Barry Hofstetter wrote:
My bottom line is that there would be much less discussion on these things if people were using the language for communication. For example, most English speakers could care less whether "I will come" is defined in English grammar as a future or a vestigial modal or whatever.
And lots of reading. A big part of the problem is that too many people are coming at the language(s) from a theoretical, ahem, perspective before becoming thoroughly familiar with the language. I come very late to the discussion on aspect, but with a background of many years of working with the language and simply endeavoring to understand what the author is communicating. That or something like it has to be the foundation truly to appreciate the theoretical linguistic, ah, aspects. Anybody who thinks that ancient Greek doesn't have tenses is a flapdoodle. Or maybe a pickle, I'm not sure which. The ancients themselves certainly felt that tense was a big part of it...
Getting on to more sustance, there is a reason that I add production to reading. Before getting to reasons, let me add 100% agreement that 'lots of reading' is an absolute must.
When people read, and especially when they stop and discuss a reading in a second language, they have time to inject all manners of metalinguistic framework jargon or ideas into the meaning of the original. On the one hand, such practice is probably necessary due to the nature of crossing from one language to another, but on the other hand, it allows practioners an opportunity to slip in items that would never have been possible in the original language situation and they may do such rephrasings without being aware that the original users did not have such an option. That can lead to a situation where people do lots of 'reading' but are not aware of how the language system actually feels and actually worked. To what may this be compared?
Picture driving down a highway where a road divides into a "Y". The driver must choose between the left and right fork. The drivers usually think that good directions would specifiy which fork to take. On the other hand, driving down a highway where another road forks in but does not disturb the general flow or direction for the driver, such a feed-in is often ignored in directions and little noticed by drivers.
Production in a language forces 'drivers' (speakers, writers) into Y-junctions. A person cannot produce much Greek before they become very sensitive to aspect because they must make choices in every paragraph. Naturally, production goes hand in hand with reading. As sensitivity to the new language increases, choices made by ancient authors become more noticeable. This results in what I call a 'spiral' learning curve. People learn something, then they notice something that feeds in to what they've learned and they relearn and reuse the newer composite.
On the other hand, without production, people don't often notice what is or is not a real option in a language. They don't get some of that 'spiral effect' in language learning. They end up shielded from evidence that is actually available but that they don't see because they can conveniently look in different directions as time permits. Production also allows people to make mistakes and to learn from them.
I think that it is important for people learning Hebrew from theory to produce what their theory would predict. Let them say things like "מחר האיש עמד שם" 'tomorrow the man stood there'. Why didn't sentences like that get formed in antiquity? This kind of thing can start the spiral learning process. [After all, I started out with the 'seminary Hebrew narrative' over forty years ago.] If someone thinks that the Hebrew narrative 'vav ha-hippux'/wayyiqtol is an imperfective (yes, there are such people out there), then they must ask why they find veqatal (not vayyiqtol) in unambiguously marked imperfective situations (cf. Gen 29:1-3)? More than once I've been in discussions with Hebrew professors about how to generate correct BH in the classroom. More than one professor has suggested that the way to describe a person standing in a classroom is 'ya`amod ha-ish sham.' I propose(d) that 'ha-ish `omed sham' is how Isaiah or Jeremiah would have done it. Professors have then suggested that I am being influenced by modern Hebrew and that 'everybody knows that yiqtol may be properly used for present tense situations.' My response: "Not." Find one example of a real present description (not a question or poetry or HABITUAL/omnitemporal/modal) using yiqtol to describe a real present situation. From Genesis on, BH used the participle for this. And the universal grammar rule #1 says, "We do it like that because that's the way they do it."
I now think that the primary reason for the poor state of the art in understanding Biblical Hebrew is that few have actively used the language in extended settings. Yes, "poor state of the art" begs the question. But when significant numbers of professors do not know whether "ha-bayit gadol" or "gadol ha-bayit" is the default word order or which order may be marking focus "ba-bayit ha-ish" or "ha-ish ba-bayit", then I think that I am justified.