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Teach Linguistics, Not Just Dikduk (article summary)
My article for this past Shabbos in The Jewish Link was about the importance of teaching dikduk, as well as linguistic knowledge more broadly, applied to languages such as English or Italian. Students should know phonology in general so that they have the intuition and capabilities of tackling Hebrew dikduk and how a guttural differs from a sibilant. I’ll summarize the points below, but first the hyperlinks: HTML, flipdocs, paid Substack.
These are the bullet points:
(1) A joke about not killing Adam for eating from the Tree of Knowledge, despite the Divine promise. He’s just cast out of the Garden. Why? Because shlucho shel adam kemoso, sending out of Adam is like his death.
Grammarians might point out that that is shilucho, rather than shlucho. Nu, nu…
(2) This relates to Kiddushin 41, which derives agency for divorce. He can send it via agent / he can send an agent; she can receive it via agent. The agent can appoint another agent. This is deduced from וְשִׁלַּח / וְשִׁלְּחָהּ.
(3) I won’t go into the full mechanics of this interpretation. But one strong possibility to my mind is that it is the kal vs. the piel. The Biblical words are written in the piel - veshillach, which means “he sent out [/drove out]” as opposed to the kal form veshalach, “he sent [a messenger]”. I note Biblical examples of each use. So it is a revocalization.
(4) Alas, when reviewing this daf with a bright high schooler in the top shiur, where the topic was how Rishonim understood the derashot in different ways, the notes revealed that all students and the rebbe were mispronouncing the words as veshalach / veshalcha. That meant missing the possible dikduk aspect of the derasha, plus that they hadn’t bothered to look the pesukim up inside, in a Chumash!
(5) We looked at the verses inside, and this helped us understand various features mentioned in different derashot to a greater degree. E.g. what does it mean that veshillechah is written twice? Why would it be? Hey, there is a third instance! That actually helps address Tosafot’s question…
(6) So, besides actually looking at the pesukim inside, American yeshivot can do a lot better in teaching Hebrew language and grammar. Right now, for many that do, it doesn’t really “stick”.
My suggestion is therefore that they should teach grammar and linguistics more broadly. That includes a general understanding of phonology, morphology, syntax, and the different rules, features, and linguistic developments across multiple languages. Not just for Hebrew, but for English, Italian, and so on.
The problem right now is that they are taught a specific rule for Hebrew, that beged kefet at the start of a word or after a sheva nach gets a dagesh. What is special about these six letters, phonologically speaking? With a broader understanding of phonology, using scientific and English terminology (plosive vs. fricative, voiced vs. unvoiced), students will have the vessels to understand the specifics as it applies to Hebrew, and it won’t seem like arcane, arbitrary rules to remember. And they won’t shy away from the dikduk Rashis, and so on.
My column for next week dives further into the pitfalls of Talmudic Hebrew / Aramaic what could be done to address the difficulties.
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