Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C

Home Whats New Trans State Nation One World Unfolding Consciousness Comments Search

Home > Tamil Language & Literature > The Revival of the Hebrew Language - Professor Chaim Rabin

Tamil Language & Literature

"....வரலாறு எனது வழிகாட்டி." Velupillai Pirabakaran

The Revival of the Hebrew Language

Professor Chaim Rabin
Journal of Tamil Studies, edited by Father Xavier Thaninayagam,
Volume 1 Number1, April 1969

PROF. CHAIM RABIN, born of Russian parents in Germany, has studied in Jerusalem, Oxford and London ; he has taught at Oxford and Bombay and is now Professor of Hebrew at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of the Academy of the Hebrew Language. He read a paper on' " Loan-word Evidence in in Biblical Hebrew for Trade between Tamilnad and Palestine in the First Millennium B.C." at the II International Conference-Seminar of Tamil Studies held in 1968.

"..Hebrew is the language of one nation, the Jews...As a result of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and the expulsion of Jews from Central Palestine (Judaea) after the unsuccessful revolt in 132 A.D., the habit of speaking Hebrew gradually died out, until shortly after 200 A.D., it ceased altogether... The idea of Jewish nationalism, however, and its connection with the national language, Hebrew, was clearly formulated as early as spring 1879 by Eliezer Ben Yehuda, a young man from N.W. Russia then studying medicine at Paris, in a Hebrew article printed in a quarterly published by Russian Jews at Vienna. Coining a new Hebrew term for ' nationalism ', he advocated the return to Palestine and stated that in the regenerated Jewish homeland also Hebrew literature, would flourish..."

Comment by tamilnation.org "'Hebrew is the language of one nation, the Jews'. Equally, Tamil is the language of one nation, the Tamils. And the Tamil language is rooted in the Tamil homeland - one homeland divided by a narrow stretch of shallow water.

View of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu from Talaimannar in Tamil Eelam

Summary: Hebrew was revived in spoken use after an interval of 1700 years, during which, however, it continued to be written. Its revival is closely connected with the rise of modern-type nationalism among the Jews, and the resettlement of Palestine. The step that ensured the success of the revival was the introduction of Hebrew in the 1880s as medium of instruction in schools, and the continued insistence on its sole employment in institutes of learning at all levels, in law and administration, and in public life. The formation of new words was carried on as needed, and institutionalized through the Language Council and Language Academy. The effects of large-scale word-creation on the structure of a language cannot be fully foreseen.

A study of the antecedents and the socio-linguistic factors of the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language in Israel since 1880, dealing in particular with the ways in which it was introduced into public, administrative, and scientific use, and the methods adopted for fitting the language to modern needs.

The history of Hebrew is unique in that it is the only known case of a language which ceased to be spoken altogether, and after a long interval was brought back into spoken everyday usage. Its recent history offers, however, a number of features which illustrate the problems faced by other languages, in Europe, Asia and Africa, in achieving and fitting themselves for the full range of uses to which a national language is put in our time.

Hebrew is the language of one nation, the Jews. Although it resembles a number of languages spoken in Palestine, Transjordan, and southern Syria in the 2nd and 1st millennium B.C., it was given its characteristic form by the ancient Israelite people during its first period of independence, ca. 1250-587 B.C., and further developed during the second period of independence, 538 B.C.-70 A.D. From the presumably large literary production of these two periods, we possess mainly a collection of books, some 300,000 words in all, which make up the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. In recent years this literary remnant has been slightly augmented by discoveries of inscriptions and especially by the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from the end of the second period. By the time the Dead Sea Scrolls were written, the spoken language had much developed, and in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. a further literature was produced in a new literary form of the language, called Mishnaic Hebrew as opposed to Biblical Hebrew. While the Bible is poetical and rhetorical in style, the Mishnaic literature deals mainly with the everyday life of the people, and thus provides us with a large number of words for common objects and actions, agriculture, trades, etc.

As a result of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and the expulsion of Jews from Central Palestine (Judaea) after the unsuccessful revolt in 132 A.D., the habit of speaking Hebrew gradually died out, until shortly after 200 A.D., it ceased altogether. Already for centuries before that, Jews in parts of Palestine outside Judaea had been speaking Greek or Aramaic, a language fairly closely related to Hebrew, while the Jews already scattered over the whole Mediterranean area and eastwards as far as Persia and South-Arabia, and probably some coastal areas in India, spoke the languages of the countries where they lived, and by then already in some cases possessed translations of the Bible into those languages. In Palestine itself, the 3rd-5th centuries A.D., saw the production of important religious works in Aramaic.

2. However, though it was no more spoken, Hebrew continued, at least in Palestine and in the East, to be used for public and private reading of the Bible (accompanied by an Aramaic translation), as well as for prayer, and the knowledge of it was kept alive through prayer and the intensive study of both Biblical and Mishnaic literature. Prayer became the chief means of emotional and artistic self-expression. At the same time when the above-mentioned religio-legal works were composed in Aramaic, there arose a large literature of fervent prayers in poetry, written in pure Hebrew, and these poets invented new words by the thousands, thus showing that for them the language was still alive.

From ca. 500 A.D., onwards, the Hebrew language, in its written form, gradually conquered the Jewish communities outside Palestine, and new important centres of literary activity sprang up at various dates in North Africa, the Balkans, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and England, as well as in Iraq and Persia. The scope of Hebrew widened : soon it was used again for religious instruction, from ca. 600 for medicine, from 900 for secular poetry, from 1150 for science and philosophy, and during all this time it was also employed in private and public corresondence. Some communities used only Hebrew, and did not t know how to write any other language, and that at at a time when literacy amongst male Jews was constantly close to 100%. When after 1300, the centre of Jewry shifted to Eastern Europe (where it remained until ca. 1900), that vast area of Jewish settlement went on using Hebrew for all its cultural, administrative, and business needs. In the 18th century a Hebrew literature on contemporary European patterns began first at Berlin, near the eastern border of Germany, and rapidly spread over the whole of Eastern Europe, where in the 19th century it produced some remarkable works in poetry, novels, and essays. After the mid 19th century, weekly papers began to appear in Hebrew. Plays were written, and apparently performed in small private circles.

3. All this took place without Hebrew being spoken anywhere. In this respect, the position of Hebrew was not unlike that of Sanskrit in medieval India, and was closely paralleled by the position of Latin, Greek, and Classical Arabic in the countries where the mass of the Jews lived. All these languages went on being written for many centuries after they had been replaced in spoken use either by their own daughter languages or by alien languages. This so-called diglossia 1, or use of different languages for distinct spheres of life in one and the same community, seems to be typical for the Middle Ages.

Where the history of Hebrew differed, however, is in what happened after Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit had gradually been ousted from their role as main written languages by the vernaculars, which now became the national languages of the new national states arising over the centuries, first in Western, and later in Central and finally in Eastern Europe, a process repeated with the receding of colonialism in Asia and Africa.

In taking over the functions of Latin etc., the national languages went through struggles not dissimilar to those of Asian languages in our own days, and like the latter were transformed and modernized. Since the Jews everywhere were a barely tolerated minority, and could not form any national state of their own, their linguistic situation remained medieval.

True, two Jewish vernaculars began to be written to a limited extent since the 16th century, viz. Yiddish and Judaeo-Spanish, but the main effect of the new age was a weakening of Hebrew in the democratic west, owing to the Jews learning to write the various national languages, and Hebrew literary education receding to ever smaller minima as Jews became admitted to the economic, artistic, and scientific circles of their countries of domicile (mainly since mid-18th Century), and were granted full citizen rights (mainly after mid-19th century). In those countries where Jews remained hedged in by restrictions, a kind of colonial population living in the midst of its oppressors, the written use of Hebrew remained intact, especially in the Arab countries and in the Czarist Russian Empire.

4. It was in Russia that the Jews first took up the ideas of modern nationalism, and that�as a consequence�the idea of reviving Hebrew as a spoken language was born. While under the liberal Czar Alexander II. (ruled 1855-81) hopes were held out to the Jews for ultimate citizen rights, the return of reactionary politics under Alexander III (1881-94) began its career with a wave of officially-encouraged anti-Jewish riots throughout Russia (the Pogroms) and initiated measures. designed to urge the Jews to emigrate. Under this pressure large masses emigrated into Western Europe, and principally to America, but a smaller group of intellectuals responded by forming ideas of Jewish nationalism and national regeneration, and thousands went to settle in Palestine (then under Turkish rule) partly in agricultural villages founded by them. An intensive discussion about the future of Russian Jewry in pamphlets and periodicals was carried on at the time mainly in Hebrew. One of its results was the publication of the first Hebrew daily papers from 1886 onwards.

The idea of Jewish nationalism, however, and its connection national language, Hebrew, was clearly formulated as early as spring 1879 by Eliezer Ben Yehuda, a young man from N.W. Russia then studying medicine at Paris, in a Hebrew article printed in a quarterly published by Russian Jews at Vienna. Coining a new Hebrew term for ' nationalism ', he advocated the return to Palestine and stated that in the regenerated Jewish homeland also Hebrew literature, would flourish.

In another article, written a little later, he explicitly announced that Jews would and should again speak Hebrew ; he himself began to speak Hebrew to his friends, who of course managed to understand him since they were fluent readers and writers of that language. In 1881 he married and went to live in Palestine. His was the first family to speak Hebrew in the home, and his son, born in 1882, became the first child after an interval of 1,700 years to have Hebrew as its mother tongue. Ben Yehuda made propaganda, by personal contact and in the newspaper he edited from 1884, for speaking Hebrew exclusively in public and in the home. He searched Hebrew literature for words usable in everyday life, public affairs, and technical subjects, and indefatigably invented words that were lacking. From 1908 he began to publish a Lexicon, which was completed long after his death by other scholars (1958) in 16 volumes comprising 7,000 pages.

5. There is little doubt that it was the fortuitous combination of the adverse turn in the fortunes of the then largest Jewish group, comprising nearly one-third of the whole nation, with the visionary activity of Ben Yehuda, that assured the revival of spoken Hebrew. It is doubtful whether the political circumstances by themselves, or Ben Yehuda's efforts without the immigration to Palestine and the rise of nationalism could have achieved the language revival. The two factors probably reinforced by another, quite unconnected event :the emergence since 1884 of a new and vigorous Hebrew literature in Russia, which broke with the linguistic purism prevalent in the 18th-19th century and drew on Mishnaic and medieval Hebrew sources to create a literary idiom more adequate to express contemporary attitudes.

However, it is certain that a central role in the actual m of the revival was played by Ben Yehuda's socio-linguistic insight in demanding the introduction of Hebrew as language of instruction into the elementary schools. To understand the meaning of such a proposal, we must clearly visualize that in the 1880s neither the teachers nor the pupils had previously spoken Hebrew, and that the language itself lacked not only the most elementary terminology for school subjects, but also recognized ways of expressing everyday thoughts and needs, being known to its new speakers mainly from the prayer-book, the Bible, and modern romantic poetry. Yet such was the willingness of the immigrants from Russia to create a new national life, that they entrusted the education of their children to untrained young teachers speaking an untried language in which there were no school-books. There were indeed hesitations and opposition, and the first short story ever written by a native Hebrew speaker, Ben Yehuda's eldest son, has as its theme the anguish of a young teacher at the sudden and inexplicable cancellation of the invitation to teach in a village community, where he had intended to introduce Hebrew as the language of the class-room. Nevertheless, by 1890 most of the schools in the new villages appear to have adopted Hebrew as sole language of instruction.

Clearly, this policy assured the demographic basis of the labguage revival. After eight years in a Hebrew-speaking, Hebrew reading school, the young people emerged with the habit of speaking Hebrew to each other, whatever language their parents might have spoken to them. In due course these pupils married amongst themselves, and established families in which Hebrew speaking was the natural thing, and no further propaganda was needed to ensure bringing up their children entirely in Hebrew. In this way young native speakers appeared on the scene by the thousands, with automatic demands for additional Hebrew-language schools and for literature in their native tongue. By 1916, 35,000 people gave in a census Hebrew as their everyday language.

6. Apart from this important demographic aspect, the introduction of Hebrew into the schools established the principle and the belief that Hebrew, in the stage it was then, was able to tackle any field of life or intellectual activity, and that any terminological deficiencies could be remedied as one went along. When the first secondary school was founded at Jaffa in 1906, all subjects were taught in Hebrew as a matter of course. This attitude came into focus when in 1913 a German-Jewish humanitarian body (which already ran schools and a teachers' seminary in Palestine in Hebrew) proposed the founding of a Technical High School with German as language of instruction for subjects for which in their view Hebrew was as yet not equipped. Thousands of children, with their teachers, walked out of the organization's schools, and set up classes in the open air, until in the end the plan for the Technical High School was shelved.

On the 9.XII.1917 General Allenby took Jerusalem from the Turks. On the 24.VII.1918, while parts of Palestine were still being fought over, the foundation stones were laid for the Hebrew University. That institution was only opener in 1924, owing to the difficult times. From the outset all instruction was given in Hebrew, and this principle was never abandoned, in spite of the many subjects introduced over the years, for which Hebrew was not equipped terminologically. The terminology was somehow created as one went along or for a time the scientific terms remained English, used in lectures where the rest of the context was Hebrew. A knowledge of English terminology was necessary for the student in any case, as for most subjects textbooks were, and still are, available in Hebrew only to a small extent. Yet the lecturers spoke Hebrew, and the students were expected to produce their seminar work and research theses in Hebrew. Lecturers from abroad were given a year or two's grace before they, too, were expected to use Hebrew. The Rector in 1941, the late Prof. H. J. Roth, gave expression to the language situation in one of his speeches :

" The Hebrew University teaches in Hebrew. I must correct myself : the Hebrew University gives lessons to the Hebrew language . . The University trains the Hebrew language to speak in the language of the sciences . . . We develop Hebrew in such a way that it can encompass the sciences, satisfy the demands of the sciences for exactitude, for profundity, for width of possibilities of expression . . . We accept no excuses from the language. The language can't�what does that mean ? It must. If it doesn't want, we compel it, until it willingly gives us

what we demand . . . The teachers of the University are those who force the demands of science upon the language. In other institutions it is possible to forego such demands, at any rate not to exact them in full, one can but touch on matters, deal with them in a vague way, teach only what the language enables us to teach. In the University we cannot forego any demands, for by definition our teaching must be systematic."

In the same year,1924, the Technical High School planned in 1913 was opened at Haifa. In course of time it developed into a technological academic institute of world-wide recognition. The language of instruction was from the beginning Hebrew. So is the language of the four other universities which since 1948 were opened in Israel. Where English was tolerated, this was due to the presence of scholars from abroad, as at the Weizmann Institute of Natural Sciences at Rehovot; which also counted a number of Indian scholars amongst its distinguished guests. Hebrew, too, is the language used at a number of professional teaching institutions, such as the Institute of Accountancy, as well as in the extensive net of part-time technical training maintained by the government, the Trade Unions, and the Army, Navy, and Air-Force.

7. In the inter-war period, the Jewish population of Mandatory Palestine, which by 1948 grew to 600,000, built up a network of schools at all levels for their children. These schools were in Hebrew (with English and Arabic as foreign languages), and only few exceptions were allowed, such as the concession to the extreme orthodox circles to send their children to special schools where only religious instruction is provided in Yiddish (though the books studied are all in Hebrew and Aramaic), or an old-established French school at Jerusalem. These concessions were maintained when in 1948 the new State of Israel took over the school system. Israel has also maintained and greatly developed the Arabic school system within its borders, but allowed no schools in other languages for Jewish children. At the level of primary and secondary education, textbooks were produced to such an extent that no subject taught in school necessitates the use of books in any but the Hebrew language.

In the 1920s, Hebrew-language schools were also set up in a number of European countries for those of the Jewish population who wished them. In Poland and Lithuania, many thousands of children went through such schools. These institutions ceased with the War of 1939, and to the best of my knowledge, there are now no Hebrew-language schools outside Israel, though there are, especially in the United States and Canada, many Jewish schools in which all Jewish subjects, viz. religion, Jewish history, and the Hebrew language and literature, are taught through the classroom medium of Hebrew.

8. Although in the Palestine Mandate of 1922, Hebrew, along with English and Arabic, was recognized as an official language of the country, the Mandatory administration until 1948 maintained its services almost entirely in English. Not only were government offices and law courts conducted in English, but it was not possible--to mention only one instance �to obtain arrangements for sending inland telegrams in Hebrew characters during the entire Mandatory period. Still, laws, administrative orders, government proclamations, etc., had to be translated into Hebrew and Arabic, and the necessary terminology was found. The Jewish population's own internal administration was carried on in Hebrew. After the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, the entire administration was Hebraized, as were also the law-courts, and this in spite of the extensive use of English Common Law in legal practice. As Mandatory legislation has gradually been replaced by new, Israel-made law, an effort was also made to cast the phraseology and terminology of Israel law into the moulds of the traditional Jewish law-system. Matrimonial matters and inheritance are in any event administered by religious courts, so that both with Jews and Arabs (Muslim or Christian) traditional law-codes in the original languages are being used.

9. The dominance of Hebrew in the affairs of the Jewish population of Israel was achieved by virtue of the almost universal consensus of that population. In private life, many Jews in Israel continue to speak the language they brought from their previous country of domicile, and in many cases these languages have been preserved in Israel for several generations. There are newspapers in a number of languages, theatres in Yiddish and Roumanian, and radio-programmes in several of the former immigrants' languages, and in some areas of certain towns the business language may be German, Bulgarian, Judaeo-Spanish, etc., even though both traders and buyers speak fluent Hebrew on other occasions. The specifically Jewish languages, Yiddish, Judaeo-Spanish, and Jewish Aramaic, are being taught and cultivated at the universities of the country. Yet hardly ever has a voice been raised against the use of Hebrew as the sole language of public affairs and of national culture. One of the reasons is that the Jews of Israel come from so many language-groups, with none of them sufficiently strong numerically to gain dominance by naturally absorbing the others, and that their speakers understand that they have no right to impose their language upon those hailing from other countries, however sentimentally attached they themselves may be to it. But the main reason, no doubt, is the fact that Hebrew is the language of the national cultural inheritance, of the literature that expresses the Israeli's aspirations and outlook, and especially of the Hebrew Bible, which to the Israeli Jew is much more than a religious book ; it is felt to be the document which justifies his return to the country formerly inhabited by his forefathers.

10. When after 1948 over a million Jews immigrated into Israel within a few years, the Hebrew language seemed to be in danger. The immigrants to a large part came from the German death-camps, others from the lower classes of backward countries, and few of them knew enough Hebrew to read or speak it. There were times when every second person one was likely to meet would not know Hebrew. In 1953, the older inhabitants, by now in the minority, mobilized themselves for a large-scale voluntary action called Hanh'alat ha-lashon,1a

Passing on the Linguistic Inheritance " : men and women went to the homes of new immigrants and taught whole families together, or gave classes in outlying villages. At the same time government and local institutions set up intensive courses for immigrants, especially for professionals, in order to enable them to work at their professions in Hebrew. Collective agricultural settlements (Kibbutzim) took in groups of newcomers who worked in the mornings and studied in the afternoons.

In 1954 those engaged in the work of teaching Hebrew agreed on a standard list of 1,000 basic words. In course of time a newspaper was published in " Easy Hebrew " largely restricted to that basic list, and numerous booklets published in that simplified style, including quite a few rewritings of literary texts esteemed by the public. This national campaign, reinforced by the army, which invested much energy in teaching its recruits Hebrew, bore fruit, effectively Hebraizing all but the older people among the immigrants, and incidentally contributed much to easing the crisis which otherwise would have come upon the immigrants as their children were receiving a purely Hebrew education in the schools, comporting also many ideas utterly alien to their parents.

11. In order to cope with the demands put upon the language by the many new fields in which it was employed, it became necessary to enlarge the vocabulary. In this respect, Hebrew belongs to the class of ' developing languages, which are following, with a varying degree of time-lag, the terminological explosion of the major languages of technical civilization., To this, however, was added in the case of Hebrew a parallel lack of terms for everyday life, coupled with the problems involved in fitting to modern life (even in its non-technical aspects) a vocabulary of high antiquity and largely connected with religion.

It may well be that it was just the non-technical challenge which worked to the benefit of Hebrew, and set it upon the way which has enabled it to create such. a large proportion of the technical vocabulary out of its own resources. The society in which Hebrew was revived, viz. the early agricultural settlements, was not much concerned with industry or modern science. On the contrary, these people had left large towns and free professions in order to take up agriculture. Their image of agriculture had been shaped by the primitive husbandry of the Russian farmer and by romantic accounts of tillers of the soil in modern Hebrew literature. They did not view, therefore, the task of enlarging the vocabulary as one of keeping track of modern techniques, but rather of restoring to the language means of expression that had been lost owing to the nation being separated from its soil. It was thus natural for them to seek the solutions for their problems within the Hebrew language itself, to refuse on principle to accept foreign or international words, and to concentrate on searching the ancient and medieval Hebrew literature for ' lost ' words. To this was added the self-confidence of which we have spoken, the unquestioning belief that Hebrew was able to cope with any situation that could arise.

It appears that Ben Yehuda himself was more aware of the magnitude of the terminology problem than were the other founding fathers of the language revival. In a lecture delivered to the Language Council (see below) in 1913, he advocated extensive borrowing from the Arabic and other languages of the Semitic family, to which Hebrew belongs, and in addition the creation of new roots by free combination of phonemes. The latter proposal was unanimously rejected, and it was decided that even before introducing a word from another Semitic language, every attempt should be made to find a suitable word within Hebrew itself, or to create it from purely Hebrew elements. Ben Yehuda did succeed in incorporating into modern usage a small number of words taken from Classical Arabic, but after his time, Arabic was hardly ever drawn upon, and no borrowings were made from any other Semitic languages. The only exception was the Aramaic of the Babylonian Talmud, an important and widely-read source of Jewish law and religious lore ; in borrowing from this source, modern Hebrew simply continued the trend which began as soon as that work was completed about 600 A.D.

12. This does not mean that present-day Hebrew is entirely free from borrowings. Besides several dozen words taken from the local colloquial Arabic, it contains in common usage hundreds of international words, and in recent years those engaged in directing the development of the language are increasingly inclined to leave these international words as they are, and not to replace them by Hebrew formations. Many of these have given rise to verbs and adjectives. Thus it is recognized usage now to say tilpen ' he telephoned ' from telefon, irgen ' he organized ', hipnet ' he hypnotized ', and even sivsed 'he subsidized ', na'ivi naive ', na'iviyut naivet� ', etc. On the other hand, the borrowing has almost entirely been restricted to international words, of whatever origin. Standard Hebrew has not readily absorbed words belonging to a specific language, even not English words, though English is so widely understood and used. The English words that have penetrated are precisely those that have become international, such as gentleman, fair, sport, cracker, chips, film.

On the whole, however, Hebrew has had remarkable success in replacing technical terms and words for modern ideas by Hebrew linguistic material. It has found modern uses for numerous words from ancient sources which had seemed to be obsolete. Thus for garage ' it adapted the name musakh, denoting some part of the ancient royal palace (2 Kings 16 : 18 ; Authorized Version : covert), for the idea of ' photography ' the root of the word denoting the image ' of God in Genesis 1 : 26-7, and for listening to radio and viewing television two verbs belonging to the poetical vocabulary of the Hebrew Bible as synonyms for to hear ' and to see '.

One particular aspect of the re-use of traditional vocabulary is the process of secularization, by which words formerly restricted to purely religious meaning are given additional, non-religious meanings. This happened to many Latin words when they were taken over into European languages, but there the results were obscured in linguistic consciousness by the sacred and the secular meaning existing in different languages ; in Hebrew the sacred meanings are well-known and commonly used.

Thus the words for the Morning Prayer and the Evening Prayer are used for matinee and soiree performances of artistic nature ; the word for the Afternoon Prayer has become a term for afternoon tea; the word h'asid, in the Bible ' a pious man ', and more recently the follower of a mystical leader ', is now also an adherent ' of any theory or movement ; torah, the sacred religious Law, also the Pentateuch, is now also used for any scientific or other teaching ' or theory '; one can say in common parlance that a certain sum is sacred ' (qodesh) for a specified purpose, or that one sanctifies ' (hiqdish) one's time to some pursuit. A recent study by one of my students has revealed over 250 such uses. Although this process has been remarked upon, especially by Hebraists outside Israel, there has never been any systematicopposition to it, and these secular usages are as frequent in the mouth of the religious orthodox and in the religious press as with the secularists.

13. Where the search in the sources does not produce a suitable word, recourse is taken to new word formation. Hebrew has produced a small number of original ideas for naming modern or technical concepts, but of course, as in all developing languages, the main procedure has been loan translation, the simulation of the semantic structure of the foreign term by equivalent elements in the borrowing language. Thus the Hebrew for ' potato ' is tapuah' adama, lit. ' apple of the earth ', after French pomme de terre, a thermo-meter ' is mad-h'om, lit. ' measure-heat ', ' nuclear ' gar'ini, 1b an adjective from gar'in kernel '. A particularly neat instance, due to Ben Yehuda, is ofna ' fashion' (in clothes, etc.), a feminine derivation from ofen ' method, fashion ' (of doing things), just as in French la mode ' fashion' corresponds as a feminine to le mode method ' masc.

Ostensibly, loan translation is a perfect procedure, since the material used in it is all one's own, and nothing is left of the foreign word but the meaning. But in actual fact, the large-scale creation of such words leads to changes in the structure of the language. Thus Hebrew was originally a language poor in adjectives, and accustomed to express by means of the genitive relation many ideas expressed by adjectives in European languages. Loan-translation introduced a large number of adjectives, and has brought about a change in attitude, so much so that nowadays Hebrew forms and uses adjectives even where English uses a different grammatical relation. Using a process attested only twice (rather doubtfully) in the Bible, of negating a noun or adjective by prefixed modern Hebrew created hundreds of negated terms to correspond to European words with un-, in-, a-, etc., and finally developed on its own a regular negated infinitive by prefixing i- to the nominal infinitive form (verbal noun).

Though traditional Hebrew has only a few rare instances of nouns compounded from two nouns or from particles and nouns, Hebrew by necessity compounded nouns and adjectives on a large scale, and now possesses a series of prefixes to translate such elements as mono-, di-, tri-, sur-, sub-, inter-, etc., partly even simulating the Latinity or Graecity of the European morphemes by using Aramaic elements. Likewise it has evolved special formations to serve as first elements in compounds, e.g., the vowel pattern of the first part of ramz-or, lit.. indicate-light ', for traffic light ', rsham-qol, lit. write-voice ', for tape-recorder'; although outwardly of the form of a genitive compound, the first part cannot be used otherwise, and thus constitutes a new grammatical category of compound-morpheme, somewhat like the use of the pure root in the second element of Sanskrit dvi-ja. In some cases composition of roots, of which one ends in the letter with which the second begins, has produced a blending, as in kaduregel from kadurregel ' football ', or qatnoa from qatn-noa ' motor-scooter ' This blending is taken a step further in dah'por ' bulldozer ' , from dah'p-h'apor, lit. push-dig ', where two common elements appear only once, and to even greater lengths in amargan impresario ', compunded of oman ' artist ' and argen ' to organize ', which have only the last letter in common. These are only some examples of the ways in which the very process of vocabulary enlargement can transform a language.

14. The earliest known example of an official body fixing renderings for foreign terminology was established by a royal edict in Tibet for the translation of the Buddhist Canon,- but committees for regulating vocabulary enlargement on a national scale are an innovation of our own time, and the Hebrew Language Council (Va'ad halashon ha'ivrit) was one of the earliest, if not the first.3 The Council was founded at Jerusalem in 1890, but ceased activities after a short time, and was re-established in 1904, since when it has been operating continuously. In 1953 the Council was re-named ' The Academy of the Hebrew Language' (Ha-Akademiya lalashon ha'ivrit) and given official status, its decisions becoming law once they are countersigned by the Minister of Education and Culture and have been published in the official gazette.

This means that they are binding upon all state employees, such as school teachers, the radio and television, and the terminology used in government offices. The first list of terms published by the Council was for elementary school arithmetic, and among the earliest were a list of greetings, and terms for clothing and for kitchen utensils. The Academy maintained the custom of publishing individual lists for subjects (and not large-scale dictionaries for all sciences). The work is now done through committees, each constituted for a specific subject and dissolved when its task is completed. The committees consist of experts in the technical subject, one or two members of the Academy, and one of the Academy's ' scientific secretaries ', who is responsible for the protocol, but owing to his or her experience is mostly also active in the discussion.

First a list of the terms to be discussed is established in English. Each part of the list is discussed twice ; then the list of proposed terms is sent for criticism to some hundreds of people in the profession for which the terms are needed, as well as to all members of the Academy. On the basis of the comments received, the list is revised by the committee, and the result circulated once more, though to the members of the Academy only. Objections raised by the latter are discussed, if necessary at the plenary meeting of the Academy at which the list as a whole is approved. In due course the lists are printed, first in the government gazette, then in the Academy's protocols, and finally as separate booklets, each word with translation into English, French, and German. In order to publicize the decisions, the Academy publishes large, often illustrated sheets, to be hung up in workshops and offices, which have more detailed explanations of the more important terms.

15. Although, as is to be expected, the Academy is the subject of goodnatured jokes, its innovations are for the most part well received, and quickly pass into general use. Indeed, the public is more ' purist ' than the Academy, and demands Hebrew words to replace foreign ones, even commonly used ones. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there is a `word-hunger'. This expresses itself, for instance, in the tendency of the experts to whom the Academy's provisional lists are circulated, to use the new words out of those lists right away, and it has happened that the committee or the plenary meeting changed a proposed term, only to find that by then the rejected term had become common usage. Now all provisional lists bear notices saying that those words are not yet approved.


Chomsky, William, Hebrew : The Eternal Language, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1957.

Rabin, Chaim, The Revival of Hebrew (Israel Today No. 5), Israel Digest, Jerusalem, 1958,

St. John, Robert, Tongue of the Prophets : The Life. Story of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, Doubleday & Co., Garden City, New York, 1952.

Horowitz, Edward, How the Hebrew Language Grew, Jewish Education Committee Press, New York, 1960.

Krieger, P., The Revival of a Dead Language, India and Israel, Bombay, 1949, Vol. 2, and 3.

id., The Primary Problems of a National Culture, ibid., 1950, Vol. 2, and 9.

Olsvanger, Immanuel, The Revival of the Hebrew Language, ibid., 1950, Vol. 2, and 10.

Tar-Sinai, N. H., The Miracle of Modern Hebrew, ibid., 1953, Vol. 5, and 12.

Rabin, Chaim, New Life for an Old Language, Ariel, .Jerusalem, Autumn 1962, No. 3.

Special Number of Ariel, Jerusalem, 1969, No. 23.


1.Ferguson, C. A., Diglossia, Word, New York, 1959, Vol. 15, pp. 325-40.

1a The combination h' marks a sound which is pronounced by sonic Israelis like Scottish ch. in loch, by others like Arabic pharyngeal h in Muhammad.

1bThe apostrophe 'in these words marks the glottal stop (other than in h', see note la).

2 Cf. Simonson, Nils, Indo-Tibetische Studien : Die Methoden der tibet ischen Hebersetzer, etc., I, Uppsala, 1957, pp. 238-61.

3. The Academie Francaise, founded in the 17th century, does not initiate word creation, but approves existing words.

Mail Us Copyright 1998/2009 All Rights Reserved Home