[b-hebrew] Karl's lexicon

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Tue Aug 28 11:45:38 EDT 2007

Dear James:

On 8/28/07, JAMES CHRISTIAN READ <JCR128 at student.anglia.ac.uk> wrote:
> Hi Karl,
> ...
> JCR: There is no need to *teach* grammar. The human
> brain is hardwired to figure it out for itself. In
> fact, being taught grammar is the most unnatural and
> way of learning grammar that can possibly be conceived.
As a father, I taught grammar to my children. No, it was not in
formalized classes, rather in many mini-lessons that lasted at most
only a few minutes for each. Those lessons included teaching about
grammaticalized tenses and the difference between singular and plural.
Those lessons definitely included many of the finer minutiae of
grammar, and lasted even up into high school.

When learning a second language, the amount of grammar needed to learn
varies depending on how much the second language differs from the
primary language. For an English speaking person, learning French,
German, Spanish, Italian or any of the other close European languages,
there is not much grammar needed to learn to start speaking those
languages, because most of the grammar is already shared between those
languages, such as grammaticalized tenses, quantities, and so forth.
Even the word order for simple sentences is the same.

But let's say I wanted to speak Japanese, the amount of grammar I
would need to learn in order to be understood is greater, as the basic
structure of a simple sentence is subject, subject marker, object,
object marker, verb. Or Cantonese, while it has the same word order as
English, tense and quantity are not grammaticalized and so needs other
explicit markers.

And now we come to Biblical Hebrew, tense is not grammaticalized,
unlike all of the languages mentioned above, personal pronouns are
grammaticalized even though there are stand alone versions of the same
used occasionally for special effect, Word order depends more on
importance than part of sentence, except for poetry where parts of
sentences can be in whatever order for poetic effect. The student will
be dealing with concepts which he doesn't even know about. He will be
so lost that he may give up in utter frustration before he really
starts. But if we teach basic grammar, tell him what to expect, then
when he sees it in practice, he will have more of that Aha! moment
than frustration.

The way you mention may be good for immersion teaching, though a
student even in immersion training learns more quickly if he is taught
the patterns to look for.

Now we have another problem, namely who are the students that will
make use of the dictionary. First of all, they will not be immersion
students—that's impossible because immersion training requires native
speakers of Biblical Hebrew, and there have been none for over two
millennia. Most will be people who have only a few hours to apply to
the learning a week, if even that.

A further problem is that some of the prefixes and suffixes may be
used for more than one purpose: is it not better to warn the student
about these multiple uses, than to have him shipwreck on a form that
contains a suffix that he expects to have one meaning while he does
not know that in this example, it has a different meaning?

> ...
> I would therefore suggest that we hand-hold for the
> core vocabulary which would enable the student to
> read large amounts of natural Hebrew text to the point
> where the meaning of unknown words can be guessed from
> context (research shows that if a reader knows 9 out of
> 10 words in a sentence they have optimal chances of
> guessing the meaning of the 10th word) in the hopes
> that this provides enough irregular and regular
> for them to figure out their own mental grammar by
> natural process of generalisation. To illustrate the
> point here are some examples of made up language:
> thrrf  - he went
> ghtrf  - he came
> sdfrf  - he gave
> wsdrf  - he took
> By process of generalisation can you figure out which
> affix indicates the 3rd masculine singular in the
> verbs above?
But if he doesn't know that he is to look for a 3rd masc. s.  suffix,
will he notice it?

> -------------------------------------------------------
> -------------------------------------------------------
> 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.

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list