An Introduction to Aramaic.
AN INTRODUCTION TO ARAMAIC. By Frederick E. Greenspahn. SBLRBS 38. Pp. xii + 232. Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1999. Paper, $54.95.
This book could best be described as an introduction to biblical Aramaic Noun 1. Biblical Aramaic - the form of Aramaic that was spoken in Palestine in the time of the New Testament
Aramaic - a Semitic language originally of the ancient Arameans but still spoken by other people in southwestern Asia with a few additional texts from other Aramaic dialects. Its intended audience is "students who are just beginning to study Aramaic" (p. ix), and who already know biblical Hebrew. It consists of thirty-two chapters. The first two chapters provide a brief introduction to and history of Aramaic. Chapters 3-26 introduce the student to the grammar of biblical Aramaic with constant reference to biblical Hebrew and the way that biblical Aramaic differs from it. In each of these chapters, there is a brief explanation of some aspect of biblical Aramaic grammar, followed by two vocabulary lists (words "to be learned" and words for "reference"), and then a reading section. This reading section consists of a lightly edited and simplified portion from Ezra or Daniel. Each chapter closes with a set of exercises arranged in workbook work·book
1. A booklet containing problems and exercises that a student may work directly on the pages.
2. A manual containing operating instructions, as for an appliance or machine.
3. style. Most of these exercises are parsing exercises or writing of paradigms or translation of sentences from Aramaic to English or English to Aramaic. The final six chapters consist of texts with notes and related exercises. Chapter 27 contains the unedited text of Daniel 7. The remaining chapters contain non-biblical texts (28--Inscriptions, 29--Letters, 30--Genesis Apocryphon, 31--Genesis Rabbah, 32--Targum Pseudo-Jonathan). There is also an Afterword af·ter·word
See epilogue. , which is an annotated bibliography An annotated bibliography is a bibliography that gives a summary of the research that has been done. It is still an alphabetical list of research sources. In addition to bibliographic data, an annotated bibliography provides a brief summary or annotation. , a section of noun and verb paradigms, a (non-exhaustive) Glossary, and two full pages of Errata er·ra·ta
Plural of erratum. (almost all errors are, disturbingly, errors in the vocalization of Aramaic words).
Greenspahn is to be commended for undertaking the task of providing an introductory grammar which recognizes and uses the student's knowledge of Hebrew, and which also recognizes that biblical Aramaic is not a world unto itself but is actually a very small part of a much larger world of Aramaic dialects. The book is clearly written and the presentation is generally easy to understand. Greenspahn's enthusiasm for Aramaic is evident and infectious. These characteristics make it all the more regrettable to say that the book suffers from some significant problems which will make the student's (and his or her teacher's) task much more frustrating frus·trate
tr.v. frus·trat·ed, frus·trat·ing, frus·trates
a. To prevent from accomplishing a purpose or fulfilling a desire; thwart: than it needs to be.
The fundamental problem seems to be that the book tries to be both an inductive inductive
1. eliciting a reaction within an organism.
a form of radiofrequency hyperthermia that selectively heats muscle, blood and proteinaceous tissue, sparing fat and air-containing tissues. grammar and a deductive de·duc·tive
1. Of or based on deduction.
2. Involving or using deduction in reasoning.
de·duc grammar. The inductive grammar is found in the vocabulary lists and reading sections and the deductive grammar is found in the explanation of the grammar and the exercises. At numerous points, these two grammars do not fit together very well. For example, within the first few reading sections, the student is confronted with a variety of uses of the particle [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII ASCII or American Standard Code for Information Interchange, a set of codes used to represent letters, numbers, a few symbols, and control characters. Originally designed for teletype operations, it has found wide application in computers. ] and a variety of orders of sentence constituents such as verb, subject, and object. Apart from the vocabulary section where [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is defined as "which, that, of," the student is given no help in understanding the syntax of these reading sections. The student's task is particularly frustrating since the initial reading sections are taken from the Aramaic portions of Ezra, the syntax of which is more complicated than the Aramaic portions of Daniel. These areas of Aramaic syntax are eventually covered in the deductive grammar (in chapters 14, 16, and 23--which is a bit late even within a deductive grammar), but by the time the student has reached these chapters, he or she will have long since figured out the relevant syntax (or will have stopped trying).
In addition to this lack of "fit" there are problems within each of the grammars itself. Within the inductive grammar, the selection of the words to be included in each of the vocabulary lists is sometimes quite odd. One would assume that the "to be learned" section contains words that are common in biblical Aramaic and the "reference" list contains words that are rare. One should not make this assumption. In chapter 3, the ubiquitous particle [??] is listed in the "reference" list. (In chapter 6, it is listed again, but in the "to be learned list.") In chapter 12, the word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] which occurs once in biblical Aramaic, is listed in the "to be learned list." Also, the "to be learned" lists are replete with individual verb forms with their parsing provided. As Greenspahn himself notes in the preface, students "find it easier to learn patterns as a whole" (p. ix). The pedagogical ped·a·gog·ic also ped·a·gog·i·cal
1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of pedagogy.
2. Characterized by pedantic formality: a haughty, pedagogic manner. corollary of this fact is that the number of individual verb forms which students are required to memorize mem·o·rize
tr.v. mem·o·rized, mem·o·riz·ing, mem·o·riz·es
1. To commit to memory; learn by heart.
2. Computer Science To store in memory: should be kept to a minimum and students should learn complete paradigms. Yet, in these lists, the student is required to learn dozens of individual verb forms as separate vocabulary items.
Within the deductive grammar, there are some glaring omissions and errors. For example, at no place does Greenspahn adequately discuss the position of the stress on an Aramaic word and never is the stress graphically indicated on an), Aramaic word throughout the entire book. Without this basic piece of information, the student will simply not be able to understand the differences in vocalization that exist in various forms of the noun and the verb. What is worse is that the few statements that are made are misleading. On page 36, the statement "with the accent on the final syllable as is usual in these languages" leads the student to believe that all forms are stressed on the final syllable, but in the paradigm that follows (G Perfect), the stress is on that syllable in only half of the forms and it is this difference in stress position that accounts for the differences in the vocalization of these forms.
This inadequate treatment is compounded by questionable decisions and false statements. The only nouns for which Greenspahn provides a full paradigm are the nouns [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Although these two nouns form a nice pair, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is quite unusual in its vocalization, having a Hebrew-like "segholate" form as opposed to the far more common Aramaic vocalization found in a noun such as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Providing full paradigms for three or four different kinds of masculine and feminine nouns which illustrate the common varieties of vowel vowel
Speech sound in which air from the lungs passes through the mouth with minimal obstruction and without audible friction, like the i in fit. The word also refers to a letter representing such a sound (a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y). changes in Aramaic would have been much better. On page 84, in discussing a construct phrase in Aramaic, Greenspahn states "As in Hebrew, these word pairs are treated as if they were one word. Therefore, the first word loses its accent, with a resulting shift in vowels." The end of the second sentence is simply false. In Aramaic, with very few exceptions, the construct form of a noun never has a different set of vowels than the absolute form (though, in the singular, the absolute and the construct forms may have a different set of vowels than the emphatic form).
In conclusion, when I evaluate a grammar for its suitability for use in the classroom, two of the questions that I ask are "How frustrated will the students be when using this grammar?" and "How much class-time will I have to spend correcting or expanding the presentation?" It is really quite regrettable that, in this case, the answers are "very frustrated" and "a lot of time."
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