July 09, 2008

Grammar Groaners

As I say here, I think the Pratico & Van Pelt textbook is a step forward for introductory grammars of biblical Hebrew. So I was surprised to find it used as Exhibit A for dense Hebrew textbooks in this compelling article by William Griffin. He holds up this sentence (from PVP p. 157) as one that must make beginning students' eyes glaze over:
The verb ['rr] differs from [sbb] in one way. In the second and first position forms, singular and plural, the Geminate consonant rejects the Daghesh Forte and the Pathach under the [aleph] becomes Qamets due to compensatory lengthening.
Nothing technically inaccurate there, but shouldn't beginning students have to learn only one foreign language when taking biblical Hebrew, and not be forced to penetrate a forest of grammatical jargon? No doubt this kind of gobbledy-gook leads many students to drop their Hebrew class early on, or to shut the book on Hebrew once they've finally slogged through it, never to read Hebrew again. In Griffin's words, this amounts to "killing a dead language."

I still think PVP is better than most at unclogging the pipeline of biblical Hebrew lessons, but the authors do pull off their share of what I'd call Grammatical Groaners—sentences so stultifyingly obfuscating that they make me, a self-proclaimed grammar geek, blink, rub my eyes, and make monosyllabic utterances in a foreign language of my own. (Submit your favorite (or least favorite) Groaners!)

• "Two-syllable nouns that are accented on the final syllable and have either Qamets or Tsere in the first or pretonic syllable will experience what is called "propretonic reduction" with the addition of plural endings." (p.32)

Related Category: Fancy Terms in Plain English

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