Posts Tagged Hebrew

Of Tone Marks and Hebrew

Sometimes the collateral benefits outweigh the intended one.

Every weekday evening for a month this summer, Ankamah and I sat for two hours and tested the book of Genesis in Nkonya.

Ankamah is in his twenties, and soon heading off to study accounting.

He’s a fluent reader so we used a different testing style than I’ve used previously. He read the passage once through then read it again and back-translated it into English. As we worked he volunteered comments on where it could be improved or where he didn’t understand the text.  I typed in his back-translation and comments,  and asked additional comprehension questions.

Up to this point in time the Nkonya Translation Team has marked high spoken tone with an accent mark in all written work.  However we’ve talked more and more about writing Nkonya without tone marks.

Every so often as he read, Ankamah would make a comment about having difficulty with the tones. One evening he missed the difference between a future and past tense verb – getting it immediately when I reread it according to marked tone. “Missing the one significant tone because of the crowd,”  I thought.

For the next day I stripped all the tones except for the high tone marking future tense out of the passage, saying nothing to Ankamah.  We worked through  together.

I said nothing about the changes.  He said nothing.

Finally, half-way through I asked, “ Is this easy to read?”

“Oh yes,” he replied”

“Do you notice any difference,” I asked?

He looked closely at the text for a few moments before he recognized the sparsity of tone marks.

In fact, it had made no difference at all to him.  He was so used to ignoring the multiple accent marks that he didn’t even notice their absence.

A couple of days later I accidently gave him a chapter with every tone removed. When I was about to add in the initial tone on future tense he stopped me. “Let’s just see how it goes without it,” he said. No glitches in that passage.

Ankamah has started writing a novel in Nkonya. Up to now he was afraid that if he didn’t get the tones right people wouldn’t understand his writing.  No longer.

I thought of this yesterday as I was reviewing Hebrew grammar and vocabulary. Writing the consonants in Hebrew isn’t difficult – putting the vowel marks in, is.  I had just made a mental note to myself that at this stage in life I would never master the zillion minute rules and exceptions that govern vowels (or worry about not being able to do so), when I started thinking about Nkonya tone.  After all, in Israel no one but language students, little grade ones and weighty scholars, write vowels. I’m thinking that marking tone in Nkonya is a very similar case.


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God will see to it

How often has someone said, “Don’t worry, I’ll see to it for you.” And we relax.

I’ve been turtling along in my Hebrew studies and the reading I read on Sunday was that most intimate of stories, of God, and Abraham, and Isaac in the mountains of Moriah.

“Jehovah-Jireh- my provider, thy grace is sufficient for me, for me.” . . . the words of a popular Christian song are probably the first things that drift through my mind, along with the phrase,  “God will provide a lamb,” and “Behold the lamb, of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.”

But the verb, now brought as “provide” in the majority of English translations, is the common everyday verb usually translated as “see”, and the lamb, in fact turned out to be a full grown ram with horns large enough to get entangled in a thicket.

Nothing wrong with the English Christian translations, though worth noting that our conceptions do influence our word choice.  Still, it was the simplicity of literal translation that encouraged me.

The Tanakh, a Jewish translation of the tradition Hebrew text says,|

Then Isaac said to his Father, Abraham, “Father”

And he answered, “Yes, my son.”

And he said, “Here are the firestone and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

And Abraham said, “God will see to the sheep for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them walked on together.

Lets walk on together, God will see to it.

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The Magpie researches Language Learning

And here I am, struggling to get to first base with Hebrew, before jumping off into the exercise of abetting the translation of the Old Testament into a small Ghanaian language.  People ask me what I’m doing and blink uncomprehendingly when I tell them, before moving rapidly on to more relevant topics.

The Magpie sent me this video.

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Daedalus and Icarus

Reaching the end of the beginning- almost the last chapter of “The First Hebrew Primer” – my task was to back-translate the story of Daedalus and Icarus.  I was amazed to find myself choking up by the time I reached the last lines and Daedalus’ broken heart.

Not to me alone the power of myth- the internet has many Icarus images: some evoking the heart of Daedalus, more depicting the plunge of Icarus from the sun, all too many celebrating his attempt to reach it.

Still I was surprised to find a Greek myth dating back thousands of years, in a language I read haltingly,  rewritten as a grammar exercise, touching my heart.  The story of a father’s love, giving his son wings to escape life imprisonment, only to realize his death.   I guess it touches me as a mother yearning for my children to soar free- untouched by the sun’s melt or the sea’s mist. What are those quotes, “A mother is only as happy as her least happy child.” “You will never have all your children dancing and singing at once.”

In the end one can only pray that each winged child will follow the Father.

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