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Re: orion Harrison on: Spoken DSS Hebrew.
According to John Hays:
> I have questioned is the inherent view that numerous people have of the
> miraculous linguistic skills of ancient peoples for learning numerous
> languages at once, ie I find the notion that the Jews were bilingual or
> even trilingual simply fantastic.
It is difficult to tell what evidence you will accept for any departure from your
views. In the world of scholarship with which I'm familiar, documentary evidence
and inscriptional evidence are quite persuasive presentations of objective
reality, and literary evidence has some bearing in establishing the picture as
However, as to matters of belief, sometimes the best evidence short of actual
experience is anecdotal. I assume that you have always lived in the United States
in a monolingual environment where everyone's mother tongue was English. This was
certainly the case for me before I spent a year in Israel.
In one day, while I was living briefly at the Albright Institute for
Archaeological Research in East Jerusalem, I began the day by trying out an
Arabic phrase with the woman who made the beds. She taught me another Arabic
phrase by using its German equivalent, as she was limited to two languages and
didn't speak English. Then I took the bus from East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem
and spoke to the bus driver and then a passenger in Hebrew, on my way to a course
in the Syriac language at Bar Ilan University, which was taught in Hebrew using
an English grammar. After the class I was discussing something in English with
the professor, Michael Sokoloff, who mentioned in a question the French
Dictionnaire de la Biblie/, with an appropriate French accent. It sounded like
gobbledegook to me, though I know French, until Michael said, "What's the matter?
Don't you know French?" Then it made sense, and I could answer.
Most of the rest of the time in Israel I knew the answer to "What language are we
in?", the punch line to a famous story about Strugnell. However, once I was
shopping on Salakh ed-Din street, and started by asking the shopkeeper a question
in Hebrew, though this was in an Arabic-speaking area. He answered in Hebrew, but
I realized my error in tact and switched to apologizing in Arabic, at which point
he switched to English, and we finished the exchange in English, except for the
closing in Arabic.
The point of these two stories is not that I am so accomplished in languages. It
is that even the maid spoke two languages; even the shopkeeper spoke three
languages; even the students learning Syriac used two languages.
Sure, there are counter examples, cab drivers who only speak Hebrew, etc. The
point is that it is a multilingual environment where one is constantly
negotiating the language of discourse with people who have more than one language
at their command, people in all sectors of society. It makes a monolingual
environment seem somehow flat. Like Kansas?
Certainly I can better conceptualize models of the languages in the Land in
Late Antiquity that posit two or three fairly active language systems in one
place, in order to account for all the data. I hope the stories provide you the
ability to imagine a multilingual world.
> John J. Hays > firstname.lastname@example.org
> I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto!
Sigrid Peterson UPenn email@example.com