Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Awaking the Dead Hebrew, Part III

Is this ever easy? I mean before I can even get to this part III of the series, David Ker is challenging whether language learning programs like the ones I try to run can succeed and whether English like I try to write it is grammatical. Last thing he said is, "Dang. I think this is about transitivity." (Did Shakespeare say, "Dang"?) I think Ker is still motivated to learn Hebrew backwards. Last thing Mike Aubrey said about that is, "what would be better is if they combined the linguistic stuff with the Greek & Hebrew stuff so that Biblical language study was more intuitive and acquisition-like."

Doesn't leave me much to say. I've got my Kenneth Croft Readings on English as a Second Language: For Teachers and Teacher Trainees right here, and my Wilhelm Gesenius Hebräisches u. Chaldäisches Handwörterbuch over there. All I can think is, "As old as these books are, why aren't they obsolete? Why isn't Aristotle obsolete for them too? And for Noam Chomsky? And Steven Krashen? And even for someone like Robert D. Van Valin, Jr. whose post-Chomsky RRG is 'motivated' by 'analysizing' and 'capturing' the 'interaction of syntax, semantics and pragmatics' of non-English languages so that one of RRG's 'distinctive features' can be 'the bidirectionality of the mapping between syntax and semantics'?"

That's a lot of mumbo jumbo, to use Ishmael Reed's crazy phrase (although he has different meanings that you have to learn). If you think this is an insider conversation, or an inside joke (maybe it is), then you might catch on soon. If you're catching on, then you see how limiting binaries can be, how stifling features are, how theoretically in abstraction (and how much of a pedantic choke-hold on practical stuff) some linguistics can be.

The thesis statement in this Part III is this: "Aristotelian linguistics is not too different from Aristotelian logic, which is not too different from Aristotle's silencing of females and of anyone who didn't acquire his kind of Greek." In Part IV, let's look at the Helen of Hellenism and hear how she learns language. Let's really do listen to Rahab (not) of the Hebrews and watch how she learns Hebrew backwards.


David Ker said...

Programs like you run work don't they when you can shake the immigrant populations out of their enclaves and get them to listen, chat, hum, etc. in the language of wider communication. Melting pot. It's why I never really learned Nyungwe deeply. It was an isolated activity rather than a full fledged dunking in the language and culture.

But that's also a reason why I think something like learning Prayerbook Hebrew can work. You don't have to step outside the script.

J. K. Gayle said...

עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַל רַבָּנָן וְעַל תַּלְמִידֵיהוֹן

וְעַל כָּל תַּלְמִידֵי תַלְמִידֵיהוֹן.

ʻal yisraʼel v'ʻal rabbanan v'ʻal talmidehon

v'ʻal kol talmidey talmidehon

The best strategy of all, David. We're on our way, no?