Sunday roundup #4: 5.13.14.

Two days late, but it’s here!

I apologize for my lack of writing lately.  School has gotten to the crazy point.  This summer I am already excited to have the time to dive deep into texts.

1.  Polyglossic, On Fascinating Vs. Dull Languages:

A competent linguist might produce a solid, detailed grammar of Language X, while a less competent colleague might produce a slim and superficial grammar of neighboring Language Y; based on this work, outside observers might conclude that the first linguist was lucky to have found something as complex and interesting as Language X, while Language Y “is a rather simple and dull language.”  The truth, he argues, “is that X and Y are equally complex and interesting, if analysed in the right way.”  The problem lies in the skill of the analyst, not in the inherent qualities of either language.

I really like this idea, though I will point out that part of what makes a language fascinating for me – an ancient language anyway – is what doors it opens.  Sanskrit, Greek, and Hebrew open up some of the greatest literature ever written.  I don’t know of the same quality and quantity of writing in ancient Aramaic.

2.  Geoffrey Steadman is coming out with yet another commentary – this time on Sophocles’ Antigone:

Starting on Monday, May 26, which is Memorial Day in the United States,  I will be releasing the commentary for Sophocles’ Antigone once a week in 7-page installments (15 lines of Greek per page, with vocabulary and notes below on the same page). Eventually the installments will be stitched together into a single book. My hope is that intermediate and advanced readers will consider reading Antigone to hone their skills and develop reading habits outside of school.

3.  Pagan Steven Posch ponders the meaning of the biblical injunction to “not suffer a witch to live”:

The second was the verb, the “suffer to live” part. In Hebrew, a notoriously compact language, the entire phrase is a terse three words: Mkhashefá lo tkhayé (mem-khaf-shin-fe-he lamed-alef tav-het-yod-he). Lo is “no, not.” The root of the verb, which is second person masculine singular, is the root meaning “to live”, but in the “causative” conjugation. So the literal meaning is: “Do not cause a mkhashefa to live.” What the rabbis couldn’t decide (both opinions, typically, are preserved in the Talmud) was whether this meant that you should kill her outright or just not help her make a living, i.e. don’t patronize her. 

4.  The chapter five review of When God Spoke Greek is up — once school is out I am determined to read it!

I highly recommend this chapter. It is a valuable summary of some of the key differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts. But I would also recommend readers consider some of the studies of the translation technique of the Septuagint translators and the discussion of Septuagint variants and pseudo-variants in the works of Emanuel Tov (e.g., The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint). These sources will contribute to further understanding of the number and type of differences between the Hebrew and Greek that could be attributed to the translator, and this understanding will result in greater ability to evaluate the evidence concerning diverse early Hebrew text forms.  

3 thoughts on “Sunday roundup #4: 5.13.14.

  1. Allison

    Thanks for the mention!
    I would just like to clarify that what I was talking about (and what the author I was quoting was discussing) was the complexity of a language as a language itself – that is, every language has grammatical and lexical features that are unique, sophisticated, and complex. Historically, there has been this weird belief that some languages are simple and silly, based on the sense that certain people couldn’t possibly be smart enough to speak a complex tongue. That precedent goes at least all the way back to our beloved Classical Greeks, with their “barbarians,” of course 🙂
    I guess this is probably a good example of a difference between the way a linguist thinks and the way a philologist thinks – I’m sure Phoenician or Phrygian might be either engrossing or useless depending on what it is you’re analyzing.

    1. Post author

      Very much so! But I am curious about our folk beliefs about languages, such as beliefs about languages being ugly or beautiful. I wonder if there is any rhyme or reason in how we view different languages.

      I have written here about why I study the languages I study – I am only interested in ancient languages with extant sacred literature. So perhaps Phoenician isn’t my thing, lol.


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