Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hebrew Is Gobbly Gook!

Interesting Article Here!

This article that was on the Jerusalem Post website a few days ago is actually an answer to a question that I've had for a few years now. Considering that I am working with great effort on learning the Hebrew language, sometimes I look at its non-Indo European character set and I think, "Is this gobbly gook to anyone else?" I mean, do Israelis look at Hebrew text and see it like I see English -- as plain as my image in a mirror, as distinct as red and blue and green, as natural as the glare of a summer sun?

Apparently not!

Hebrew University did a study whereby they found that slightly jumbled words are more recognizable in English, and other Indo-European languages, than they are in Hebrew. For instance, "tutrle" and "mcie" are easier for English speakers to reorganize, instantly, into turtle and mice than their Hebrew equivalents would be.

This is because Hebrew is a root-based language. The Hebrew root is essentially a string of a few letters which have a definitive meaning, but can be used in tons of different forms (from verbs to nouns to adjectives) to carry on the meaning in a different context. You can't change them up.

In English, however, we would just have a totally different word with no connection between them. The best way to characterize the difference between Hebrew and English is that whereby English has thousands of more, distinct words, Hebrew is based more on context, structure, and these precious roots. Distinct words versus distinct word forms.

The roots can make for some really cool trivia. L'hosif, Yosef, tosefet - never mind.

Anyway, this makes me feel great! I kept wondering why my very smart teacher couldn't recognize a word in my homework because two letters were backwards. So those native Hebrew speakers actually don't have that instinctive recognition of Hebrew either! There's hope yet.

(If anyone wants to hear more about how AWESOME Hebrew is, comment on this post).


Anonymous said...

DB another awesome read.
you loyal reader
hag sameach

Israeli by Day said...

DK? Donkey Kong? Awesome!


Chag Sameacher

Duckrabbit said...

I don't think you got it quite right. The Hebrew orhtography is an Abjad. This is a fact completely separate from Hebrew's semitic morphology (3 letter roots etcetera.) The abjadic writing system largely explains the phenomenon you described. As you said, Hebrew text will scans somewhat differently than English, particularly when it's jumbled. But it still gets processed holistically. Fluent readers of Hebrew see the text as transparently meaningful. It's just the letter jumbles that behave differently. And it is not especially plausible to explain this based on morphology when there are more local writing-system differences in play.

Israeli by Day said...

Ronni, I'm sure you know your linguistics, but I don't think you read that article. According to Professor Ram Frost, the guy that did the study, the difficulty in picking up jumbled Hebrew is not due to the Abjad system of Hebrew writing, but rather to the root based structure of the language. Not the orthography, but specifically the morphology.

No, the jumbled letters were not picked up holistically. That is the entire point. They could not identify the parts WITHOUT the whole - the root intact being "the whole." Yes, a Hebrew root is holistically picked up by Hebrew readers, but only when the parts (the 3 letters) are organized as they are supposed to be. If "it" were picked up holistically, it wouldn't matter if a couple letters were out of place. That's what holistic means - the importance of the whole and interdependence of the parts. In fact, 59% of the words in jumbled Hebrew were NOT holistically processed. If the root wasn't intact, the word was not read properly. That's the entire point of the article and study.

Hey, that's according to the doctor that did the research. As you said, "It is not especially plausible to explain this based on morphology when there are more local writing-system differences in play." You're saying that you disagree with the findings of this research. That's fine, Professor Ronni.

Go argue with Professor Frost, not me! Sheesh, everyone always has some kind of "you've got it wrong, it's actually..." This is why I provide the article that I base my post off! READ THE ARTICLE and make it clear WHO you disagree with.

And of course I was exaggerating when I said that Hebrew is goobly gunk to Israelis. I realize it's not. Hope that colloquialism didn't bother you.

Lady-Light said...

Actually, the correct word is gobbledygook.
Really enjoyed your post. I am a the daughter of a Hebrew scholar & poet (deceased many years), and a teacher and lover of Ivrit, and any tidbits on the language fascinate me.
I will add your blog to my blogroll (would you reciprocate?)