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January 7, 2012 | Hebrew

Flu Shots: Good for Language Learning

You can study through colds, but the flu is another story.

On January 1, I realized I forgot to get a flu shot this year. The reason I remembered on January 1 is that I came down with the flu.

At first I thought it was food poisoning, but its persistence, and some epidemiological sleuthing, led me to the conclusion that I did indeed have a version of this year’s influenza.

The Grammar Book I Am Reading Right Now

The Grammar Book I Am Reading Right Now

I did not leave the building for much of this week. It is now Saturday. I was not like the postman, undeterred by snow, sleet, or whatever else postpeople could be deterred by but aren’t. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I did not study at all. I believe this is the only break I have taken during this entire project due to illness (I am not counting the long break last fall for rest and restoration).

Colds, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, chipped fingernails…none of it kept me from working. I tip my hat to you, flu. You won.

But I am fighting my way back, and after those two days off, I returned to Pimsleur and to quiet contemplation of the Hebrew language, which is a challenging one.

There are some gifts, nonetheless. Here is one example, from page 17 of Lewis Glinert’s book Modern Hebrew: “Generally, the same quantity word is used whether the noun is being treated as something countable (as in ‘lots of e-mails, how many letters’) or something uncountable (as in ‘lots of e-mail, how much mail’).”

I have been noticing that fact in my Pimsleur lessons. So for example, you can use the same word in Hebrew—harbe—to translate “a lot” in “a lot of sugar” as you do to translate the word “many” in “many books.” I love that!

Can “fewer” (countable) and “less” (usually used with nouns that are not countable) be the same word in Hebrew as well? I hope so, because people spend way too much time arguing over those two words in English. The Fairway Market sign below has for sure generated much discussion among Upper West Siders. I have my own opinion, which does not coincide with the opinion of whatever grammarian was hanging over the hapless signmaker responsible for this one.

I Know Many People Have Debated the Word Choice on This Sign. That's Just the Way of the Upper West Side.

I Know Many People Have Debated the Word Choice on This Sign. That’s Just the Way of the Upper West Side.

While harbe in Hebrew may be easier than sorting through “much” and “a lot” and “many” in English, there are things that most definitely do not seem easier to me in Hebrew.

Take, as one example, “my sister.” That is simple enough in English: stick the possessive form in front of your noun and you’re done.

In Hebrew, however, the phrase is translated as the equivalent of “the sister of me”: ha-achot-shel-i. In addition, in Hebrew I believe it is written as one word (correct, Hebrew speakers?), a point that remains alien-feeling to my English-speaking brain. On top of which it runs right to left, in an unfamiliar alphabet.

A final observation: I feel as though I have learned about 50 ways to say “two” in Hebrew. I need a major review of how to count to three! Or at least “two” anyway!

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