Birth of Modern Hebrew

dinji

Senior Member
Swedish - Finland
Split off from this thread.
Frank, moderator EHL


An interesting grey zone case is the emergence of modern Hebrew, since in the second half of the 19th century Hebrew was in fact used as a pidgin-like vehicle of communication between non-native speakers in the shuqim and streets of Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv etc. The only difference to a typical pidgin was the large influence by the written language upon the pidgin speakers and the fact that some of the first crole speakers did not pick up their mother tongue in the streets but in the families of zelous language cultivators, the most important being Eliezer ben Yehuda. Contrary to the belief of many, Eliezer ben Yehuda did not start from zero though, and the end result is also different from the norm laid down for his children by Eliezer himself.
 
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  • berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The only difference to a typical pidgin...
    And what has Modern Hebrew in common with a typical pidgin? Except for some phonetic simplifications (loss of some consonants and simplification of the vowel system) I cannot see anything typical for a pidgin in Modern Hebrew when comparing it to Tiberian Hebrew. Being used as a lingua franca does not make a language a pidgin.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    I agree with Bernd, Modern Hebrew was anything but a typical pidgin.

    Modern Hebrew was no mother tongue then, and only lingua franca, but it didn't emerge from a situation where population A and population B didn't have a common language and thus developped a mixed variety based on the native tongues of populations A and B (usually, typically, using a radically simplified grammar).

    There was of course creolisation process when Hebrew became mother tongue of Israel citizens, but the starting point wasn't a pidgin but a classical language which has been revived. And as there existed a fixed grammar my guess would be that during this creolisation process no heavy changes in grammar took place - but that's nothing but a guess.

    Interesting topic though. :)
     

    dinji

    Senior Member
    Swedish - Finland
    I agree with Bernd, Modern Hebrew was anything but a typical pidgin.

    Modern Hebrew was no mother tongue then, and only lingua franca, but it didn't emerge from a situation where population A and population B didn't have a common language and thus developped a mixed variety based on the native tongues of populations A and B (usually, typically, using a radically simplified grammar).

    There was of course creolisation process when Hebrew became mother tongue of Israel citizens, but the starting point wasn't a pidgin but a classical language which has been revived. And as there existed a fixed grammar my guess would be that during this creolisation process no heavy changes in grammar took place - but that's nothing but a guess.

    Interesting topic though. :)
    Well, the morphology and core vocabulary was pretty well preserved during the creolisation process, but phonology and syntax became pretty much modelled upon the previous mother tongues and the language is today full of one-to-one semantic correspondencies to western languages.

    The creolisation process had its roots already in mishnaic and medieval Hebrew though. It did not start all of a sudden after immigration.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The creolisation process had its roots already in mishnaic and medieval Hebrew though. It did not start all of a sudden after immigration.
    Most medieval Hebrew developments have been ignored during the creation of modern Hebrew. I really have problems calling this a creolization process. If it were one than all European languages would be Creoles as they all imported semantic and syntactic constructs from one another on a large scale. The only difference is that it happened much more quickly in Modern Hebrew.


     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    There was of course creolisation process when Hebrew became mother tongue of Israel citizens, but the starting point wasn't a pidgin but a classical language which has been revived. And as there existed a fixed grammar my guess would be that during this creolisation process no heavy changes in grammar took place - but that's nothing but a guess.
    Are we not agreed that a creole only develops from a pidgin? Modern Hebrew is a unique phenonemon. If it was going to be useful it could not be the same as Biblical Hebrew - no word for "television". If a group of Catholics founded a state and decided to adopt Latin and it became the mother tongue of the next generation who devised or borrowed words for "television" and "coal-fired power station" it would not be a creole.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Well yes (you've caught me here :eek: - me, advocating consistency and then not following my own principles :D), if we want to be consistent you're right, then we should call creolisation only the process of making a pidgin a creole.

    The case of Hebrew was a very special one, without any doubt. If we try to be precise there doesn't really exist a linguistic term for the revival of Hebrew as a mother tongue - which didn't involve lexic only, but also (I suppose) adoptions in morphology, syntax and semantics.
     

    origumi

    Senior Member
    N/A
    As mentioned above, Modern Hebrew is based on Biblical and Mishnahic Hebrew, much less on Medieval Hebrew (or even early 19th century Hebrew).

    The proof is in the pudding - educated Modern Hebrew speakers can understand some 95% of the Bible and Mishnah, where most of the other 5% would probably be hardly understood by contemporary (Biblical / Mishnaic) speakers too. On the other hand, let a Modern Hebrew speaker read large parts of the Hebrew poetry or philosophy authored in the 10-15th century Spain and he's completely lost.

    I am not sure how much Hebrew was Lingua Franca or even been spoken in the shwakim (open markets) of the 19th century Jerusalem. It was more likely limited to schools and synagogues. Tel Aviv was condita exactly 100 years ago into Modern Hebrew atmosphere. As far as I know, prior to the Modern Hebrew Revolution of Ben Yehudah et al. There were practically no speakers of Hebrew as mother tongue.

    Arabic, Aramaic and European languages contributed a lot to the re-born Modern Hebrew, and yet, this influence was synthetic (words were borrowed into Hebrew by linguists to fill the 2000 years gap and not so much by the street) and limited in time to the short period of resurrection. It had not continued later as a significant ongoing process.

    There was an era of strong pressure on Hebrew by a foreign language, Aramaic. It Started after the 2nd exodus (~400 BC, Ezra and Nehemiah, under the Persians) and ended by the Arab conquest of the region (~650 AD). At those times Aramaic was used by the Hebrew people (as well as everyone else in today's Israel / parts of Jordan / Lebanon / Syria / Iraq / parts of Iran) to the extent that many Judeans could hardly understand Hebrew.

    Aramaic can be broadly traced in Modern Hebrew. Yet, regarding the language as pidgin due to this influence would be anachronistic 2000 years after the events and in times where Aramaic in on the edge of extinction. No other language affected Modern Hebrew strongly enough to consider the outcome a pidgin.
     

    dinji

    Senior Member
    Swedish - Finland
    Under this link the Head of the Section of Semitic Linguistics, Department of Hebrew Culture Studies at the University of Tel Aviv, Shlomo Izre'el, argues that the processes that have ended in the emergence of the spoken varieties of Hebrew largely fit the requirements put forth for regarding them as processes of creolization. http://www.tau.ac.il/humanities/semitic/emergence.pdf

    He gives several references (Roth 1934; Ish-Shalom 1944; Chomsky 1950; Parfitt 1972, 1984; Rabin 1975, 1979) that 19th century Hebrew was used as a lingua franca for trade and other purposes. He also reminds us that Ben-Yehuda himself, in his memoirs, tells that his first attempts to communicate in Hebrew with locals upon his immigration were crowned with success.


    In fact the whole of this 13 page article is dedicated to argue that Israeli Hebrew be viewed on a continuum of contact-induced languages and its emergence to be viewed as related to creolization processes.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Interesting paper. I wasn't aware of it, thank you.
    A small side note: Izre'el himself acknowledges in the paper that he is arguing against mainstream opinion. This of course does not mean he is wrong.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    This state exists and is called the Vatican and it has a word for TV (televisio,-onis).:D And Church Latin is definitly not a Creole.
    But Latin is not the mother tongue of anyone in the Vatican. Besides, Italian is the everyday language of the Vatican City. Latin is basically only used in the official communications of the Holy See. They do not ask the Pope what he wants for lunch in Latin - at least I do not think they do.

    If we try to be precise there doesn't really exist a linguistic term for the revival of Hebrew as a mother tongue.
    The whole problem in classifying languages, on whatever basis you want to classify them, is devising neat categories into which a given language will fit. "Like all human institutions, speech is too variable and too elusive to be quite safely ticketed." (Edward Sapir)
     
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    Talib

    Senior Member
    English
    As mentioned above, Modern Hebrew is based on Biblical and Mishnahic Hebrew, much less on Medieval Hebrew (or even early 19th century Hebrew).

    The proof is in the pudding - educated Modern Hebrew speakers can understand some 95% of the Bible and Mishnah, where most of the other 5% would probably be hardly understood by contemporary (Biblical / Mishnaic) speakers too. On the other hand, let a Modern Hebrew speaker read large parts of the Hebrew poetry or philosophy authored in the 10-15th century Spain and he's completely lost.
    Very interesting - but isn't this rather because Jewish children are exposed to Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew as part of their education? We don't read, say the letters of the Ramban (assuming we have any of them).

    For that matter though I'm not sure how much medieval Hebrew would differ from other forms of the language, since it was a written language, not spoken, and written language change little over time (look at Arabic for an excellent example). I would think the major differences might be in lexis (foreign words from Arabic, Spanish, German, whatever) and maybe grammar.
     

    origumi

    Senior Member
    N/A
    I would think the major differences might be in lexis (foreign words from Arabic, Spanish, German, whatever) and maybe grammar.
    Take this typical example. Pure Hebrew, beautifil language, not even one Arabic or Spanish or Visigoth or any other foreign word. 11th century "wine song" by Ibn Gvirol. I suspect that not even one of hundred Hebrew speakers would be able to tell what the song is about.

    יְשׁוֹרֵנִי וְעַפְעַפּוֹ

    יְשׁוֹרֵנִי וְעַפְעַפּוֹ כְּחוֹלֶה וְהַכּוֹס מִדְּמוּת לֶחְיוֹ מְמֻלֶּא
    וְנִיבָיו מִשְּׂפָתָיו דַּר עֲלֵי דַר וּבִשְׂחֹק פִּיו בְּכֶתֶם לֹא יְסֻלֶּה
    וְהַנִּיבוֹת אֲשֶׁר בָּם יִקְטְלֵנִי כְּנִיב נוֹשֶׁה עֲלֵי אִישׁ רָשׁ וְנִקְלֶה
    וְהַכּוֹס רָץ כְּשֶׁמֶשׁ בַּשְּׁחָקִים וְהַיּוֹם נָד נְדוֹד רֵעִים, וְגוֹלֶה
    וְדָמִי יַעֲרֹף עָלַי וְנִבְהָל עֲלֵי לֶחְיִי – וְלֹא יוֹרֵד וְעוֹלֶה!
     
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    ahshav

    Senior Member
    English, Hebrew
    Take this typical example. Pure Hebrew, beautifil language, not even one Arabic or Spanish or Visigoth or any other foreign word. 11th century "wine song" by Ibn Gvirol. I suspect that not even one of hundred Hebrew speakers would be able to tell what the song is about.
    Yes, but that's poetry. Even modern poetry, in any language, can be cryptic.

    By the way, I understood (most of) the words, but I still don't know what it's really about.

    I would argue that an educated Hebrew speaker would be able to understand medieval Hebrew. Some randomly picked examples:

    Rambam: חמישה מיני בהמה מועדין מתחילת ברייתן להזיק, ואפילו הן תרבות; לפיכך אם הזיקו או המיתו בנגיחה או בנשיכה ודריסה וכיוצא בהן, חייב נזק שלם. ואלו הן--הזאב, והארי, והדוב, והנמר, והברדלס. וכן הנחש שנשך--הרי זה מועד, ואפילו היה תרבות.

    Ramban: והנה גם בזה קיצר בסיפורים, כי ה' אמר לו עוד נגע אחד אביא על פרעה, והודיעו הנגע ההוא, ואמר לו כחצות הלילה אני יוצא בתוך מצרים, וכל עניין הפרשה ההיא

    and a link of Sa'adiya Gaon, too: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/mahshevt/kapah/hakdama-2.htm#1
     
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