BALASHON.

Balashon – Hebrew Language Detective is a new site that looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. The blogger, who goes by DLC, says:

An American in Israel investigates language – modern and classic Hebrew, slang, Yiddish, Aramaic, Yeshivish, and more – with an eye on etymology. I’m not a professional linguist, and will be using this blog to explore my own questions, and I welcome yours as well.

The discussion is wide-ranging; the latest post is on besumei ‘intoxication’ and goes from the “obligation to get drunk on Purim” to the English word barmy (“while you might be feeling balmy while you are m’vusam – there might be a connection, but it’s not etymological”), and the earliest on the page at the moment is on teruma (which apparently means ‘donation’) and includes the following intriguing quote:

“אמרם בכל המשנה תרם ותורם ויתרום מקשים עליו הבלשנים החדשים, ואומרים שהעיקר הרים ומרים וירים. ואינו קשה באמת, כיון שהעיקר בכל לשון חוזר למה שדברו בו בעלי אותו הלשון ונשמע מהם, ואלו בלי ספק עבריים בארצם, כלומר בארץ ישראל, והנה נשמע מהם תרם וכל מה שהופעל ממנו. וזו ראיה שזה אפשרי בלשון, ושזה מונח מכלל המונחים העבריים. ועל זה הדרך תהיה תשובתך לכל מי שחושב מן החדשים שלשון המשנה אינו צח ושהם עשו פעלים שאינם נכונים באיזו מלה מן המילים. והיסוד הזה שאמרתי לך נכון מאוד אצל המלומדים השלמים המדברים על העניינים הכלליים הכוללים כל הלשונות כולם”.
To summarize, the Rambam is stating that linguistic innovation is legitimate, by saying that all languages change naturally by the people speaking them.

If anyone can provide an actual translation, I’d be grateful; I love such premodern acknowledgments of the process of language change.

Comments

  1. Off-topic as per LH policy: I just found an etymological quirk: in Greek “anathema” originally meant “gift” or “offering”.

  2. Thanks for the plug!
    Two things: a) The archives go further back – just look for the older month in the right-hand column. b) I’ll work on a translation of the text by Maimonides (Rambam).

  3. A first attempt.
    אמרם בכל המשנה תרם ותורם ויתרום מקשים עליו הבלשנים החדשים, ואומרים שהעיקר הרים ומרים וירים. ואינו קשה באמת, כיון שהעיקר בכל לשון חוזר למה שדברו בו בעלי אותו הלשון ונשמע מהם, ואלו בלי ספק עבריים בארצם, כלומר בארץ ישראל, והנה נשמע מהם תרם וכל מה שהופעל ממנו. וזו ראיה שזה אפשרי בלשון, ושזה מונח מכלל המונחים העבריים. ועל זה הדרך תהיה תשובתך לכל מי שחושב מן החדשים שלשון המשנה אינו צח ושהם עשו פעלים שאינם נכונים באיזו מלה מן המילים. והיסוד הזה שאמרתי לך נכון מאוד אצל המלומדים השלמים המדברים על העניינים הכלליים הכוללים כל הלשונות כולם”.
    “[The rabbis] said, throughout the Mishnah, ‘taram’, ‘veturam,’ ‘veyitrom’ [all forms of 't.r.m.', 'to make a contribution']. But modern linguists have difficulties with this, saying that the true words [lit: the basic thing, ha-ikkar] are ‘heyrim,’ ‘meyrim’, and ‘yarim’. [all forms of a different root, 'to lift up']
    “Really though there is no difficulty. The basic expressions of every language always derive from what was spoken by the people of that language and what was heard from them. [In this case,
    t]hese are without a doubt the Hebrews in their land, that is to say the Land of Israel — for from these people one hears “t.r.m.” and all the verbal conjugations derived from it. This then is a proof that [such a thing] is possible in this language, one of the terms proper to those in Hebrew.
    “This should be your answer to anyone who thinks, according to the moderns, that the language of the Mishnah is not eloquent, and that [the Rabbis of the Mishnah] created verbal forms that are not correct by using some word and not others.
    “This principle I have told you about is quite well-founded among all established scholars who discourse on general matters pertaining to all languages.”
    I didn’t check the blog, but if this is from the Guide to the Perplexed it’d be much better in Arabic…

  4. John, do you get process for the semantic shift in ἀνάθεμα from offering/good to offering/bad? I never have quite. I think it’s all in Greek; the meaning is stable once borrowed into Latin (until metaphor). It does not seem that the monotheists are responsible.
    Most dictionaries just say that the original meaning was ‘an offering to a god’ < ἀνα + τίθημι and leave it at that. The OED and Liddell & Scott have that something devoted can be devoted to evil. Bauer says that what is ‘devoted to divinity’ can be either consecrated or accursed, pointing out that the latter sense predominates in the NT. Strong 331 gives first the ordinary offering sense and then as the LXX translation of Strong 02764 (חֵרֶם) a thing devoted without hope of being redeemed, thence doomed to destruction, thence abominable. The Catholic Encyclopedia has that something odious can be presented to view (think head on pike). None of these quite rings true. And that there is some difference suggests that it isn’t crystal clear.

  5. Thanks, Zackary — that’s great!

  6. Zachary – thank you for the translation.
    It’s not from the Guide – but rather from Maimonides Commentary to the Mishna, which was also written in Arabic.

  7. John Cowan says:

    Devoted has the same ambiguity in English.

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