Friday, September 26, 2008

Awaking the Dead Hebrew, Part IV

David Ker is learning Hebrew backwards. This post should be the last Part in that series here. So much was unsaid in the earlier three parts; I think we may have to go backwards to 1971, and earlier. Earlier, I think I suggested:
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.
In 1971, there were women in Bombay learning English whose mothers spoke Marathi. Yasmin Lukmani went to their high school, listened to how they were motivated to learn, and looked at their test scores. She found that they 1) were using English as an instrument to access the Western world, and that they 2) were learning quite well despite the fact that they 3) weren't especially motivated to integrate into that Western world. The correlation she was able to establish (i.e., between 1 & 2) led her to publish an article in Language Learning: A Journal of Research in Language Studies.

Linguists in the Western world began to argue. First, they produced a slew of research articles trying to disprove (or to prove) what was seen as Lukmani's great findings: that an "instrumental" motivation for learning a second language was completely different from "integrative" motivation; that one motivation or the other correlated directly with success in learning; and that the "instrumental" motivation was the stronger predictor of measurable success.

Second, the binary "instrumental / integrative" seemed to fit in so well with the Chomskyan linguistic revolution just getting steam in the U.S. The Aristotelian binary joined with the other "either / or" attempts to abstract out "language / languages" even for women learning for their own reasons in Bombay.

But Yamuna Kachru says, "Hold on; not so fast." And, she writes this:
Observations and analyses in this laboratory [of World Englishes and not just U.K. or U.S.A. English] bring important SLA [second language "acquisition"] concepts and claims into focus and reveal cracks in theory-building.

For example, Mesthrie (1992), on the basis of his study of South African Indian English... observes: 'The New English data suggest that we are not dealing with discrete settings ('off' and 'on'; 'plus' or 'minus'; etc.), but with a continuum of settings. This makes the acquisition process more fuzzy and susceptible to social conditions than Universal Grammarians would allow'...

The world Englishes perspective has shown that concepts such as interlanguage (Selinker, 1992), fossilization (Selinker, 1992), input (Krashen, 1981), as currently formulated are of no relevance to indigenized varieties of English. Indian, Nigerian, or Singaporean English speakers follow the norms of their own varieties rather than the norms of American, Australian, or British English.

While theories of formal linguistics seek the most efficient representations of phrase and sentence structures and theories of bilingualism continue to grapple with basic questions such as how many grammars bilingual people have in their brains, the study of world Englishes reveals the research focus that may be brought about by tying data to theory, rather than the other way around. Consequently, questions of uses and functions of the language, rather than how it is acquired, come to the fore as the salient face of the inquiry. (page 81)
Did we hear that? "rather than the other way around"? Sounds like Ker's learning backwards.

So let's go backwards further, to Helen. Yes, I'm talking about Helen of Troy, Goddess, Princess, Whore, the very same person Bettany Hughes has written about. How unlikely that the mother of the Hellene mother tongue would be motivated to learn that barbarian language of the men of Troy! Hughes recalls the problem of Greek men:
When, in Ancient Greece, the rhetorician Gorgias stood up and delivered his 'Encomium of Helen' (a defence of Helen of Troy's indefensible character) - this was a great joke. How can you laud the most sluttish femme fatale of all time? But the rhetoric also got people thinking - maybe, just maybe the skilled speaker had a point.
So the Greek men, and we, ask "How can you laud the most sluttish femme fatale of all time" for learning a foreign language? What would motivate her? As if laughing, the man Gorgias writes:

πς ον χρ δίκαιον γήσασθαι τν τς λένης μμον,

τις ετ' ρασθεσα

ετε λόγ πεισθεσα

ετε βίᾳ ρπασθεσα

ετε π θείας νάγκη ναγκασθεσα

πραξεν πραξε, πάντως διαφεύγει τν ατίαν

For those of us not native speakers of Gorgias's Greek, Laurent Pernot summarizes:
Gorgias undertakes to excuse her by arguing that...she could only have done so for one of these four reasons: (1) she obeyed the gods' commands; (2) she was carried off by force; (3) she was persuaded by speech; (4) she succumbed to love.
We are back to motives. And to directions. For learning a language not our own, a language dead, if moribund to our own culture.

Men like Socrates, who taught Plato, would believe in 1) a dialogue that demands a give-and-take, between one's own position and another's, a kind of trans-position.

Men like Alexander, who was taught by Aristotle, would be convinced mainly 2) by force, by an im-position.

Men like Aristotle, who ultimately rejected the teachings of Socrates and Plato, would recommend only logic: 3) the language of "either / or" proposition.

Either of these three / or what's laughable. Either a man's centrism, his hard unyielding power, and his logic / or its opposite: extreme, soft, irrational love. Or is it opposite? Perhaps it's radically altered. Like an apposition (a non-position with respect to the positions of men; a grammatical appositive in which two side by side are different and the same in the same instance). So maybe it's backwards.

Is Ker motivated: 1) to obey a divine command (a mixing of heaven with earth, of Hebrew with English)? 2) to do something he absolutely has to (with no choice on his part)? 3) to listen to experts who reduce language and the Hebrew language to essential features?  Or?/and?

Since we've mentioned Hebrew, lets turn to the woman who had to learn it. To Rahab. Like Helen, a "most sluttish femme fatale" among men. Yes, I know, some will say she didn't have to learn Hebrew. She did fine in Jericho with the non-Jewish men, speaking with them. And those Jewish spies? Those guys were the ones who had to learn the language of Jericho; it's what spies do, right? So I'm asking why the "either / or"? The Trojan spies learned what Greek men liked, and Helen learned Trojan too. The Hebrew spies knew what the men in Jericho liked, and Rahab learned Hebrew too. The motives? Well, I think we may just want to ask the questions. Don't some motives allow people (men and women) to acquire, as if not really having to change their nature or their identities?

And what about this puzzler? What's this word? In Joshua 2, there's silence in the text, where Rahab speaks?


So many times in so places, she's learning Hebrew, speaking the language.

Helen having learned (of men, of love, of language) overhears. She translates:

καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῇ οἱ ἄνδρες Ἡ ψυχὴ ἡμῶν ἀνθ' ὑμῶν εἰς θάνατον. καὶ αὐτὴ εἶπεν Ὡς ἂν παραδῷ κύριος ὑμῖν τὴν πόλιν, ποιήσετε εἰς ἐμὲ ἔλεος καὶ ἀλήθειαν.

(see Joshua 2:14, the Hebrew, the Hellene;

notice Sir Lancelot Brenton's rendering the Hellene into English:

"And the men said to her, Our life for yours [even] to death: and she said, When the Lord shall have delivered the city to you, ye shall deal mercifully and truly with me."

and now Dr. Leonard J. Greenspoon's:

"And the men said to her, 'Our soul for yours unto death.' And she said, 'When the Lord hands over to you the city, you shall show me pity and truth.'"

Greenspoon says nothing in his commentary about how it is that the Greek language of some unknown translator forced by Alexander the Great's lackey king in Alexandria would let Rahab speak. In fact, I can't find a single commentary ever published by men that explains what motivates this translator who's learned Hellene and Hebrew and who lets Rahab speak.

See the traditional Hebrew text, and the traditional English translations, all of them here have Rahab silent. All let the men only speak. Are we surprised? Things are backwards here.)

When I agree with Ker (funny David Ker puning on the direction of the Hebrew text), I think he's on to something. It's not the "jug to mug model" of learning. It's something that will change him, that he will change. It's the kind of outsidergoingin learning that Helen and Rahab and Yasmin Lukmani and her students and Mary Sidney Herbert and Julia Evelina Smith and Ruth Behar and Mary Douglas have been doing. Backwards stuff, an awaking and an awakening of the dead language.


Bob MacDonald said...

Yes - I learn for love. All my other 'reasons' are a sop to the guardians of Biblical studies. I only say I have reasons to suck them in just so that they in their logic might also find love.

This Rahab is very interesting - she (or someone with the same name) gets crushed in Psalm 89 and cut in Isaiah 51 (only mentioned in Psalm 87) and praised almost as a cipher in Hebrews 11:31 and in James too.

J. K. Gayle said...

Bob, I really like your translation of Psalm 89:

and of Psalm 87:

Any ideas why the LXX translator(s) cut the cutting (of Rahab) out of Isaiah 51?

And why does the Greek translator excise her crushing from Psalm 89?

Is this a clue to why the Septuagint has Rahab speaking in Joshua 2:14?

And are the Greek NT translators/writers motivated similarly? (i.e., the writer of Hebrews and James?)

David Ker said...

Instrumental vs. integrative is a great distinction. We fail because we do instrumental believing it will lead to integration. It's painful to always be on the outside of African culture but that's what I have shot for unconsciously. There's no "Nyungwe in 15 minutes a day." You just have to live in Africa 24 hours per day and that is hard for the outsider and the insiders are reluctant to let you in. Again the people with the best shot are college-age who somehow just hang out, live in their houses, eat their food, and find the language skills they need almost without effort.

Bob MacDonald said...

I have massaged Psalm 89 a bit and will do 87 perhaps this week. The text only versions are beginning to emerge on the sidebar on my blog. The Rahab of the psalms appears to be a primeval creature which came to be associated with Egypt - must look closer at this. I think the prostitute was just another Rahab of the same name.

Bob MacDonald said...

Psalm 87 is up here - quite unexpected - I may be wrong - but it doesn't make much sense without some explanation as to why all those undesirables are 'in' when they should be 'out'

David could do it in Hip hop I expect. I almost put the street kids in and I had a hard time not translating Selah as 'take a leak' or the equivalent.

(pardon my language)

Maybe some real Hebraist will correct me :|