[b-hebrew] Fact of language?

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Fri Jun 4 15:06:03 EDT 2010

>> In which sense does modern Hebrew treat the binyanim differently than did
> Biblical Hebrew?
>From what I have seen in Biblical Hebrew, the binyanim modified verbs by
> imparting meaning to them—qal referred to simple action, hiphil to causative
> action, niphal to passive simple, etc. I have found that recognizing these
> effects has been very useful as a lexicographer in understanding Biblical
> Hebrew verbs and the actions to which they referred.
> Now it could be the dictionaries I looked at while bookstore browsing, but
> from what little I have seen, it appears that modern Hebrew treats verbs as
> separate entries depending on in which the binyan they appear, rather than
> as a verb modified, i.e. with additional meaning added to it, by the binyan.
> Now part of that could be that modern words often have different meanings
> than they did in Biblical Hebrew, so I merely misunderstood the
> dictionaries, but I often did not recognize the patterns found in Biblical
> Hebrew.

Yitzhaq has already pointed out by implication that it is precarious to give
advice/opinion about a language that one doesn't control.

The dictionary discussion about is similar to reading two lists of fruit, one
organized by shape and size, another one by color. But the two
categorizations of fruit do not mean that the fruit is different. Just that the
editors are different. ("Same" fruit from different areas and soils will have
different tastes, of course, but that does not change the category system.)

On the other hand,
the biggest problem in this is accounting for the 'etymological fallacy'
- as if the meaning of a word is defined by its origin rather than its usage.
Many Hebrew students mix up 'derivational morphology' from
'inflexional morphology'.
Adding pronominal concord affixes to verbs is 'inflexional' and can be done
to verbs as the context needs just like 'like, likes, liked, has/ve liked' in
English. But derivational morphology in verbs is unpredictable and creates
a new semantic word, certainly related, but unpredictable in actual meaning.
This is like adding prefixes to English verbs, re-do is 'to do again'; reduce
is 'to duce [lead] again (?)'. For Hebrew, the main verb-derivational processes
are Nif`al, Pi``el, Hitpa``el, and Hif`il. Along with the Qal (zero) that gives
five. [The Qal passive, Pu``al and Huf`al can be treated as inflexional.
Actually, some spoken Hebrew dialects in the biblical period probably included
an hipta`el like we see in Phoenician and Moabite. A qal-based 't'
form just like
the hitpa``el is a pi``el-based 't' form. One person could say
'yiltaHem' 'he will
fight', and another might say 'yillaHem'.]

Anyone coming from Arabic should understand this, and most Semitists
understand this after getting past however they were taught their first Semitic
languages. For BH we know what hishlik השליך means--'throw', but there
is no way to know what *shalak might have meant or if it even existed in the
biblical period, or any period. We know heezin האזין 'listen
attentively'. But we
don't know if or what *azan might have meant, if it existed. izzen, אִזֵֹן
on the other hand appears to mean 'balance/arrange'.

If your dictionary wants to list *azan as a verb, well, that's one style of
dictionary making. As long as one doesn't treat it as 'real', no harm is
done. But if someone goes to BDB and says that *nagad means 'act/be
conspicuous' they are playing with the etymology and could trick
themselves if they turned around and said that higgid meant 'to make
something conspicuous'. Higgid is actually a verb of communication and
means approximately 'tell/report'.
A more preferred style in my opinion would be to list any verbal roots without
vocalization if the qal is unattested. And pyscholinguistically, I would
advocate listing verbs like izzen and heezin separately under alef and
he, as long as they were glossed in the past 3ms, otherwise one should
list azzen and ha`azin. vocabulary is best learned individually and in
context, not in cognate groups (see Paul Nation's studies, for one. Or
think about how to best learn 'to oversee' and 'to overlook'. or nouns
'oversight' and 'overlook', and 'overview'. The interference can short
circuit the long term memory.)

Anyway, the etymological fallacy is something that is ingrained into many
beginning Hebrew students by the way in which the language is often
taught, contrary to the way in which anyone ever learned through direct
usage, and some common HB pedagogical grammars even list things like
tsawah צוה 'he commanded' and I've had students try to say 'shalak' for
throw and tsava for command, and claim that it was good BH, just like
they had learned.

shabbat shalom

Randall Buth, PhD
randallbuth at gmail.com
Biblical Language Center
Learn Easily - Progress Further - Remember for Life

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