Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Is modern day Hebrew, well, Hebrew?

I'm intrigued by a minor-level debate apparently going on in some linguistic circles about what is usually termed modern Hebrew, that being the language now used in the state of Israel.

We're usually told (I was, at Moody Bible Institute) that this language is just an updated version of biblical Hebrew.

Which -- if this story is correct -- makes the modern Hebrew unique. Unique in that it is probably the first time in history that a dead language was revived, and put into common use. And it is in common use: Israel as a state recognizes 2 official languages, Hebrew and Arabic.

(Some would argue that Hebrew was never dead, in that it was a liturgical language in synagogues around the world. Which is correct. However, it was dead in the sense that Latin is dead, that it was used in only one, circumscribed area. In other words, until the Hebrew revival, no one bought groceries, played soccer, or designed software using Hebrew).

But some linguists differ. One in particular, Ghil'ad Zuckermann, argues that the language should properly be called "Israeli," saying that it is not Hebrew, per se, but rather a mixture of Hebrew and Yiddish, with notable Slavic roots. He particularly notes that Israeli Hebrew uses a subject-verb-object sentence structure, reflecting a more European approach that biblical Hebrew.

This article gives a better overview of this than I can.

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