[b-hebrew] Karl's lexicon

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Mon Aug 27 17:13:25 EDT 2007

Dear James:

You asked me how I look up words in a dictionary:

Steps I take when looking up a word in a dictionary (incidentally,
these are the same steps that anyone would need to do when looking up
in any dictionary)

Strip off all waws from the beginning of words with very few
exceptions (there are so few exceptions that they are easy to

Strip off but make note of hehs at the beginning of words. Again words
that start with a heh are rare and easy to memorize. Make note of it
because a heh before a verb indicates a hiphil, while before a noun or
adjective the definite article. Sometimes a heh at the beginning of a
sentence indicates a question, the ancient Hebrew question mark.

Strip off a following yod mem as that almost always is a sign of a
masculine plural. Surprisingly, there are relatively few verbs that
end with a mem that conjugate to a yod mem in the hiphil, and those
are usually easy to recognize.

The next steps require knowledge of basic Hebrew grammar.

Were I to come across a sentence where I didn't know a word, the first
thing I would do is to look over the sentence for obvious grammatical
clues—which is the verb, which is a noun, is there the direct object
sign, in short, what combination of prefixes, suffixes, infixes can I
recognize that tells me what sort of words to look up, what to expect.
I have not listed the regular forms that can be recognized from basic
grammar. However, I do list forms that can be derived from two or more
sources and which are irregular because those are the ones that are
most difficult, and cause the most frustration in a student. The major
source of those irregular forms so far have been my own frustrations
in dealing with irregular forms.

However, now I usually have the opposite experience, that I often can
read chapters without needing to look up a word.

Right now I'm torn between helping students, and the best way to do
so. If I do too much hand holding, will I interfere with basic
language learning? In other words, if they come to depend on me to
supply all the forms, then if they come across a regular form that is
not found in Tanakh, e.g. in the DSS, and therefore I didn't include
it, would they not be lost? If I do no hand holding, will it not
discourage students when they can't find words? What is the best
middle ground? What would you suggest?

On 8/25/07, JAMES CHRISTIAN READ <JCR128 at student.anglia.ac.uk> wrote:
> ...
> Applying a similar count approach to bi-grams only
> 1566 occur more than 10 times. Only 940 tri-grams occur more than 5 times. Only 820 4-grams occur more than 3
> times and only 866 5-grams occur more than twice.
> If we were to decide on a cut off point of minimum
> frequency 20 to qualify for entry into your dicionary
> then the results would be:
> 1-grams = 1,989
> 2-grams =   588
> 3-grams =    93
> 4-grams =    34
> 5-grams =    12
> For a grand total of 2716.
> Now is that really so much work involved to make
> reading over 75% of the Tanakh fluidly accessible to
> learners of all types?
When looking over your 5-grams, I noticed that almost none of them
that I checked contained irregular forms. Irregular forms are also
rare 4-grams. In other words, the words that will cause the most
difficulty and frustration also tend to be used less often.

> 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
> http://www.lamie.org/ngelta
Karl W. Randolph.

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