Hebrew language question?
Vowel points were not added to the Hebrew language until from what I have read the 10th century Ad. So how can anyone properly translate this language and the older Canaanite dialect properly?
The lack of vowel points isn't much of a problem when it comes to translation. It's only a problem when you're trying to figure out the pronunciation. Some words are indeed similar when you factor out the nikkud, such as the difference between "walk" and "walking" (halakh vs. holeykh, both being "hlk" without the vowels), but the context usually sorts it all out. In fact, Hebrew language today doesn't usually use vowel points anyway; it's usually seen only in grammar books, children's books, and the Bible.
Note: I don't know Hebrew, so don't take my word for it. It just so happens that I was studying this topic a few weeks ago.
f y cn rd ths. y cn rd mst thngs wth t vwls.
Translations have been made before from Hebrew to other languages. So we can use those contemporary translations help us understand the meaning of Hebrew words - despite the lack of vowels.
In a general sense Saename is correct, that the main difference is that vowel points give us a better sense of how to pronounce the words although that isn't always the case as is seen in the tetragrammaton.
But there are some instances where two (or more) words have the same consonants and they are only distinguished by their vowel-points and the context of the sentence. When we look at the LXX, which was a Greek translation of the Hebrew before the time of Christ, we can see that there are some words understood differently to the vowel-pointing in the Masoretic Text.
For example, at the close of Nahum 3:8 the MT says ... whose wall was from the sea whereas LXX says ...whose walls are water.
In Jeremiah 31:13 the MT says ...and the old men, all together..., whereas LXX (Jeremiah 38:13) says ...and the old men shall rejoice.
In Isaiah 24:23 the MT says And the full moon has become abashed and the glowing sun has become ashamed..., whereas LXX says And the brick shall decay, and the wall shall fall....
In the above examples the LXX translates a Hebrew word with the same consonants as the MT but it would have been pronounced differently and have a different meaning.
Of course, the Greek has its own problems because when the NT was written there were no spaces between words so that occasionally the reader read a different word when he spaced the words differently to that which was apparently intended. But that requires another post.
In modern Israel people speak a modern version of Hebrew. Their modern writing system has no vowel points. The modern Jews understand and communicate just fine with no vowel points. If you grow up speaking a language, which writing system is used for it is quite flexible. It does not necessarily need a system with all the sounds indicated in its writing system.
Language is primarily a spoken phenomenon. There are people who know their language just fine but are illiterate. Since Hebrew has continued without break for centuries, it's always had a intelligible life, with or without the vowel sounds being written down.
Sure, there will be a few instances where words will be lost or confused, as Earnest demonstrates, but the Jews I know do just fine with both modern spoken, and ancient biblical, Hebrew.