Aramaic Panic

Ok, so I’m taking Aramaic this semester. I really enjoy learning languages. I enjoy studying the Bible. It’ll look good on my transcript when I go on for PhD work (the issue of a youth pastor having a PhD in Hebrew Bible is not one that I wish to get into at present…I’m the oldest child in my family, I’m used to blazing new trails). It also, if I manage an A or A+ in the course, opens the door to taking both Targumic Aramaic and Syriac as a directed study. So, those would both be awesome.

Now, on to the topic of this post. I am, in no small way, panicking. Let me explain what our first week of work included in this class:

  • 143 Vocabulary words (some are exact Hebrew cognates, so no big deal. Others aren’t hard if you sorta know the Bible (ie, bar for “son”…but even then there are probably around 90 words that don’t fall into that category)
  • 8 Paradigms (Personal pronouns, absolute and construct nouns, Peal strong verb perfect, imperfect, imperative, participle, passive participle and infinitive.
  • We were responsible to read ahead in the textbook (A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic by Alger Johns), and do the exercises for material we had not yet covered in class.
  • There were 50 of these exercises, which wasn’t a horrible number as they are fairly simple sentences.
  • Of those chapters in the textbook we were supposed to work through, there were 5.

This is, according to the syllabus, what I can expect for the first half of the semester. I’m not complaining, this is, after all, graduate school. I am panicking! We are making our way through the entire grammar in about five weeks. Which, my instinct is, wouldn’t be bad–if we were actually covering the lessons in class and then doing the exercises, etc. However, we are supposed to just read the chapter, understand enough to do the exercises, and then show up in class–which is spent going over the exercises and having the entire class ask questions that waste time because they’re overly simple but we don’t know them because we were never actually taught the material. Beyond that, if I have 8 paradigms to memorize every week, aside from being a horrible way to learn a language, it means that I am going to be responsible for at least 40 paradigms on the mid-term. Now, we won’t have to reproduce all 40. But since Dr. Stuart refuses to tell us which ones will be on the mid-term we will have to know all 40. Add to this trying to learn and retain ~100 vocab words a week, and I’m just freaking out. Do people actually learn languages like this?

Now that I’ve vented my frustrations and panicked ravings enough to get on with life I’m going to return to the insurmountable number of vocab words and paradigms I have to learn. Because I’m already behind.

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8 thoughts on “Aramaic Panic

  1. Yikes! Gotta love the way we do languages…I know I do! I was thinking about looking at the language courses through BTI to see if another school takes a different approach to language. I think my language career at GCTS will be done after Hebrew II.

  2. Most of the paradigms make more sense if you understand the development of the language (movement of stress, vowel coloring, etc.). Also, most of the differences in cognate forms can be explained through an understanding of the relationship of Hebrew and Aramaic to the proto-semitic phonemes. Is Stuart talking about this in class?

    Beyond some basic comparative grammar, the best thing you can do is read the text. Most language classes I’ve taken were inductive: “here’s a text, a dictionary and a grammar, let’s go!” It’s hurts and it is messy, but what’s the sense in learning paradigms for biblical Aramaic? If I remember correctly there many of them are not attested in the text. Yet, there’s only about a dozen chapters of Aramaic in the Bible, easily enough to accomplish in a semester. If you’ve read everything in Biblical Aramaic, I tend to think you pretty much know the language.

    I concur with parkermood, get languages from BTI.

  3. Dr. Stuart isn’t really teaching in class. At least, not per se. We are supposed to read the chapters in the grammar on our own, do the exercises from the grammar, and then we spend the class time going over those exercises. It might actually work, if Dr. Stuart was trying to be inductive. Having said that, there was a section in the first lesson on Proto-semitic and the canaanite vowel shift. I found it extremely interesting.

    It’s not so much learning the language that has me panicking. I think I could probably learn Aramaic in about three weeks if left to myself. I’m panicking about all the paradigms, and the huge amounts of vocab we have to learn in such a short amount of time. I’m completely understand that languages become a ton easier to understand when you know the vocab. But I just don’t know if I can memorize 100 words a week. Well, okay, I can. I just don’t think I can do it without panicking.

  4. Don’t panic. The class sessions are pretty much worthless as you have probably noticed by now. You’ll be teaching yourself Aramaic this semester. Stuart will only answer questions and then you’ll spend 2 hours listening to people ATTEMPT to pronounce a few words, followed by their reading from the answer key that they’re pretending they actually translated. After a week or two of this I decided that the three hours was more valuable if spent in the library. Sit with the answer key and look at the Aramaic and go back and forth. Get the feel for what the language is doing. I picked up the vocab a lot faster this way too. As far as the paradigms are concerned, type up a sheet of the three consonants and just practice pointing it. You’ll do fine in the class. This is actually the class I attended the least in my career at GCTS, but it’s the highest grade on my transcript. Go figure.

  5. I am feeling a bit less panicked today. I feel like I’ve gotten a bit more of a handle on things. Vocab is still slipping me by, but I’m hoping it will come with time.

    The class sessions are worthless, which is beyond frustrating. Actually not attending a class grates against my personality, but in this case I’m really considering it. Over reading week I’m going to devote a ton of time to Aramaic, just translating, parsing, that kind of thing. Hopefully I’ll start to get a handle on it. So much for having someone teach you a dead language.

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