Israeli Hebrew – a story of a language (3)

The miracle of a language birth

Did those children, who were in fact our great grandparents, really speak Hebrew?

Well, not exactly. They spoke a language in which Hebrew words were embedded, but its grammar was the same grammar that their teachers used while thinking: Slavic grammar, with some Yiddish characteristics. To this day, basic linguistic systems in modern Israeli Hebrew have Slavic, Yiddish, and some other European features. To this day, we, the Hebrew-speaking Israelis, prefer to create names by agglutination of elements, as in European languages, rather than by combining roots and patterns, as in older forms of Hebrew. To this day, our verbal system corresponds in its external structure to the Russian verbal system. To this day, many expressions that we use – have been taken and translated from Yiddish.

Those children, our great grandparents, who were the first speakers of our language, quickly learned the new language, and used that “Hebrew” to communicate with each other. It has expanded and expanded – it has acquired more and more speakers, and has continuously been enriched. It has expanded, and improved, until it has become what it is today.

The creation of modern Israeli Hebrew was made possible by a political reality. For political reasons, it was convenient to call it “Hebrew;” yet, it is nothing else but a new language, composed of a mixture of languages, mainly European.

And the revival of Hebrew?

A revival of a language is a legend. From a linguistic, scientific, point of view, it is impossible to revive what had already died two thousand years earlier. We have no idea how Hebrew sounded back then, there are only written traditions and hypotheses, and therefore – we have no way to reconstruct it. When its last native speakers passed away, their language necessarily passed away with them.

Nevertheless, a miracle has happened: a new language was born, and its birth was deliberate, even if the goal was to create something else. The case of modern Israeli Hebrew is a unique, miraculous, case, which no one can take away from the Jewish people.

About the Author
Holding a PhD degree in linguistics from the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, I am the Principal Linguist in an Israeli Hi-Tech company, dealing with artificial intelligence. Also, I give enrichment lectures in language issues to all audiences. I have a previous experience in writing several guest-columns for various Jewish journals in the US and Canada. I am based in Israel.
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