Editor’s note: This interview originally appeared at Old School Script on March 3rd, 2015.
Name: Elizabeth Robar
Education: MA in OT & MA in NT from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; Graduate work with Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics; ABD from Southern Seminary (changed programmes from LXX > Hebrew, hence Southern > Cambridge); PhD from University of Cambridge
Favorite Past-time: Sip homemade hot chocolate while my husband reads aloud to the family; Play outside with my kids
How did linguistics intersect with biblical studies in your life (or vice-versa)?
An interest in grammar (Greek & Hebrew) led to linguistics as the most satisfying explanation for how grammar came to be as it is now. The motivation for (verbal) choice has been deemed critical by exegetes, and yet the linguistic explanation is not always in harmony with some theological views. I wanted to understand the text on its own, first, for which linguistics seemed essential. And… I simply love grammar and understanding language.
What informal or personal educational experience stands out the most to you in your learning career?
By far, the independent study I took with Paul Kroeger of GIAL. He does not know Hebrew, but he gave me a course on Hebrew syntax, with readings on typological approaches to syntax that enabled me to analyse Hebrew syntax as a linguist rather than a philologist. This was a watershed in my ability to think as a linguist.
What would you say is your linguistic niche, or what are you most interested in? (limit of two topics)
Typology; Cognitive linguistics
Where is your field headed? What advances are being made others might should be aware of?
If all the work on grammaticalisation is correct in positing universal pathways of grammatical change, then what scholars have posited for grammatical change that lies outside these pathways will be severely questioned. Ad hoc explanations will be less readily entertained, whereas what has been documented elsewhere will be more readily accepted. So an awareness of linguistic conclusions in terms of typology will be vital.
How do you hope your work will contribute (or counter) to this end?
I attempt to show how the best philologists had intuitions that [while] fully valid, many of which may now be explained with our broader knowledge of linguistic typology, etc. I hope to bridge the gap between philology (much good, much misguided) and modern linguistics (trying to harmonise with the rest of the languages of the world).
What is your end goal with your training? (e.g., teach, research, preach, translate, etc.)
Good question. Open to all (not so keen on preaching), as opportunity arises. I entered into biblical studies with the hope of translation, but those hopes were stymied and research has been prominent so far.
What books / articles are you currently reading or enjoying most? (limit 3)
- Moscati’s Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages
- Jaworski & Coupland’s Discourse Reader
- Rendsburg’s Diglossia in Ancient Hebrew
Who have been your biggest role models?
What is one piece of advice for those following in your tracks?
Translation from the world of the linguist to the world of the biblical studies scholar is HARD. What can be said in a sentence for the linguist must turn into a paragraph, sometimes several, for the non-linguistics-oriented biblical scholar. Be aware that the audience for a given piece may drastically affect how much you can say, because of all the background information that may be required to include or cut out.
Do you have online resources you would like to refer people to, either your own or others?
Google! From within an institution with many subscriptions to JSTOR, etc., for quick access to so many articles.