February 18, 2017 2 min to read

The Hebrew Language

Category : Must-read

Hebrew or Ivrit is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Semitic is a designation that refers to descendants of Shem, the son of Noah. When Theodore Herzl was working for the reestablishment of the state of Israel, it was decided that for a country to be truly independent it must have its own language. To this end Eliezer Ben Yehuda set about modernizing the ancient Hebrew language so that it could be the national language of the Jewish Homeland, Israel.

Ben Yehuda led the movement to have Hebrew re-established as the national language in Israel after he immigrated there in 1881. He encouraged the use of Hebrew in the home and at school, while also promoting the coining of new words. He started a Hebrew-Language newspaper in 1884 and helped establish the Hebrew Language Committee in 1890. In all he compiled several volumes of a 17-volume Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew, which he began in 1910 and was completed by his widow and son in 1959.

Today there are two main spoken forms of Hebrew, Ashkenazi and Sephardic. The former refers to Jewry, those that returned to Israel from the Eastern European Diaspora, and Sephardic, those who came from the Mediterranean rim countries. In fact, Spain is rendered Sepharad in Hebrew. Israelis formerly from Yemen however, feel that their pronunciation of Hebrew is the most accurate.

While the Modern Hebrew is significantly different from that written in the Bible, if one of the Patriarchs or Prophets were to walk along the Esplanade in Tel Aviv, he could still quite easily understand the conversations that he heard. The Hebrew language at the present time has had added to it many hebracized words from other languages in order to make it useful as a modern tongue. In Jerusalem, groups of scholars and linguists constantly revise and research the language as they search for replacement words. New words are published and broadcast throughout the country and continually added to the vocabulary.

The Hebrew language has twenty-two letters in their alphabet, or as they call it the “alephbet”.

Hebrew reads from right to left, opposite to the way most modern languages are read, and while there are only 22 letters in the alephbet, there are differing forms of certain letters when used at the end of a word which are called the “soffit” form. The letters Mem (M), Nun, (N), Kaf (K), and Tsadik (TS) have “soffit” forms. Hebrew is the official language of Israel and it is spoken throughout the world in synagogue services during the reciting of the Holy Scriptures and prayer.

The Hebrew Bible is written in classical Hebrew and while many words have been added to the Hebrew lexicon directly from modern words, such as ‘televisiya’ for television, other words are Hebraized forms of Greek or Latin forms, such as ‘meconit’ for ‘car’. Today the Hebrew language is a vibrant language that is able to assimilate new coinages and adapt them to its own unique sound and style.


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