Friday, November 20, 2009

Writing about writing about writing - bones without meat

Scholars who write well and footnote well still can write lots that is not very informative. Geoffrey Khan can say that the early eastern traditions of Hebrew grammar are important: "The discovery of the Karaite grammatical texts now makes it clear that Hebrew grammatical thought was far more widespread and developed in the east than scholars had previously thought." While this may be true, it is quite uninformative. It is talk about talk. To be informative there must be examples given that drill down to the data - what is the data? It is examples of language and rule, not lists of people who wrote about language and rule.

True, this essay by Geoffrey Khan in Hebrew Scholarship and the Medieval World is over my head, but there were some intriguing passages that read like today's solutions to the same problem - searching for the meaning of words in their usage.

On many occasions in  Ibn Nuh's DiqDuq, a variety of different opinions are cited [O for an example] The proponents are always left anonymous [no footnotes!] Very frequently he presents divergent opinions without asserting any preference of his own. The issue as to why a word has one form rather than another is sometimes referred to by the term mas'ala ('question', pl masa'il) ... His method was to attempt to reach the truth by exploring many possible paths.
To reach the truth - and many paths - it sounds like those who read many translations to see what might be happening. O for just one example of what he is referring to.

And this also intriguing thought: - Saadya apparently divided "the letters of the Hebrew alphabet into eleven base letters which occur only as root letters, and eleven servile letters, i.e letters that, in the formation of words, are attached to the fundamental root letters." How can you make a statement like this and leave out the obvious - which letters did he put in which list? Clearly vav the connector is in the second list. Aleph and Yod perhaps also - but the thesis is only a throw-away line and there is no reference given. There are a number of other throw-away lines that sound promising - but these are bones without meat.

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