Monday, August 18, 2008

More on Hebrew, the Language of the Bible, and MBAs

Ori Orbach, Israel's top orthodox satirist, writes about a new translation of the Bible that has just come out, into modern Hebrew. The quotes he brings are all awful, especially if you can read the original. One of the things that often get lost in translations of the Bible is the incredible power of its language. Orbach concedes that modern school children who've never read the Bible may not easily understand all of it, but suggests that rather than stooping to their level, they should be required to work at it until the problem disappears, leaving us all much richer.

(The link is to an article that appeared only in Hebrew. Heh).

This seems to have echoes of a broader discussion: the post-modern claim that there is nothing intrinsically more valuable in high language than in gutter slang. Whatever people speak is their language. You may subscribe to that theory, if you wish, but the price you'll pay will be the loss of high language. Come to think of it, once this idea permeates an educational system and relieves children from the "burden" of working at learning their language, everyone loses, in whatever language. Words such as these, and also these, were formulated by men who well understood the power of language at its best, and had worked hard to achieve it.

In a parallel development, the Technion has decided to attract foreign students by teaching its MBA program in English. This bothers me less than you might think. English really is a the primary language of business, so having the ability to conduct your business in it is no problem. So long as you have a fine control of your mother tongue first (most people only do MBAs many years after they've learned to read, write, and think).


Anonymous said...


Like I said, ancient Hebrew had all of 836 root words. And, the language was brought back to life by a European rabbi. (Dunno his name.) But it was in the late 1800's.

Just like Hertzl brought an idea to life.

That currently there is a split between the modern and the "old?" No doubt. Since the modern needed to incorporate words for "automobile" and "stockings." I'm sure.

I also know that today's Greek kids can't read the ancient Greek texts, either.

Oh, and few English speakers, today, can read Chaucer (born 1350). Because our English language has changed, drastically, since then. Though Shakespeare, written at the end of the 1500's, has anchored English into his poetic language. WHich for our ears has become "ancient."

Hard to say what works. And, then what doesn't, in life.

I think EINSTEIN, because he describes the universe mathematically, will be the voice heard for the next 1000 years. Or until a mathematician comes along who adds something new. (To "E equals MC squared.")

I remember a professor in college, describing how Newton's theories, which works well for us; because we contend with gravity; didn't hold up once gravity was no longer the "field in play." And, how EINSTEIN seemed to intuit the way the universe could be measured. As time, itself, was no longer the same "everywhere."

Where I worry about Hebrew is that unlike in the past; where a Jew spoke his local language and dialect, and then also spoke Yiddish, or Ladino, had a way of communicated with other Jews, around the world.

And, now?

Because of the overtones of the ultra-orthodox, it's as if there's an attempt to lock in Jews into Israel, without providing them with the tools to move to places were other languages are spoken.

At just the same time other languages, around the world are biting the dust.

An American linguistic professor, John Whorter, has written about this loss of languages in the world to 40. He says that the way things are working, now, every single part of our globe can get a translation into a tongue that it is understood "locally." Because the world has only 40 languages left. Where at the beginning of the 1900's there were 3000 world languages, around.

Plus, in the "modern tongues" there's this collection that is simplifying "stuff."

Meanwhle, Chinese, for instance, dependent on characters, and not an alphabet, is not conducive to Internet keyboards. Does this mean that ENGLISH will dominate?

English is the language that borrows from others. I used to know a single sentence, that when said, had words from English, French, German, Latin, Spanish ... and some other. Yet all the words were familiar.

Back in Chaucer's time, too, the Germanic grammer was followed; so you'd come to the verb as the last word in the sentence. CHANGED. As did the introduction of the letter "f" ...

In English, now, a baby fox is a vixen. (So you can see the "f" and the "v")

It is through language(s), that you learn that changes are always in flux.

And, if "computer speak" does anything at all, it will add the "short cuts" people use when they text.

And, whether English gets taught well, or not in Israel; or in China; there are people who are going out of their ways to learn this, so they can not just compute; but also do the underlying math so they can also write programs.

Again, whether it is taught by the schools, or not. The future may not go to those who get academic credentials, either. Because the "elite academicians" are notorious for their politics. Which hinges on the innept.

While? Israel isn't exactly "sleeping." It's got Morris Talansky out there attempting to resucitate the Likud. While, in America, John Edwards became rich enough in 2006 (two years after he failed to beceome Vice President), still collecting money from campaigning ... to afford Rielle Hunter's baby. Go figa.

Anonymous said...


Today's kids are born into a world where they take computers for granted.

A world where the VISUALS not only got bigger, but the screens so small you can hold a device in your hands.

YES. Pictures changed the way information gets inputted.

We've been on this road awhile. Cameras were invented in the Mid-1850's, I think. So we have picutres, today, of Lincoln. Before we had cameras, no pictures. Only what could be captured by artists. When you sat for your portrait.

How has the universe where information enters quickly VISUALLY; all in one grab. Not word-by-word on as recorded on paper ... HOW DOES THIS CHANGE ANYTHING?

For starters? Just the way EINSTEIN found TIME itself changes ... so, too, the way people learn. Where the GRAPHICS take precidence.

We've never had a VISUAL AGE before. And, the future remains unknown. All you do know, is that today's kids are arriving at a quicker pace TO information.

And, the 20th Century, coupled to the steam engine of the century before, has marked journeys as taking place incrementally faster and faster.

As to "gutter references," I know that SHakespeare, himself, threw out a few.

And, I also believe that if it wasn't for Michaelangelo, the pope wouldn't have a famous vatican where he can hang his hat.

Of course, the people in Italy have changed, though. You can tell by the size reductions in the typical Italian family.

And, "birth control" wasn't exactly brought into the market place,easily. It found its way in; true. But it had to fight to get there. Which means? In spite of "the church" ... people believe in what they want to believe in.

Even when you're in the business of selling crackers claiming they are invested with holy body parts. What comes first? The wink?

Lydia McGrew said...

This is an interesting development. We American Christians started suffering in the 1970's (but it's gotten a lot worse in the 90's) from dumbed-down translations of the Bible into increasingly childish, slangish, and inaccurate English. Now I would say that the most recent ones are most definitely paraphrases rather than translations, and quite dreadful. The earliest 1970's ones actually were scholarly and accurate but, because English itself was not as powerful a language in 1978 as in 1611, were simply far from being as beautiful and powerful as the King James.

And it was all supposedly about helping ordinary people to understand it. And the same point was made about how ordinary people _could_ understand the older version of the language with (in the case of Elizabethan English) even just a _tiny_ amount of work and explanation. My father struggled to finish high school and is no intellectual, but he could read and understand the older English of the KJV, partly because it was what he had been taught in church since his youth.

It's rather startling to imagine Israelis going through a similar process with ancient Hebrew and modern Hebrew.