Monday, March 08, 2010

On Finishing the Psalter

I have asked questions about the translation of a curious piece of Hebrew here. I really should have posted the text on this blog since it pertains specifically to the psalter. Two respondents (Rachel Barenblat of the Velveteen Rabbi and Joel Hoffman of God Didn't Say That so far have contributed to a partial solution to the questions asked.

After 40 of 44 grammar exercises, (see the links on letter by letter at the side) I am beginning to understand grammar better. I am also working my way slowly though a book on The Verbless Clause in Biblical Hebrew. I loved essays number 1 and 3 - wonderful exercises in presenting the raw data: Pivotal Issues in Analyzing the Verbless Clause by Cynthia Miller. And Are Nominal Clauses a Distinct Clausal Type? by Cameron Sinclair. Sinclair was a relief after Walter Gross Is there Really a Compound Nominal Clause in Biblical Hebrew?  I think he concluded yes - but I was somewhat mystified.

Gross, like Buth, whom I am reading now, introduce a number of new terms that I find of limited usefulness. They don't stick in my memory. Sinclair, in contrast, offers example after example where 'to be' was in a clause with exactly the same pattern of subject and predicate as clauses without 'to be'. He concluded "that nominal or verbless sentences exhibit the same range of complement types as sentences that appear with the verb 'to be' when it functions as a copula."

Buth is going over generative-functional grammar concepts. I can spell these and I have read some of my son-in-law's work on the subject, but the terminology is not exactly reader-friendly. He does consider some aspects of tone that I think are very important - not for semantics but for impact. I don't think I will ever be able to communicate Hebrew to English readers purely by the reading of a book as if I were reading Winnie-the-Pooh to someone. But I assure you, I don't read WtP monotonically - a non-English speaking person would get much of the story from tone and presence in the aural performance. My model for this reading was Maurice Evans - who did these stories on vinyl years ago. They are available here and are wonderful. I would like to hear the Bible read this way in English with a good literal translation - retaining as much word-order as possible because of the dramatic effects (fronting is what Buth would say). But we need to hear - not explain with big words.

We have a long way to go.

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