For the past few years, Hebrew has always been my "next" language. Meanwhile, I've studied several languages long-term and dabbled in at least a score.
I always theoretically want to learn Hebrew; my parents are fluent and they are friends with many native speakers, so I have plenty of opportunity to practice. I have a new baby daughter who just turned a month old and I'd like her to learn at least conversational Hebrew as well. I'm a false beginner and I already know the writing system and some basic grammar and vocabulary, and due to heavy exposure as a child I can speak with a convincing accent.
There are also other more abstract motivating factors. Although there are major differences between modern and biblical Hebrew (I've heard that it's similar to the difference between contemporary and early modern English, ie Shakespeare or the King James Bible), it would get me close to being able to read the most influential piece of literature in Western Civilization in the original. And lastly, I think ancient civilizations are very cool and I think it's amazing that there's a modern language that was also contemporary with Ancient Egyptian and Babylonian, and was also partly mutually intelligible with other Canaanite languages such as Phoenician.
However, despite these factors, there always seems to be another language that's more fun, more interesting, easier, or more practical.
But a recent interest in conlanging brought me the final piece of motivation I needed to get started. The Semitic triliteral root system is frankly astonishing and it's amazing that anything like it evolved naturally. Most languages keep their affixes separate (as in agglutinative languages such as Turkish or Swahili). Others have merged several pieces of information into a single morpheme (as in Fusional languages such as Russian or Latin). But the triliteral root system is non-concatenative. The template of three separate consonants stays the same while the vowels shift and change around and in between them. There must have been an absurd number of steps to get from concatenative affixes to a biliteral template system and eventually a triliteral system. It's one of the coolest and most unlikely oddballs of language evolution.
I want to commit to at least six months working on Hebrew and get up to a decent conversational level. The last time I worked on Hebrew I actually had some good momentum but then dropped Hebrew to work on French exclusively leading up to a trip to French Canada a few years ago, and I never picked it back up. But this time my wife and I are at home with a new baby, so there won't be any fun vacations to distract me!
I'm starting out with these resources:
- Pimsleur Hebrew
- Assimil Hebrew
- Hebrew - A language course - Primer and level 1 (א).
All of these have audio and/or vowel markings. Hebrew is typically written without vowels; however, medieval scholars created a system of diacritical markers called נקדות (nekudot) that mark vowels. They also show distinguish between hard (plosive) and soft (fricative) versions of consonants, although many of these distinctions have been lost in Modern Hebrew. Many vowels have also merged.
I'm using a very old website to learn how to touch-type in Hebrew. Unfortunately it isn't an HTTPS site and uses an old Java applet, so you need to go into the Java security settings to enable it. It only works for me in IE. Use at your own risk.
I also want to learn to hand write in cursive. I never mastered it in Hebrew school. I do have a workbook at home but the internet and a pen and paper should suffice.
There are also some good resources that I will not use until I'm more advanced because they don't use vowels and there isn't always audio. It really bothers me to read something without being able to pronounce it properly.
In a shocking turn of events that should surprise nobody, I can't even get through a week of studying Hebrew without getting dragged into a random-ass obscure language. Inuktitut is an Eskimo-Aleut language spoken by Inuit people in Northern Canada. It's related to Greenlandic.
Some cool features that drew me to it:
- The writing system is amazing! It's a syllabary created for Cree by missionaries, partly inspired by Devanagari. It was adapted to Inuktitut with some diacritics. The vowel of a syllable is indicated by the direction of a syllable - up for /i/ (eg ᐃ /i/ or ᑭ /ki/), rotated 90º or 180º for /u/ (eg ᐅ /u/ or ᑯ /ku/), and then flipped horizontally for /a/ (eg ᐊ /a/ or ᑲ /ka/). A bare consonant with no vowel is a superscript of the /a/ syllable (eg ᒃ /k/). Long vowels are marked with a dot (eg ᐄ /aː/), and a diacritic mark is added to /k/ to get /q/ (eg ᕿ /qi/) or to added to /g/ to get /ŋ/ (eg ᖏ /ŋi/) or /ŋg/ (eg ᙱ /ŋgi/).
- The phonology is very small with no sounds that I have trouble pronouncing. It only has three phonemic vowels, and its small consonant inventory contains two of my favorites, /q/ and /ɬ/. Vowels and consonants can be short or long.
- It's polysynthetic, meaning that words inflect so much that one word can express an entire sentence. A famous example is ᖃᖓᑕᓲᒃᑯᕕᒻᒨᕆᐊᖃᓛᖅᑐᖓ (qangatasuukkuvimmuuriaqalaaqtunga), meaning "I’ll have to go to the airport."
I'm only expecting to work on Inuktitut for a couple of weeks. I want to learn the syllabary and also learn some very basic grammar and vocabulary.
Tusaalanga.ca is a free resource with audio that teaches any of five dialects spoken in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. I went with the default selection of ᕿᑭᖅᑖᓗᒃ ᓂᒋᐊᓂ (Qikiqtaaluk nigiani) aka the South Baffin dialect. It's spoken in Iqaliut, the territory's capital.