Hebrew Language: A pair of glasses to understand how people view the world.

I have read many posts and comments where students tell the others that they struggle learning the languages, not only English, but Spanish, German or French. But at the same time everybody agrees that learning Hebrew is very helpful to understand the Bible. I agree 100 percent with it and want to add that language reflects the way people think.  I remember I had a class “Cultural Communications for Translators” and we had an assignment where we were given Japanese hieroglyphs (nobody knew Japanese, of course) and their meanings and then combinations of these hieroglyphs, the meanings of which we knew, and tried to guess the words – some of them we guessed but most of them we didn’t. But in the end the instructor explained why this particular combination of hieroglyphs meant that word and how, knew we the culture, we might have guessed the meaning. Language very much reflects the culture. Another example is German. From my experience learning German, it is like Mathematics. All sentences are formulas (strict order of words in a sentence). Put the right words in the formula and you get the sentence. Now what can we say about the people who speak this Mathematical language? That they are very much logical, disciplined, organized, direct, probably the best workers.   Well, these are the stereotypes we have about them, and from what I heard from people who had a chance observing them, they are what we think they are. My expectations from learning Hebrew (I am going to study it for two semesters) is not only to be able to understand and read the Scriptures in the original, but maybe to have a better understanding of their worldview, the way they saw things. Language is the lenses through which people express what they see (analogy with worldview being a lens through which we see the world around us).

I might be at an advantage over other students in the class because a have experience of learning languages, both “alive” and dead. Plus some of the letters in Russian alphabet are borrowed from Hebrew, so I can make analogies. Nevertheless, it is always a challenge to master a language. All languages I learned are from one group of languages – Germanic, and one family of languages Indo-European (Russian also belongs to this family). But Hebrew is from another family of languages – Afro-Asiatic and Semitic group. The far away your own language, mother tongue, the more difficult is to learn the language. So here I am in the same position as everybody else.

I am looking forward to meeting everybody tomorrow.


3 Responses

  1. Thank you for your insights on learning language. I am on the other end of the spectrum with little language exposure, but I took an anthropology / missiology course a few years back and was impacted by how much language and cultural are intertwined. That may be an obvious statement, but I am curious if we know just how much unless we are immersed in the culture?

  2. Those are some good observations. While I have had virtually no experience in learning other languages (outside of a little high school Spanish), I’ve always found linguistics to be quite fascinating. Hebrew is proving to be quite a challenge, but I do look forward to being able to make some sense of it, and by extension gaining a better understanding of the Old Testament. Like you said, familiarity with the language can provide great insight into such crucial things as worldview, and that can make all the difference in study and interpretation.

  3. Thanks for your comment, I have to say I am jealous of your language ability.

    Since class started I am doing better in Hebrew then i thought I would. Part of my desire to learn Hebrew would have to be the interest in saying the cool sounding throaty words.

    Oh well, maybe one day.

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