choose a language or topic »|Thursday, October 19, 2017
You are here: Home » Afro-Asiatic » Hebrew
  • Follow Us!

Hebrew 

hebrew
Baruch haba, בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא – Welcome

Hebrew (‘Ivrit, עִבְרִית ), or ‘Ivrit, is a member of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is the language of the Hebrew Bible and of the Old Testament of the Christians. The core of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, traditionally believed to have been first recorded in the time of Moses 3,300 years ago, is written in Classical Hebrew.

mapHebrew began to die out as a spoken language after the Jews were defeated by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Spoken Hebrew was replaced by Aramaic, although it was preserved as the language of religion, learning, and literature. Hebrew was
 revived as a spoken language during the late 19th and early 20th century as Modern Hebrew. It replaced ArabicYiddishRussian, and a variety of other languages spoken by Jews who emigrated to Israel.

Status

Hebrew is spoken by about 5 million people in Israel (Ethnologue). This figure includes those who speak it as a a native language and those for whom it is a second language learned to varying degrees of proficiency.  It became an official language of British Palestine in 1922. Today, it is the official language of the State of Israel. It is used for official, public and private purposes throughout Israel, wih the exception of the Arab sector, where Arabic is used. Government schools teach in either Hebrew or Arabic, however, Hebrew is a compulsory subject through the tenth grade in all schools, even the Arabic ones. Hebrew is the medium of instruction at the university level as well. It is the language of most newspapers, books, magazines, radio, and television. In addition,Hebrew remains the liturgical language of Jews worldwide. There are other surveys that place the number of Hebrew speakers worldwide at 9 million, but this figure does not indicate what is meant by “speakers”.

 

Dialects

There are two main dialects of Hebrew.

  • The Europeanized dialect is spoken by Ashkenazi Jews of European descent. It is strongly influenced by Yiddish. Today, the Europeanized dialect enjoys greater social prestige and tends to be preferred by most young Israelis.
  • The Oriental dialect is spoken by Sephardi Jews whose ancestors came to Israel from Middle Eastern countries. The name “Sephardic” comes from the Hebrew word Sefarad, ‘Spain’. These Jews lived in Spain and Portugal from the Middle Ages until their persecution and mass expulsion from those countries in the last decades of the 15th century when they fled to the Middle East. Oriental Hebrew is strongly influenced by Arabic.
  • Although the Academy of the Hebrew Language attempts to establish standards, native speakers of Hebrew who now constitute a majority, have created a variety, Spoken Israeli Hebrew, that has yet to be systematically described and standardized.

 

Structure

Sound system

Hebrew is unique in that it was resurrected from being a written language to becoming one that is spoken today as a first language by millions of people.

Vowels
Spoken Israeli Hebrew has six vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that differentiate word meaning. The phonemes /e/ and /ə/ have merged in the speech of most Israeli speakers. In Biblical Hebrew, each vowel had three forms: short, long and interrupted, however this distinction has been lost in Modern Hebrew. The term “interrupted vowel” refers to a vowel followed by a glottal stop.

Front Central Back
Close

i

u
Mid

e

 ə

o
Open

a

/ə/ = sound between syllables in uh-uh

Consonants

Consonants in Biblical Hebrew had several characteristics that are not present in Modern Hebrew, for example:

  • gemination, i.e., doubling of consonants;
  • spirantization, i.e., pronouncing a stop, as a fricative, e.g., pronouncing /b/ as a /v/;
  • pharyngealization, i.e., pronouncing consonants with constricted vocal cords;
  • loss of voiceless and voiced pharyngeal consonants, which are present in Arabic, but pronounced as velar stops /k/ and /g/ in in the speech of most Hebrew speakers, with the exception of those who speak the Oriental dialect.

 

Modern Hebrew has the following consonants:

 
Palatal Uvular
voiceless
p
t
k
ʔ
voiced
b
d
g
voiceless
f
s
ʃ
χ
h
voiced
v
z
ʒ
ʁ
Affricates voiceless
ts
voiced
m
n
x
l
j
  • /ʔ/ = sound between vowels in uh-uh
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /ʒ / = s in vision
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /dʒ/ = j in jet
  • /χ, ʁ / have no equivalents in English
  • /j/ = y in yet

 

Stress

 Stress usually falls  on the last syllable with a few exceptions when it  falls on the penultimate syllable, e.g.,  in nouns with the vowel scheme eh-eh like in geshem (גשם) ‘rain’ or kesef (כסף) “money or silver’; in words with the suffix -enu, which marks 1st person plural past tense, or when marking possessive in nouns. 

Grammar

The grammar of Hebrew is fairly typical of all Semitic languages:

  • Many words consist of three consonants separated by vowels. Changes in the vowels or their omission affect word meaning, e.g., the root K-T-V produces katav ‘he wrote’, ktav ‘writing’, katuv ‘written’, and miktava ‘desk’.
  • Prefixes and suffixes are added to roots to modify word meaning and express grammatical relations.
  • There are significant differences in the grammar of Modern as opposed to Biblical Hebrew. The description below is that of Modern Hebrew.

 

Nouns, articles, adjectives, and pronouns

  • Syntactic functions of nouns in the sentence are represented by prepositions. The subject has no special marking.
  • Nouns have two genders: masculine and feminine, e.g., yeled ‘boy’ and yalda ‘girl’.
  • There are two numbers: singular and plural. Some nouns also have a dual number for paired objects. Plurals are formed by adding the suffix –im to masculine nouns, e.g., yeled ‘boy’ and yeledim ‘boys’, and –ot to feminine nouns, e.g., mita ‘bed’ and mitot ‘beds’. Nouns may change their internal vowels when they take the plural ending.
  • Adjectives agree with nouns in number and gender.
  • The definite article ha– is placed both before the adjective and the noun, hence ‘the big camel’ is ha-yeled ha-gadol, literally ‘the boy the big.’
  • To express possession, modern Hebrew uses the preposition shel ‘of’, as in ha-dal shel ha-beyt ‘the door of the house’.
  • A direct object is marked by the preposition et-, e.g., Adam kara et ha-sefer ‘Adam read the book’.

 

Verbs

  • Hebrew verbs are constructed very differently from verbs in Western European languages. All Hebrew verbs are formed from three- or four-consonant roots that define the basic concept of expressed by the verb. The roots are assigned to one of seven constructions that are called binyan. Most roots can be assigned to to more than one binyan, so that more than one verb can be formed from a typical root. As a result, different verbs share the same basic meaning but differ in voice, valency, aspect, or any combination of these features. 
  • Each binyan has its own conjugation pattern, and verbs in the same binyan are conjugated similarly.
  • Verbs have three tenses: present, past, and future.
  • There are two numbers: singular and plural.
  • There are three persons: first, second, and third.
  • There are two genders: masculine and feminine.
  •  Verbs in five of the binyanim have an imperative mood and an infinitive, verbs in four of the binyanim have gerunds, and verbs in one of the binyanim have a past participle. Finally, a very small number of fixed expressions include verbs in the jussive mood, basically a third-person imperative. Except for the infinitive and gerund, all these forms are conjugated to reflect the number, person, and gender (masculine or feminine) of its subject.
  •  In dictionaries, Hebrew verbs are given in the third-person masculine singular past tense form. Compare this to English-language dictionaries that give verbs in the infinitive.

 

Word order
The usual word order in Modern Hebrew is Subject-Verb-Object, as opposed to Biblical Hebrew where the word order was typically Verb-Subject-Object. Modifiers follow the nouns they modify.

color=”#222222″]Vocabulary[/heading]
Most of the basic vocabulary of Modern Hebrew comes from the Bible and the Talmud. Since Hebrew was not spoken for many centuries, it lacked many words needed to deal with the modern world, so many new lexical items had to be added to the vocabulary. Some words were created from existing roots, the meaning of existing words was expanded to deal with new concepts, and a large number of words were borrowed from other languages, such as ArabicGermanYiddishRussian, and other European languages.

Below are some basic Hebrew words and phrases.

Hello (literally, ‘peace’) Shalom שָׁלוֹם
Good bye, see you Lehitra’ot לְהִתְרָאוֹת
Thank you Toda תּוֹדָה
Please Bevakasha בבקשה
I am sorry. Ani mitsta-er סְלִיחָה
Yes Ken כֵּן
No Lo לֹא

 

Below are Hebrew numerals 1-10. They are marked for gender, e.g., shney yeladim ‘two boys’, shtey yeladot ‘two girls’.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
masculine
echad
shnayim
shlosha
arba’a
chamisha
shisha
shiv’a
shmonah
tish’a
assara
feminine
ah’at
shtayim
shalosh
arbah
chamesh
shesh
sheva
shmone
tayshah
eser

Writing

When the Hebrews started using the Aramaic script for everyday use, reserving the Old Hebrew script for religious use only, the Aramaic script quickly became known as the Jewish script. Because of the shape of the letters, it was called the square script. The earliest preserved texts in the square script date back to the 5th century BC.

  • The Hebrew alphabet, or alephbet ’ivri, is a consonant-based syllabic writing system which consists of 22 consonants, five of which have a special word-final form.
  • Long vowels can be indicated by the letters alefvav, and yod. Such texts are called vowelled or vocalized. Short vowels are not usually marked by diacritics, except in the Bible, poetry and books for children and textbooks for foreigners.
  • Hebrew letters are not connected to each other, even in handwriting.
  • Letters have only one case.
  • Hebrew is written from right to left.

 

Aleph
Bet/Vet
Gimel
Dalet
Hei
Vav
Zayin
Het
Tet
Yud
Kaf
א
ב
ג
ד
ה
ו
ז
ח
ט
י
כ, ך
Lamed
Mem
Nun
Samekh
Ayin
Pei
Tsadi
Kuf
Resh
Shin
Tav
ל
מ, ם
נ, ן
ס
ע
פ, ף
צ, ץ
ק
ר
ש
ת

 

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Hebrew.

סעיף א
כל בני אדם נולדו בני חורין ושווים בערכם ובזכויותיהם. כולם חוננו בתבונה ובמצפון, לפיכך חובה עליהם לנהוג איש ברעהו ברוח של אחוה.
Kol benei ha’adam noldu benei xorin veshavim be’erkam uvizxuyoteihem. Kulam xonenu batevuna uvematspun, lefixax xova ‘aleihem linhog ish bere’ehu beruax shel axava.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Did You Know?

English has a number of words of Hebrew origin, among them many biblical terms. A few of the loanwords are listed below:

English
from Hebrew
amen amen ‘truth’
cider shektar word used for any strong drink
hallelujah hallalu-yah ‘praise Jehovah’
kibbutz ‘Israeli collective settlement’ from qibbus, ‘gathering’
leviathan livyathan ‘dragon, serpent, large sea animal’
manna man, literally ‘substance exuded by the tamarisk tree.’ Meaning of ‘spiritual nourishment’ is attested from 1382.
messiah mashiah ‘anointed’ (of the Lord), from mashah ‘anoint’
rabbi rabbi, title of respect for Jewish doctors, from rabh ‘master, great one’ + –i, first person singular pronominal suffix.

Sabbath

shabbath ‘day of rest’

satan

satan ‘adversary, one who plots against another’

 

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda
The revival of Hebrew is intimately associated with the name of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who was born in Russia and who came in 1881 to Palestine, then a province of the Ottoman Empire, with plans to revive the Hebrew language. Ben-Yehuda wanted the Jews in Palestine to speak Hebrew exclusively. He settled in Jerusalem, planning to use it as the base for spreading his revivalist ideas throughout Palestine and the Diaspora. His plan was to make Hebrew the language of the home and of education, and to expand the Hebrew vocabulary to meet the demands of the Israeli society. He understood that if children could learn Hebrew from a young age in school, they would become proficient in it when they grew up. In this way, Hebrew would become a living language. And so it did.

Difficulty

Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Hebrew?
Hebrew is considered to be a Category III language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.

15 Responses to Hebrew

  1. Stephanie

    You have some errors: such as “excuse me” being “slixa” and ha-yeled ha-gadol being the big boy (but not the big camel)…

     
  2. Trudi

    I thought the root for words related to “writing” was k-t-b, not k-t-v. Or is this dialectal variation?

     
    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you. It was a typo that we need to correct.

       
  3. Irene Thompson

    The Hebrew root K-T-V means ‘to write, register, record, inscribe’.

     
    • Sheera

      Great website.

      I think that the confusion between K-T-B and K-T-V is that the two consonants |b| and |v| are represented by a single letter ב (the 2nd letter of the Hebrew alphabet).
      Whether it is pronounced as b or v depends on the environment on which it occurs – goverened by rules.

       
  4. sasha

    hi

    i found your website informative. Thank you. Are there any easy ways to learn the gender of different objects. Being English speaking its not easy to get which objects are feminine and which are masculine.

    ta Sasha

     
    • Irene Thompson

      Unless the language has specific built-in gender markers, there is no easy way to learn it.

       
    • Irene Thompson

      Unless gender markers are built into the stems, there is no easy way.

       
    • Sam

      For starters, any nouns ending in ת are feminine. Also, any nouns ending in ה with the “ah” sound are feminine (if it has the “eh” sound, it’s masculine). There are two exceptions to that rule, the words מילה (milah/word) and שנה (shanah/year). Most other words are masculine, with some exceptions like רוח (ruakh/wind) or שבוע (shavua/week). For plural nouns, the feminine ending is ות (ot) and the masculine ending is ים (im). No exceptions to this.

       
  5. Moshe

    I think you are wrong with number of speakers. We are talking about 9 milion speakers as first or second language

     
    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for your comment. It is actually difficult to figure out the numbers given the differences in the sources. I generally tend to go with Ethnologue. Ethnologue report is based on 2014 data, and gives the number of speakers in Israel is 4,380,000 (Dekel 2014). Spoken by all Israelis as L1 or L2. Some them use it as L1 now in Israel learned it as L2 originally. Total users in all countries: 4,822,400.

      However, According to Wikipedia, as of 2013, there were about 9 million Hebrew speakers worldwide, of whom 7 million speak it fluently. Currently, 90% of Israeli Jews are proficient in Hebrew, and 70% are highly proficient. Some 60% of Israeli Arabs are also proficient in Hebrew[citation needed], and 30% prefer speaking Hebrew over Arabic.[55] However, Hebrew is the native language of only 49% of Israelis over the age of 20, with Russian, Arabic, French, English, Yiddish and Ladino being the native tongues of most of the rest. Some 26% of Russian immigrants and 12% of Arabs speak Hebrew poorly or not at all.[56][57] figure probably includes a significant number of L2 speakers. This is very “soft data” since the term “fluently” is usually undefined and allows for a very wide range of interpretation.

      I will try to make this a bit clearer in the Hebrew page.

       
  6. Simcha

    Not everyone in Israel speaks a “fluent” Hebrew. There are many immigrants to this country, and most of the population also speaks a basic English. This means many foreigners can get buy without it.

     
  7. Pingback: 5 awkward Hebrew translation mistakes | The Translation Corner

  8. Camille

    Hebrew may be my 4th language, but it has rapidly become my 2nd in decreasing order of fluency! 🙂

    One rather important correction for you:
    “Amen” actually comes from the root of the verb להאמין (that root being א.מ.נ. = aleph mem nun), which means to believe; while אֶמֶת is the word for truth. Also of note, in Hebrew, we don’t pronounce the a in amen as a long a, but like the a in father!

    A few other tidbits: Interestingly, in modern Hebrew, לויתן is literally the word for whale…
    OH! And there is no th sound in Hebrew (voiced nor unvoiced)… ת just has a slightly different T sound than ט in some words. I have a built in mnemonic device when I’m not sure which to write: if there’s an English version of the word that uses a th, then I know to use the ת and not the ט!

     

Add a Comment