5.0215 Modern Hebrew SW (1/101)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 4 Jul 91 16:11:03 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0215. Thursday, 4 Jul 1991.

Date: Thu, 27 Jun 91 22:26:14 -0500
From: Alan D Corre <corre@convex.csd.uwm.edu>
Subject: Hebrew Software

Judy Koren's thoughtful response to my posting about my modern Hebrew
software impels me to give more detail. Let me say first that the
reason I wrote the posting originally was to indicate one little place
where computers can do what no other method can do. What I am trying
to achieve here can only be done with the help of the machine. When I
began to learn Russian a while ago, I found the Apple II programs
available at our university of immense help. Basic Russian words are
hard for English speakers, and just being able to drill vocabulary
with a machine of infinite patience was wonderful. I need no
convincing that computers can materially aid progress in language

Each language has its own area of difficulty for the student. In
Hebrew, students tend to be very nonplussed at the thought that they
have to reach a point where they can read Hebrew without vowels.
Moreover they are aware that although they can read (and be slowed up
by) the vowel points that are used only for beginners and in poetry,
the system is so complex, and so unrelated to the phonemics of modern
Hebrew if truth be told, that they cannot hope to learn to use it
accurately. So they learn in a half-baked way a system which they
cling to for dear life, knowing that they are supposed to abandon it
as soon as possible, if not sooner. Not a very satisfactory arrange-
ment. The issues faced by a Hebrew-speaking five year old are
different, and I am not addressing them here.

My system works as follows. The transcription system defers to
pronunciation, but takes into account peculiarities of Hebrew
spelling. So he learns "king" as "melex" "like a king" as "kemelex"
and "he wept" as "baxah". (If the stress is not on the last syllable,
an accent mark will indicate it, but the student does not have to
insert that when writing.) The machine echoes these words as is, but
also types them out in Hebrew being smart enough to represent the x of
"melex" as a final kaf, the k of "kemelex" as a medial kaf and the x
of "baxah" as a medial kaf. The Hebrew appears simultaneously in a
different window. Since she typed in the phonetic Roman with vowels,
she must be able to read the vowelless Hebrew. Any time the student
wants, he can switch off that Roman echoing, and so be mentally writing
"sefer" and seeing RPS emerge. The Hebrew is then indeed the "main"
display. Roman comes back on demand. Please note, the student is given
options here. Imagine, an American student being given options. If he
wants to be lazy, he can use the Roman side and hardly bother with the
Hebrew screen. So, he'll learn some oral Hebrew but maybe be
illiterate. If that happens, he probably is already illiterate in
English, so why expect more in Hebrew? If she wants to learn the
language, she can switch off real early and school herself to get
familiar with that glorious unvowelled script.

In English we distinguish "cite" and "site", "cession" and "session".
I require students to do a similar thing in my transcription; the word
for "drug" is "sam" but the word for "put" is "|am" where | stands for
an s-symbol which I don't have in ascii, but can use on the Mac. Both
"|" and "$" (which I use for the esh sound--it's a single consonant)
will generate a single letter on the Hebrew side. On the other hand
"ken" "yes" will generate a different k symbol from "qen" "nest" altho
they are homophones.

A separate utility enables printout in mixed Hebrew and English. An
arbitrary sign "~" toggles the machine between English and Hebrew
script, the Hebrew being entered in left to right transcription and
appearing right to left and properly formatted relative to the English,
so "The Hebrew word for queen is ~malkah" will appear as "The Hebrew
word for queen is HKLM". (Last word Hebrew letters, of course.) When
the Hebrew-English (or Hebrew only) window is complete, the laser
prints it out as is. I'm not worried about students having to learn
something new when they come to a different word processor--there are
many things one has to relearn in this volatile computer world. Let's
regard it as a challenge rather than a chore.

Always available is a log which records everything the student does
and every score the student gets with date and time stamp. The log is
optional (!) If the student wants it, he inserts a disk and it is
recorded there. A vocabulary is always available, and I'm working on
getting it to say the words out loud. (Version 2 of ProIcon makes that

I'd like to add one point that I think is crucial. In Monday's Chicago
Tribune there is an article by Tom Peters headed "For success try
putting a little love in your work." He says "...Kriegel went so far as
to invent a passion index...[they] also comment on passion's
contagious nature...40 to 60 percent of all therapeutic benefits can
be attributed to a combination of the placebo and Hawthorne effects,
two code words for caring and concern..." I think when students realise
that the teacher is trying to address their problems, they respond.
The fact that a "neat idea" is being tried out helps no matter what.
What problem am I trying to solve? I'm trying to solve the problem
that foreign language learning is tough, and a fresh approach is
always welcome. If and when I get the chance to try it out, I'll find
out soon enough if my "passion" is requited.

To end on a lighter note, I should like to take the opportunity to
tell a mildly off-color true story about Hebrew spelling. If you feel
that the tongue the prophets spake should not be mixed with
offe-coloure stories, please press control-whatever right now, and
blow me away before I corrupt you. Anyway, here goes. A friend of mine
who teaches Hebrew in the south of the US told me that he received a
paper from a student who had apparently decided to beg him for a good
grade. The student wanted to write "ani carix ciyun tov" which means
"I need a good grade" but unfortunately got one letter wrong and wrote
"ani carix ziyun tov" which means "I need a good f---." I said: "How
did you react to this astonishing confession?" He replied: "I wrote on
the paper 'ani gam-ken'" ("Me too.")