Monday, March 13, 2017

Hodgepodge 135/365 - Hebrew

Avdat in the Negev: my dream?
When I was an undergrad, for a short time I entertained the idea of becoming an archeologist. My dream: to harvest potsherds in the Negev Desert. Just where that dream came from, I have no idea, but I was able to picture myself in that role quite vividly. It didn't last long, though—a tedious cultural anthropology prof nipped my anthropological aspirations in the bud. I switched to geography, and the rest is . . . geography? (Sorry.)

As part of that short-lived dream, however, I studied Hebrew for at least one year. I studied Arabic too, for less time, but I never took to that language. Hebrew, though: I loved Hebrew. I loved my teacher, for one thing—whose name, sadly, I no longer remember, but she was funny and fun and encouraging. I loved the sound of Hebrew, too, a sort of swishy, gurgly, roundly flowing sound. The grammar was interesting. The very history of the language was interesting, it having been revived by the new nation of Israel (well, it's precursors: the Zionists—and among them specifically, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda [1858–1922]).

Since then, of course, I've forgotten virtually everything. I can say "I don't speak Hebrew" (אני לא מדברת עברית : it's read right to left, and sounds like aní lo m'dabéret ivrít). Today my taxi driver refreshed me on right, left, and straight ahead (yamín, smol, and yashár).

While out on my second walk of the day around Tel Aviv, I stopped in a bookstore and bought a phrase book—a complete waste of money, really, but in the spirit of being here and trying, I'm game to give it a short study every night before bed, and maybe every morning too. Just a few words a day. Why not?

I don't know why, but I'm surprised at how little English signage there is here, and what English there is seems rather random. But mostly‐of course!—signs are in Hebrew alone. Which is as good as Greek to me, even though I studied it once it upon a time.

The tricky thing about Hebrew, you see, is that when you are learning it, it has vowels—a system of diacritical marks called niqqud (נִקּוּד), or dotting, that appear around the consonants to indicate how the sounds connecting the consonants, and occasionally the consonants themselves, are pronounced. Children start learning their language with niqqud. The Bible is written with niqqud, probably to allow greater access to people not fluent in Hebrew. All the studying I did was with niqqud. Such that now? I'm lost without the marks. (In the merest sense that with them I'd at least know how to pronounce what I'm seeing, even if understanding would still be a no-go.)

For example: שִׁיר לַמַּעֲלוֹת, אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי אֶל הֶהָרִים מֵאַיִן יָבוֹא עֶזְרֵי vs.
שיר למעלות, אשא עיני אל ההרים מאין יבוא עזרי—see how much easier the first one is to read? Well, maybe you don't. But trust me.

My phrasebook doesn't include niqqud either, just transliterations, but that's close enough.

So for tomorrow, a few important phrases, like "I don't understand"; "Where is the bathroom?"; "Stop! I want to take a photograph"; and "The waters of the Red Sea are delightful to swim in." That last one might not be in the book, but I can ask my tour guide. He'll know. He can write it down for me. (Which brings up handwriting, but I'll leave that for another day.)

1 comment:

  1. When I was living on a kibbutz (in the Negev!), I tried to learn Hebrew by immersion. I forbade anybody to speak to me in English, although everyone certainly could have spoken to me in more than passable English. The result of my experiment? I had a vast storehouse of nouns, and almost no verbs. Pointing worked, but I often longed for the ability to say something more than "That!" I've learned to read -- well, pronounce -- back here in my synagogue, but non-noun parts of speech still elude me. Sometimes when the Torah is being read, I'll close my eyes and listen hard for nouns I recognize.

    I almost never come visit you here at museroostings/roostmusings, and when I do I wonder why I don't more often. Have fun in eretz yisroel!