Being able to read it through
with some effectiveness may be acquired if one is adept at
the Massoretic tradition, but it should also be clear at this
point that one could easily make mistakes.  Careful
analysis of each word would be necessary, considering
carefully all alternatives.

JCR: Actually, for the experienced reader of unpointed 
text most of the reading would be routine. The 
ambiguities form the vast minority of the reading and 
the reader that is used to reading unpointed text is 
likely to have better instincts which resolve those 
ambiguities in faster times with no need to refer to 
traditions or reference works.

In summary, you generally get better at doing what you 
practice. A reader who practices reading text with 
vowel points will get better at reading text with 
vowel points. A reader who practices reading text with 
consonants and matres lectionis only will get better at 
reading text with consonants and matres lectionis only.
You get as better at swimming by practicing 
hang-gliding as you do by regularly swimming. Do you 
have any plausible objections to this basic observation?
If not, then I really don't see your problem.


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


anslation using the Aleppo codex 
http://www.lamie.org/lad-sim.doc  -  thesis2: language acquisition simulation


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