Editor’s note: this interview was originally published April 6th, 2015.
The following interview is part of an ongoing series titled Scholars in Press, which aims to showcase a particular variety of scholars who contribute to biblical studies through their linguistic skills. This particular interview is with the brightest linguist I know. He would never tell you, but I’ve seen his CV, and he’s fluent in 9 languages, good with 25 others, and can read 15 classical/ancient languages; he’s published 60+ articles, not counting other books/reviews, etc. So please, enjoy this interview with a linguist extraordinaire.
PhD’s (2x): PhD studies in African Languages (Stellenbosch University, ABD); PhD in Hebrew and Arabic Languages (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)
Masters (3x): MA (DEA) Semitic Languages (Universidad Complutense de Madrid); MA Icelandic Grammar (University of Iceland); MA Romance Philology (University of Iceland)
Bachelors (3x): BA General Linguistics; BA Icelandic Philology; BA Romance Philology (all from University of Iceland)
Favorite things to do: 1) Reading grammars and studying languages (by far the most important), 2) watching movies, cooking, drinking coffee in the morning in bed, 3) traveling, spending time with friends, playing with my dog
Favorite movies: Leolo, Mysterious skin, Un ange à la mer
Favorite food: fish, grapes, figs, fruit, vegies, Polish bigos, Spanish tortilla, Icelandic harðfískur, Hungarian gulash.
How did linguistics intersect with biblical studies in your life (or vice-versa)?
I am just a linguist and don’t conduct research in the field of biblical studies as such. However, I extensively work on Biblical Hebrew as this language is one of my main linguistic interests. But I am also interested in other Semitic languages (mostly, Arabic and Akkadian) as well as African and Indo-European languages.
What informal or personal educational experience stands out the most to you in your learning career?
Having traveled a lot, lived in many countries and learnt the language(s) of these countries are probably the most important factors that have determined or influenced my academic career and my views on linguistics. Iceland, Poland, Sweden, Spain, France, Balkans, Gambia, Morocco, South Africa…with their languages have all had an important impact on my personality, linguistic views included.
What would you say is your linguistic niche, or what are you most interested in? (limit of two topics)
The BH verbal system – more specifically, a dynamic approach to verbal semantic, which corresponds to grammaticalization-based maps, modeling of language as a complex system in agreement with the theory of complex systems, all of this mainly applied to Biblical Hebrew and Semitic languages.
Where is your field headed? What advances are being made others might should be aware of?
I am convinced my field (studies on the BH verbal system) is heading towards a more linguistically based /informed approach. Advances may have been made in other branches where modern linguistic theories, especially cognitive linguistic have been applied (in particular discourse studies, information structure)
How do you hope your work will contribute (or counter) to this end?
My research will contribute to implementing a properly linguistic perspective in studies on the BH verbal system, abandoning the old fashioned and inadequate “philological” approach. It may take time before people see the benefits of a more linguistic approach to BH – and a dynamic view of language, i.e. as a complex constantly evolving being, but I am convinced this is the only way. In the end, it will help scholars, students, and translators to understand and explain BH in a better manner.
What is your end goal with your training? (e.g., teach, research, preach, translate, etc.)
Research and teach
What books / articles are you currently reading or enjoying most? (Limit 3)
I am currently reading books on Khoesan languages (Nama). I normally don’t “enjoy” papers or linguistic books – I enjoy reading GRAMMARS, i.e. learning languages. The rest is a by-product.
Who have been your biggest role models?
I have learnt almost everything by myself, almost as an autodidact. I really don’t have a model whom I would like to imitate or a mentor who shaped my career/views. I respect and admire any humble scientist, any revolutionary thinker, who has defied the establishment of his/her time, e.g. Galileo, Charles Darwin, Arthur Rimbaud.
What is one piece of advice for those following in your tracks?
1) Don’t be scared of innovative and revolutionary ideas;
2) never give up;
3) be critic towards oneself (constantly try to test and falsify the model);
4) be humble and acknowledge one’s limitations;
5) learn from others.
Do you have online resources you would like to refer people to, either your own or others?
I only use Academia.com.
— End of interview —
And for old-time’s sake… this was taken in 2013 on our last visit to Stellenbsoch, South Africa, with some of the best friends we made while we lived there during my MA from 2010-2011.