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05/28/2012

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J. Reed Anderson

I was not aware that Aramaic was still spoken. I just assumed it, like Latin, was a dead language. Is it like Hebrew then, John, that a speaker from 2,000 years ago would be intelligible to a speaker today? And how would this compare as a still extent language to say, Pashtun which was spoken by the people Alexander fought?

John Pepple

I wasn't aware that it was still spoken, either, until I began digging around a few weeks ago. I've learned the alphabet from that alphabet song I linked to, though not the script for it yet. (Anyway, there seems to be three different scripts. Sheesh.) I read somewhere that Aramaic hasn't changed much, but I'm not an expert on it.

I couldn't say about Pashtun. I know some ancient Greek, and when I told a speaker of modern Greek (an American of Greek descent) about some of the strange grammatical forms that ancient Greek had, she said they had disappeared.

Of course, there's also old English and middle English. I don't know anything about them, but when I've looked at old English, not much is familiar.

Jim S.

I took a term of biblical Aramaic once. It was pretty interesting. It struck me as much closer to Arabic than Hebrew; sometimes it almost felt like we were reading Arabic in Hebrew script.

Actually, aren't there medieval transcripts that went the other way, Hebrew writings that were written in Arabic script in order to disguise them? Or am I getting it backwards? I think I saw an article that listed all the writings like this, but I don't remember where off the top of my head.

John Pepple

Yes, it does seem closer to Arabic than Hebrew. Where did you take this class?

I'm pretty sure there have been things in Hebrew written in Arabic script, and vice versa as well. People use scripts in lots of different ways. In Egypt, I saw plenty of English in Arabic script. Of course, I don't think they were trying to disguise anything by doing so.

Mark Spahn

http://www.abnsat.com/
is the Aramaic Broadcast Network, on which Robert Spencer occasionally appears. I know very little about this TV network or its Aramaic broadcasts (if any).

J. Reed Anderson

Old English, John, is more akin to Old Norske, or Icelandic, but the modern versions of the two latter are pretty much unintelligible to each, somewhat like Chinese (Mandarin) to Japanese, wherein the ganji are intelligible, but the spoken language no longer is. (Or like French and Italian, both Latin dialects.) Middle English, like Elizabethan, is intelligible to an English-speaker; you just have to listen. There is, however, enough Anglo-Saxon left in our linguistic base that, if you listen closely enough, you can pick out recognizable words. Speakers of Low German Friesian still share much in common with our Old English.

John Pepple

Yes, I would agree, though English and Icelandic are at least part of the same Indo-European family, while Chinese and Japanese are from different families. A better analogy would compare English and Hungarian, or English and Finnish.

J. Reed Anderson

Chinese and Japanese are? I then misunderstood the owner of one of those Chinese buffets. She told me she was able to read Japanese ganji, albeit with some difficulty. I assumed more than I should. I was thinking more of a difference of dialects in language, as Italian and French are dialects of Latin (which itself is a dialect, probably, of Etruscan, if I remember my John McWhorter).
At any rate, I'm still fascinated to learn that Aramaic is still alive and well. And now to learn that Greek grammar has evolved. Did it lose or gain in complexity?

John Pepple

Greek lost complexity. It used to have duals (between singular and plural), and it used to have third-person imperatives. My informant said she wasn't aware of these. Plus, the typical Greek verb had 500 different forms. I think most of that has disappeared.

No, you didn't misunderstand the Chinese person. Because Chinese uses pictographs rather than letters, and because Japanese borrowed a lot of them, it's perfectly possible for a Chinese person to read Japanese ganji, even though the two languages are of different families.

It's an advantage pictographs have over letters. I don't know of any other advantages, though. Plus, I assume that the Chinese person wouldn't know how the Japanese pronounce them.

J. Reed Anderson

Five hundred different forms? God I hope they disappeared. The very idea is making my brain hurt.
And maybe that was where I got confused. She could find her way around Tokyo, let's say, but didn't know exactly how the ganji for say, "Street," sounded in Japanese.

John Pepple

Yes, it's quite unusual. The Chinese character for street, let's say, get's adopted by the Japanese to mean street, but they have a completely different word for it. Plus, they have a different syntax, so I can understand how she might have a little difficulty.

Yes, 500 different forms for the ancient Greek verb. Most of them are participles.

Jim S.

I took the Aramaic class in seminary before I was corrupted by philosophy. A lot of seminaries and Bible colleges will have courses like that since there are three chapters in Daniel and three chapters in Ezra that are written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew (plus words and phrases scattered throughout the Old Testament). I still have some of the textbooks.

John Pepple

Very interesting. I pulled my Hebrew Old Testament down from the shelf, expecting to see a change in the script at some point in Daniel, but there was nothing. Even in the elaborate footnotes, there was no indication I could see that the language had changed to Aramaic. Yet, it does mention it in my English-language Bibles, so I know you're right.

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