Hebrew: the EASY language?


One of our MA in Biblical Languages students did an undergrad degree in French at the University of Oklahoma.  While on a brief visit to his old alma mater recently, he snapped this picture of one of the bulletin boards in the language department. Especially intriguing is the green flyer. So . . . Hebrew is a fun, EASY language! Who knew?

Of course, my students who are in the middle of learning first-year Hebrew don’t think it’s easy (although I have heard from a number of them that they do think it’s fun).  How easy is Hebrew compared to, say, Greek? Hebrew is simpler than Greek in a number of ways, and often simpler is easier. So here are a few tidbits for the interested reader. In my Koine Greek class, we learn 24 forms of the definite article (the). In Hebrew, we learn one basic form, with 3 slight (but recognizable) variations of it. In Greek, nouns and adjectives come in three different genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. In Hebrew, they come in only two: masculine and feminine. In Greek, every noun theoretically has ten forms, since there are 5 cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and vocative) and two categories for number (singular and plural); in Hebrew, no case system exists, with the result that every noun theoretically has only four forms (an absolute and a construct form in the singular and plural). In Greek, the copula εἰμί/εἶναι is optional and so can be explicit or implied: John is a man and John a man.  In Hebrew, the copula הָיָה is always omitted in “present-time” contexts: John a man. Hey, why waste words?

So, these are just a few ways that Hebrew could be seen to be “easier” than other classical languages. There are other things that might make Hebrew seem more daunting (like a less familiar alphabetic script and sound system, a verbal system that is not tense-prominent, reading right-to-left). Is learning any language really ever *easy*? Absolutely not. But whether a language is easy to learn or not is no good reason to learn, or avoid, Hebrew or any other language. Acquiring a language like Hebrew does several things for you. It gives you access to great texts–sacred texts of the Hebrew Bible as well as Dead Sea Scrolls and rabbinic material. It trains your mind to think more clearly (and accurately!) about words, meaning, grammar, expression, and communicating thoughts. It gives you tools to determine whether that scholar in Newsweek or Time really knows what he/she is talking about, or whether they’re just blowing smoke. Same with pastors, theologians, and bloggers.

Give Hebrew a try. It’s easy! Well, maybe not easy, but simple. And if you join us on this journey at HBU, I can tell you exactly what Gandalf told Bilbo in An Unexpected Journey:

“If you return, you will never be the same again.”If you return, you will never be the same again

Why Study ‘Linguistics’?

Here at HBU we have a Biblical Languages program, which includes both an undergraduate degree in biblical languages (just Greek and Hebrew) and an MA in biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic).  One of the requirements that we insist on for both programs is a course in General Linguistics.  As the Director of the MABL program, sometimes I am asked questions like What is linguistics? and Why is it important to study linguistics?  In this post I will attempt to provide some brief answers to those questions. Continue reading

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