Hebrew Language

History

The Hebrew language is a Semitic language, belonging to the Canaanite group of languages. The word Semitic refers to a branch of related languages spoken by over 450 million people across primarily the Middle East and North Africa. Semitic languages include Arabic, Amharic, Aramaic, Tigrinya and Hebrew.

Culturally and historically, Hebrew is considered to be the language of Jewish people. It is used in many Jewish rituals, and often words spoken by English-speaking Jewish people will use the Classical Hebrew words instead of the English ones. It is considered to be a way in which the diasporic Jewish people have a strong bond with each other and maintain a strong sense of identity.

In the 10th to 7th centuries, the Hebrew language was a popular spoken in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Interestingly, the Hebrew language itself died out in the 4th century as a spoken language. However, due to its prominence in Judaism, the language was still used for many religious ceremonies and was used in literature. It was revived as a spoken language in the 1880s century due to the Jewish religion.

Hebrew is referred to by Jews as the Holy Language, or Leshon HaKodesh, and is also called the Language of Canaan in the Bible. Even the word Hebrew comes from one of many names that exist for the Jewish people, and is believed to be derived from a description of Abraham’s ancestor, Eber.

Popularity

The Hebrew language is spoken by the majority of people in Israel, amounting to around seven million people in this country alone. In Israel, as in the religion of Judaism, Hebrew is an official language. There are around 9,000,000 speakers of Hebrew over the world, though only around two thirds of these speakers have Hebrew as their first language. It is relatively common in the United States compared to many other minority languages, with 200,000 people using the Hebrew language in the home.

It was also spoken as the liturgical language of the Samaritan people, though now there are only around 700 Samaritans remaining. Hebrew has always been written using the Hebrew alphabet, which is a consonant-only script of 22 letters, and reads from right to left. It is based on the Aramaic script. The Hebrew language has borrowed many words from other languages, particularly Aramaic, Yiddish, Arabic, German, Latin, etc, etc.

These days, spoken Hebrew has two dialects, the Jewish and the Samaritan. While there are very few native speakers of Samaritan left, the Samaritan dialect of Hebrew is still used for religious purposes. The Jewish dialect, however, is spoken all around the world.

Language

Hebrew is one of the languages that has been grammatically co-ordinated for many hundreds of years, with the first writings on grammar appearing from the High Middle Ages. These works looked at the grammatical forms that exist within the Hebrew language Bible. This method of analyzing the Bible via language is referred to in the Hebrew language as Midrash, and one of the first texts that deals with this solely is The Diqduc, which explores the language that is used within.

In grammatical terms, the Hebrew language is relatively similar to English. However, not all sentences in Hebrew require a subject as well as a verb. The word order is mostly Subject Verb Object, but this word order can be subject to change. For example, the Hebrew language is a pro-drop language, which means that when the verb conjugations are in reference to gender, number or person, sometimes the subject pronoun is omitted.

Certain aspects of the Hebrew language are very strict, such as the genders that are used. Every single noun in the Hebrew language is either masculine or feminine. When discussing groups, the masculine gender is automatically used, as there is no neuter pronoun. Interestingly, with numbers, there are also words to denote a double number, though this is not used very prominently in modern speech.

Why Learn The Hebrew Language?

Even if you are not a Jewish person, learning the Hebrew language can be used to study Judaism and Israeli culture. A deeper understanding of Hebrew can help historians and archeologists specializing in the Middle East. However, if you do practice the Jewish faith, then the learning of Hebrew can be very useful in understanding more of the rites and rituals that are such an integral part of the Jewish faith. The Torah, the holy book of Jewish people, is mostly written in Classical Hebrew.

Hebrew is a fascinating language because its primary speakers are drawn together from their religion, not their geographic location. By learning Hebrew, you will be able to talk to many people from many different countries around the world. This could also provide you with a significant edge in the work place, particularly if you wish to work for a Jewish or Hebrew speaking firm.


2 Comments

  • #1 by Max N. on November 10 - 7:47 pm

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    It is very hard to speak Hebrew for most people whose native language is English. I’ve talked to quite a few British/US immigrants in Israel that lived there for many years, and they struggled to be understood.

  • #2 by Naama on March 26 - 1:46 pm

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    1. Hebrew was revived as a spoken language in order to become the official language of Israel, since the people who revived it believed the Hebrew language is very important for the Jewish people’s identity, and not only because of religion.
    2. “These days, spoken Hebrew has two dialects, the Jewish and the Samaritan” – I never heard it has two dialects, but now that I’ve checked, I’ve found out that the Samaritan one is spoken by 700 people. I bet most don’t even know it exists.
    3. You forgot to mention that the Bible was written in Classic Hebrew, which can be understood by Modern Hebrew speakers, because Hebrew didn’t changed much while it wasn’t spoken.

    Anyway, I believe the Hebrew language is very beautiful and unique, and except the writing it’s also very easy. Good luck to anyone who’s willing to learn it! בהצלחה!

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