The Evolution Of Hebrew Language Revitalization

Although Hebrew continued to be spoken, it was only within the synagogues and yeshivas. Outside of them, Jews, in any land where they were a diaspora, spoke the dominant language. A notable language that they spoke in modern-day Germany was Yiddish, which combined Hebrew with German.

In the late 19th century, Jewish intellectuals suggested and gathered meetings to discuss a mass return to the land of Israel, which was called Palestine at the time. They called this new movement Zionism, after the Mountain of Zion in the Biblical times. A part of that movement involved relearning the Hebrew language as a means of daily communication. A linguist by the name of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda took it upon himself to bring back Hebrew, incorporate new words (even from the proto-Semitic roots that both Hebrew and Arabic used), and teaching it to his daughter. As a boy in modern-day Belarus, he was inspired by the modern Hebrew literature of Mendele Moche Sefarim and Abraham Mapu and sought to bring it back when he arrived in Jerusalem, which was under the control of the Ottoman Empire at the time. Because the Orthodox community viewed the secular use of Hebrew as profane, they sought to banish Ben-Yehuda from their land.

After the foundation of Modern Israel in 1948, an effort was made by the Israeli government to incorporate new immigrants from the Jewish diaspora by teaching them Hebrew. This is what led to the creation of the ulpan, which is a language immersive program designed to rigorously teach Hebrew to non-Hebrew speakers, which comes from the Hebrew word meaning teaching. It proved so effective that people from other endangered languages, such as Scottish Gaelic and Sami, started incorporating the model into their language revitalization program.

While there are continuing problems with learning Hebrew, nine million people around the world speak it and is used as the government language in Israel.

However, linguist Ghil’ad Zuckermann of the University of Adelaide has suggested that the modern, revitalized Hebrew is not in its original form, since he argues that although the lexicon borrows heavily from Biblical Hebrew, it borrows the syntactical structure of the European languages that the Jewish diaspora were expected to speak, with Yiddish being the most prominent feature. He therefore concluded by referring to Modern Hebrew as the Israeli language.

Nonetheless, amidst the controversy surrounding the Israel/Palestine conflict, it is a miracle that the Hebrew language had been re-adapted. It is a language with its own identity with a unique standing in the modern world, since it provides a link to the distant past.

7 thoughts on “The Evolution Of Hebrew Language Revitalization

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