Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ulpan 2: History of the Hebrew Language

Ulpan continues- I'm learning again, as I dreaded in high school, the different forms: Nifal, Hife'il, Hufal, Piel, Pual, and so on. The problem is, at least with me, that after having learned Ivrit for so many years, my Hebrew is 'fossilized'- as my Ulpan professor put it. My grammer mistakes may be there for eternity, since I speak and understand Hebrew to a high enough level. Which is a price I'll have to pay. I've been told it takes many years to actually speak Hebrew perfectly- so what right do I have to complain after such a short time here?

But I digress. My elective in Ulpan is History of the Hebrew Language: was Hebrew the first languge out there? How did modern Hebrew evolve from Biblical Hebrew? Where do Arabic, Aramaic, and Phonician come into play? And so on.

As through the Mesorah (at least the way that I understand it) the Torah always existed- G-d looked into the Torah and created the world- through the words of Lashon HaKodesh themselves. The Torah is the expression of Lashon HaKodesh in this world.

But does that mean that the Torah is written in Lashon HaKodesh? Is Hebrew the original Lashon HaKodesh, or a translation or variation thereof? I would probably say yes, at this point, albeit with the caveat that we do NOT speak Torah Hebrew the way that probably David HaMelech, or Avraham Avinu spoke Lashon HaKodesh-namely, the 2 versions of Chet, 2 versions of Ayin, Daled, Gimel (Beged Kefet are some that most are familiar with), Tzadee, Shin, Samech, Zayin, and so on.

I, the datiyah (religious girl) in the class, kinda forced my professor to say that most of what he was saying was theory, rather than concrete fact- but most was highly illuminating and made a lot of sense. Plus, I got to show that I actually can read and translate Tanach- unlike many of the Israeli brethren out there. Shows a Bais Yaakov education is good for something! (that was a joke, for those of you about to throw tomatoes.)

Anyone have any really really early Torah sources for prounciation and grammer? Or writing, and language? I'm curious!

8 comments:

mekubal said...

How early is really early? The Zohar speaks at great length about pronunciation. The Gemarra tells us(by their time) we had lost the mesora of how to properly say Reish... if you want earlier than Tennaim and Amoraim, then no... if you want those, I will send them over to you.

nmf #7 said...

Mekubal: Really, really early. Like, Avraham or David Hamelech time periods. I'd love the sources none the less- thank you! Feel free to email me.

Supposedly, in those times, there were many more changes in pronounciation than the ones that are commonly known of- Reish, Chet and Ayin. In earlier times, supposedly, there were differences in Tzadee, Sameach, Shin/Sin, Zayin, and possibly Vav.

student of ivrit said...

Are you in the University of Har Hazeitim (rothchild center for foreign studends or something like this?)

I did a summer course there, and I loved it..

student of ivrit said...

Do you think a linguist with a university background would take the Zohar as "proof", i.e. a reliable source?

I'd rather doubt it, but you can always try. Perhaps it will spark an interesting debate, and this is, ultimately the aim of a language course: have people talk, discuss, exchange...

student of ivrit said...

What are those "two versions of Chet and two versions of Ayin"?

I never heard of it...

Doest this mean that over history, the pronunciation of chet and ayin evolved or were there two ways of pronouncing the letter, like p/f for peh, b/v for beith, t/th for tav, d/dh for dalet, etc?

nmf #7 said...

Student of Ivrit: I'm a student at Har HaTzofim for their Ulpan Kayitz, but I'm not a foriegn student.

You would also be surprised as to how much the secular professors use early religious sources like the Zohar. The Zohar was written by R' Shimon Bar Yochai- so that's a really early character in terms of things. To them, it's an early written text of language- by someone from an early time. To me and other religious people, it has a deeper significance. But I would like even earlier sources.

As to the 2 pronounciations of Chet and Ayin- yes there are actually 2 different 'Chets'- the linguists refer to them as Chet1 and Chet2, or Ayin1 and Ayin2.

The Chets are harder to give examples of in writing- unless I could use Greek symbols here- but the Ayins you probably already know. For example: Amorah in the Torah is translated by the Greeks as Gomorrah (ie, Sodom and Gomorrah.)However, other words like Ayin- are translated as Ayin. So that shows that there were (and still are) 2 pronounciations of Ayin- one very gutteral, so it almost sounds like G, and one normal. You can hear it in Arabic and Aramaic still. (Ie: Gaza=Aza)

I think I'm going to do a fun post on this one.

student of ivrit said...

Thank you for the answers on ayin and chet.

I heard that in arabic, there were several different letters for "ein" and "rein" (or somthing like this). So perhaps there would be the clue as to what it was??? (By the way, the french sometimes transcribe chet as r, since there is nothing like chaf or chet in french (nor in english, for that matter...)

As far as the early sources are concerned, I think the best "early" source is the Torah itself and then the mishnah, and then the gemara.

As far as I heard, the exact age/source of the zohar is not quite clear. Some ascribe it to shimon bar yochai, as you do, others think it comes from medieval spain.

I do not know anything about the zohar, I never saw one, never opened one, never studied it. However, it seems that through the generations, from medieval spain on, there always was a difference of opinion between rationalists who would go according to rambam and those who embraced mystics and the zohar.

So I suppose the pro-zohar-party claims the zohar was written by shimon bar yochai, while the rationalist anti-zohar-movement doubt that it goes that far back and think it was written in medieval spain...

Interestingly, this rationalist/mysticist split seems to go through jewish history almost everywhere, in the sefardi world and in the ashkenazy world: rambam contra mystics, mitnagdim contra chassidim, etc...

nmf #7 said...

Student of Ivrit- Interesting comment- I don't know too much- maybe Mekubal can join in on that one.