Towards a repertorium lectionum vivarum orientalium   8 comments

A particular advantage that the student of modern spoken languages has over the student of languages only studied from texts, so-called dead languages, is that of having hour upon hour of spoken samples, whether conversational or simple reading (as at Librivox, where you can search here by language), scripted or ex tempore, of the languages in question. At least in some settings of instruction and reading in ancient languages, those languages are treated as living, and efforts are made to do lots of reading aloud with practiced fluency. My own experience in learning ancient languages fits this picture, for which I am grateful. (There are also some teachers and students who attempt to use the ancient languages in an even more living way, as I mentioned in the third paragraph of this post.) In countries and communities where there is some continuous reading tradition (e.g. Old Georgian in Georgia, Gǝʿǝz in Ethiopia), even where the form of the language has changed, reading is very often still an oral practice, and even elsewhere students who happen to read ancient languages with a professor who sees value in reading aloud will naturally have plenty of opportunity to exercise their ears with the language as heard, but not every student has that advantage, especially not autodidacts. Where, for example, can students of classical Armenian hear samples of Movsēs Xorenac‘i or the Yaysmawurk’? Where can students of Coptic hear some homilies? And so on.
There is a potential means to remedy this lack, as Akkadian students may know: hosted here at the SOAS, London, are several Akkadian texts (given normalized and translated) read by different readers. Why not do the same thing for other languages? The focus of the blog and of my work at HMML is the (particularly pre-modern) languages of the Christian east, but a venture of this kind need not necessarily bow to such limits. Even so, those limits contain no small collection of languages or of literature from which texts might be chosen: Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Gǝʿǝz, Old Nubian, Georgian, Syriac, Old Church Slavonic, Persian, Sogdian (perhaps even more lately attested texts in Malayāḷam, Kurdish, Turkish?). Texts read might run the gamut of literary genres in these languages: biblical, theological, liturgical, polemic, hagiographic, etc. The particular texts selected should be some kind of logical unit and not too long, the reading being perhaps not more than five or six minutes. Ideally, speakers would indicate the following information, too:
  • Native language
  • Language in which the read language was learned (e.g. learned classical Armenian in French, learned Old Nubian in English)
  • Text (edition or manuscript)

So, dear readers, I would like to gauge potential interest in such a Repertorium lectionum vivarum orientalium. Would you, as students and instructors, find something along these lines useful? Do you have any other remarks on the prospect? I would also be glad to hear about the practical settings of your language learning experiences: was your reading usually viva voce, did you typically translate into another language, etc.

Until next time, πρόσεχε τῇ ἀναγνώσει, μακάριος γὰρ ὁ ἀναγινώσκων!
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8 responses to “Towards a repertorium lectionum vivarum orientalium

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  1. Yes! Biblical Hebrew students obviously need this, but I know Martin Worthington did something similar for Akkadian as well.

  2. Very interesting idea! Do you know about the Society for the Oral Reading of Greek and Latin Literature (SORGLL) [http://ancientworldonline.blogspot.com/2012/12/society-for-oral-reading-of-greek-and.html]?

    • Thanks, Chuck! Yes, I know about the Society, and I should’ve mentioned it here. I still find W.H.D. Rouse’s writing on this method, a harbinger of the SORGL, illuminating and encouraging.

  3. I’ve been using Healey’s Syriac Grammar in large part so the students can hear the sentences and translation passages being read aloud. I also really like the Syriac Children’s Bible for this reason (http://morephrem.com/bookshop/index.php?route=product/product&path=37&product_id=184). I know lots of people learn Syriac by themselves, but it made a big difference for me studying and reading with teachers and students who had learn to speak the classical language. In other words, Adam, it would be great to have the same resources for other Christian Oriental languages.

  4. Although only focussing on the neoaramaic dialects (and Mandaic) there is a sizeable collection of spoken texts on the internet at the Semitisches Tonarchiv of the University of Heidelberg. (For locating the languages see Dokumentgruppen / Types of documents

    http://www.semarch.uni-hd.de/index.php43?lang=de

    • Yes, indeed, thank you. It’s an excellent resource! This collection, with its focus on spoken languages, further illustrates the dichotomy in approaching older languages (from texts) and modern spoken languages, and it shows how beneficial listening and reading in conjunction might be for the former.

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