Page 13

4

History of the Hebrew Language How is it that modern Hebrew is so close to the ancient language of the Bible, spoken some three thousand years ago? A little history may give you a few clues to possible answers to this question. Hebrew is part of the Canaanite group of Semitic languages, with strong links to Phoenician and Aramaic. We have mentioned the similarity to Phoenician, however by the third century BCE it is thought that the majority of Jews had begun to speak Aramaic in everyday life. By the time of the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, when much of the Jewish population lived in the diaspora, Hebrew had ceased to be the main spoken language, although it remained the language of prayer, sermons and of study and correspondence in many fields. As the common language for Jews all over the world, it continued to be a vibrant language, alongside a variety of languages used for everyday needs. Like all languages, Hebrew developed and was influenced by its many neighbours. The Hebrew of the rabbis of the second century, known as Mishnaic Hebrew, differs in many ways from the Hebrew of the Bible. New terms, word-forms and expressions came into the language through the writings of second-century rabbis, and later through the works of rabbis such as Rashi in France in the eleventh century. During what is known as the Golden Era in Spain (tenth-thirteenth centuries) Maimonides Hebraized many Aramaic words and phrases, and for many centuries the language continued to develop in the responsa literature, which recorded debates on issues that concerned Jewish communities all over the world. Hebrew might indeed have been very different today had not two important developments occurred that interrupted the gradual evolution of the language. Both were deliberate revivals of the biblical language, the first as a literary form at the time of the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah) in the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, and the second as a spoken language for the newly emerging state at the turn of the twentieth century. With the political emancipation of the Jews in Europe in the nineteenth century, Jewish communities began to look outwards from their ghettos to the wider world. Writers turned their hand to more secular work in newly established newspapers and journals such as ha’Me-asef. Mishnaic Hebrew began to appear too full of Aramaic, of Arabic influence, as well as of Yiddish. Authors such as Moses Mendelssohn and Abraham Mapu sought a purity

Colloquial hebrew  

Colloquial hebrew: Easy and enjoyable lessons in Hebrew

Colloquial hebrew  

Colloquial hebrew: Easy and enjoyable lessons in Hebrew

Advertisement