Review: Grammatical Concepts 101 for Biblical Hebrew

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For many of us (Americans) grammar is not our strong suit. I certainly speak for myself. Besides adverbs, I did well in high school. But high school was ten years ago, I’m learning Hebrew now, and I am becoming very much aware that ten years is a long time. Gary Long knows the struggle, and has written this book to teach underlings like me how to work with both English and Hebrew grammar.

Summary

Long’s book is divided into three parts:

Part I: Foundations explains the basis of language. He covers linguistic hierarchies, from phone(me) -> morph(eme) -> lex(eme) -> word -> phrase – clause. Sound production comes next, which is surprisingly helpful in remembering why Hebrew vowels change from one vowel to another. Next comes the syllable (a requirement to understand Hebrew), and translational values.

Part II: Building Blocks expands upon the grammar concepts one would find in a grammar book: gender, number, article, conjunctions, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, infinitives, gerunds, participles, verbs, tense and aspect, mood, the imperative, the jussive, and voice.

Part III: The Clause and Beyond. Doing just as he says, Long moves from words to clauses, semantics, and discourse analysis (a relatively new field). This will not be for beginners, but it will be understandable for those who are working through this in class now or who have worked through this already. Long is able to spend 52 pages on these topics, and that’s plenty more you’d get from most (or any) grammar book.

Long beings by showing how a topic (adverbs) work in English before he teaches the reader how it works in Hebrew. While one could resort to Google to understand the definition of an adverb, Long provides phrases and sentences in Hebrew for the reader to see how the grammar functions. The Hebrew is provided, the interlinear is given underneath each word, and parsing is given for the particular grammatical word in view.

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Long strives for simplicity whenever possible, and warns the reader that, at times, they may find the language overly simplistic. This depends on the individual. In some cases everything made good sense, but in other places I didn’t know what I was reading and thought, “There must be an easier way to say this.“ Though, those thoughts only occurred in section 3, a section I haven’t yet been taught in class. But again, this book isn’t to be read on its own.

Throughout Long’s book, he gives you many cross references to other grammatical concepts. So in the section on demonstrative adjectives, there’s a clear distinction from demonstrative pronouns (which you can find on p. 51). This is helpful because there many concepts to grasp, and a quick guide to the exact page saves time instead of scanning through each page of the chapter on pronouns. Yet the system is a tad cumbersome. Perhaps in the next edition the cross references could be put in the margins or turned into footnotes. That would leave the main text free while keeping the pointers on the page.

Recommended?

What must be said about this book is that it is “designed to complement standard teaching grammars” (xvii). A grammar is best not read alone (it’s best to have a teacher), and this book should not be read alone. This is not meant to be read cover to cover, but a slice at a time when one comes across a difficult concept. It is a reference work. You will have trouble understanding Hebrew grammar if you try reading this book on its own. Teachers would do well to use this to make explaining grammar easier. Grammar books just can’t use as much space as Long does. That’s a huge benefit with Long’s volume. He can use more space to explain concepts from the ground up. Beginning Hebraist will derive a good bit of help from this book, primarily Parts 1 and 2. Part 3 will likely be over their heads as that section moves from basic grammatical functions to the clause, syntax, and discourse grammar.

These are not topics Elementary Hebrew students pick up. But that does mean this book will grow in its usefulness to the student when he or she has walked through the door and made themselves at home with syntax and exegesis. Really, predication and semantics won’t make sense to the beginner if they only read this book. Even some topics in Part 2 won’t make sense because the beginner hasn’t been taught this yet. I found his chapters on tense and aspect, mood, and voice to be understandable, but a book can only do so much. If you’re a teacher, this book will come in handy as a supplement to the student. If you’re a student, you need all the help you can get to understand grammar (at least, if you plan to take some exegesis classes). It’s vital to understand the grammar of any language your learning. How much more should we use the resources at hand to know the words of the One who redeems us from death?

Lagniappe

  • Author: Gary Long
  • Paperback: 234 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic; 2 edition (April 15, 2013)

Buy it on Baker Academic or on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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