Monday, April 14, 2014

Language Profile: Hebrew

Today we're taking a look at Hebrew, a member of the Semitic language family. It is an official language of Israel alongside Arabic. There are also over 200,000 Hebrew speakers in the United States. In addition, Hebrew is the liturgical language of Judaism. 

The Hebrew language has a long and interesting history. The earliest written examples of the language date all the way back to the 10th century BC, but by 200 AD it was no longer spoken in everyday life. For several centuries it lived on only through its religious use in Judaism, until it was revived in the 19th century to be used as a spoken and literary language once more. 

The Tel Aviv skyline at night.
The revitalization of Hebrew was a long process that included work such as translating 19th century literary works into Hebrew, as well as modernizing the lexicon. Many new words were created in Hebrew, while others were borrowed from European languages such as English, Russian, German and French. New terms were also adopted from the Arabic language. 

Modern Hebrew became an official language in British-ruled Palestine in 1921 alongside English and Arabic. It maintained its official status when Israel was created. 

In order to prevent English terminology from inundating the Hebrew language, the Academy of the Hebrew Language creates approximately 2,000 new Hebrew words each year to provide an alternative to English terms that have gained popularity. Hebrew has also influenced the English lexicon, which we addressed in a previous post.

It is written using the Hebrew alphabet, an abjad script with 22 letters that is written from right to left.