Israel Language Policy and Linguistics[1]  

by Haiim B Rosén – – Ariel vol. 25 (1969) pp. 48-63

Reprinted by David Steinberg with permission of copyright holders


Professor Haiim B Rosén. Professor of General and Indo-European Linguistics of the Hebrew University, has been twice visiting Professor of Hebrew Linguistics at the Sorbonne.  He is a member of the Permanent International Committee of Linguistics, and among his publications are the first books to present a linguistic analysis of current Hebrew.


  1. Overview – Israeli Language Policy; Language Policy only Deals with Superficial Aspects of Hebrew; Opposition to Descriptive Studies of Current Hebrew
  2. Israeli Hebrew as a Western language
    1. Examples of “Calqued” Western Semantics  - takhana “station” ; sherut “service
    2. The “Fatal Question”
    3. In What Way Can We Say that Israeli Hebrew Has Grown out of Classical Hebrew?
    4. Biblical Hebrew Centers More on what is Happening vs. Israeli Hebrew on the Position of the Narrator
    5. Influence of Russian
    6. Israeli Hebrew Three-Tense System: past, present and future
    7. “Seventh” Personal Form Equivalent to French on – German man
    8. Preservation of Verbless Sentence Due to Russian Influence
    9. Western-Type compound Adjectives
    10. Styles of Israeli Hebrew
    11. Westernization of “Parts of Speech”
    12. Westernization of Israeli Hebrew Sentence Structure
  3. “Re-Classicization” of Israeli Hebrew
  4. Futility of Puristic Language Policy
  5. Hebrew Language Policy and Language Teaching



1. Overview

Language policy and language teaching are affected by linguistics in different ways.  For languages of civilization, wherever language policy is conducted at all, it is conservative and directed against habits or trends considered undesirable by the policy-makers.  From a very broad point of view, this conservatism need not necessarily try to perpetuate language usages that are, by evolution or chronology, the antecedents of existing ones, although this was the principal facet of Israel’s official language policy in the earlier years of the State.  Another facet evident in enlightened speech communities, and lately enjoying increasing favor in this country, is the braking effect of language policy (that chiefly followed in schools) seeking to protect “good” usage against too speedy development and destructive restructuring.  Consequently, whether the policy maker wishes to champion the linguistic usage of his generation or to wage a losing battle against it, he needs linguistic analysis as the primary diagnostic took for the purpose of defining either the state of health he wishes to safeguard or the disease he wishes to fight.

It is fortunate for the linguistic development of Israel that language policy-makers and teachers alike have, for a generation at least, been taking little more than a very superficial view of what constitutes the image of a language.  Their attention was directed towards, perhaps more correctly restricted to, very external features of Hebrew speech and writing, ipso facto limited to what we technically term the “level of expression,” the physically apparent, formal features of the language – excluding practically altogether the “level of content” and relations between expression and content structure.  For many years, language policy and language teaching alike were guided by a desire to preserve what appeared to be (in keeping with the superficial considerations just mentioned) the Semitic character of Hebrew, fighting a – losing, as I have said – battle for pronunciation habits reminiscent of contemporary Arabic, and for a morphology consistent with Biblical vocalization and diacritics uttered in the shape they acquired during the centuries in some of the culturally preponderant Jewish communities.

The real image of contemporary Hebrew was necessarily left to develop without any control on its own lines.  Had the declared principles of language guiding the Jewish community of Palestine and the early State of Israel taken notice of the intrinsic nature of Israeli Hebrew as a language, that is, as an activity of the human mind facing the world and its realities and “expressing itself into them,” then Israeli Hebrew – of this I am convinced though I can adduce no evidence – would have been stillborn.

I believe I am not deluding myself in stating the day of the superficial concept of the physis of Israeli Hebrew is over, for the more educated at least.  More and more language teachers are being brought up on modern methods of language didactics and contrastive analysis (in the prodigious project of teaching Hebrew to speakers of a foreign language); they become more and more aware of the necessity of learning in nature, not only of what it appears to be, but what it is by nature and type.  The language policy-maker examining his target and achievements is increasingly compelled to establish what Hebrew is, here and now.  The common denominator for both language policy and language teaching in this country, consequently, is an objective view of what type of language Israeli Hebrew constitutes at the time of this writing.


2. Israeli Hebrew as a Western language

We must, therefore, first attempt to define Israeli Hebrew typologically, and see whether Israeli Hebrew is a Western language.  We shall dispense with two preliminary questions that immediately arise in this context.  The one is what is meant by “Western.”  We take it that this concept has become sufficiently crystallized to make any attempt at quasi-definition superfluous.  The other is a “chicken-and-egg” dilemma: is Israeli Hebrew a Western language because it is spoken by a community essentially imbued with Occidental civilization, or conversely, is it a language predisposed to shape a society imbued with a common mental attitude and at the same time capable of perpetuating itself as a carrier of Western civilization based and centered on the conceptual framework of this type of language as its vehicle of thought?

While avoiding an explanation of what is meant by “Western,” it might still be expedient to say what is not.  “Western” may be adequately understood as an antonym of “Oriental;” but let it be clearly understood that when the rather outdated concept of Oriental Languages was created in the earlier part of the modern era, it could not possibly have borne a genealogical connotation, simply because genealogical classification had not yet been conceived at the time.   “Oriental” may have meant “non-European,” but European is not a family of languages.[2]  Non-Oriental could not have meant Indo-European (since the very notion of the Indo-European language family was formed in the minds of scholars by their intensive occupation with the Asiatic representatives of that group, such as Indic, Armenian, Iranian) any more than “non-Western” can mean “Semitic.”[3]

Thus Israeli Hebrew is a Western language while never ceasing to be a Semitic language[4].  It is a vehicle of expression that has in common with its Semitic sisters the formal elements (roots, prefixes, suffixes, word-grouping mechanisms, sentence-patterns) that make expression as such possible, while its notional structure, that is, what expression stands for, what makes it worthwhile for me to express myself at all, is shared by it with the principal languages of “Europe.”[5]

This may be hard to grasp for the uninitiated; how hard, I know when I remember a Central European postal clerk looking up a mail tariff for me and not being able to find it until I told him to look under “Asia.”   “Why, I thought Israel was a European country!”  “Yes, well,” I had to admit, “in Asia.”  If a language and the community speaking it have a mission in cultural history, the mission of the Israel language-community might serve as an example.


a. Examples of “Calqued” Western Semantics - takhana “station” ; sherut “service

To bring this rather abstract argument down to earth may not be so difficult as it seems.  A few examples will serve our purpose.

Let us take the Hebrew word takhana[6] “station.”  On the surface this is one of the myriad of “stock” words of Hebrew root, Hebrew etymology, classical documentation.  Cut off its first syllable, and you get the shape of the radical element khana- “stopped movement, s’est stationé.”  It recurs again and again in the Biblical narrative of the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert: “after they had set out from …, they stopped at …”[7]  Another Biblical derivative of this root denotes an encamped army.  Nowadays we use the verb khana with a very limited reference: of the encampment of an army or an organized group, or of leaving a vehicle in a stationary position, “parking” (to use the currently appropriate word).  We do not use it for stopping the motion of a vehicle or any other moving object.  Nevertheless, at the beginning of the twentieth century, takhana was the word found suitable, and justifiably so, to denote the regular stopping point of a public means of transportation, a “station”, in brief.  The formal connection with the mechanism of classical roots and derivations had not yet been severed.  

But what is takhana now?  Takhanat shidur (shidur “broadcast”) “radio station”; takhanat klita (klita “taking in”) “radio receiving station”; takhanat mishtara (mishtara “police”) “police station”; takhanat delek (delek “fuel” “gas”) “gas station”; takhanat sherut (sherut “service”)  “service station”; takhanat rishum (rishum “registration”) “registration post”; takhanat ‘ezra rishona (ezra “help, aid, rishona ”first” fem. sing.) “first aid station,” and so on.

We cannot explain this merely by saying that once takhana meant a station and its meaning was broadened, or by simply arguing that it became applied to any kind of station in expressions guided by, or calqued on, foreign models.  This goes much deeper than semantic change or phenomena of language contact.  But before we plunge into the depths let us note two simple facts.  First, that takhana has severed its umbilical cord from the inherited root kh-n- just as station has from the Latin stare; this severance has gone so far as to preclude the location at which the act  khana (in the limits of modern usage as outlined above) takes place, from being termed takhana; another derivative of the same root is used for that purpose (khanaya “parking” or, more explicitly migrash khanaya “parking lot”); motorists may consider a khanaya a desideratum for every takhana.

The second consideration is that the facts of contemporary Arabic[8] - taken as the most notable representative of genealogically related languages – are really not comparable.  In that language, a “bus-stop” is still mawqaf (pronounced moqaf), based on the root w-q-f  “stop” and reflecting its connotation.  The same term is used for a parking lot.  A railroad station bears neither this name nor any correlation to the notion of “standing”.  That kind of ‘station” as well as “police station” and, occasionally, a  “first aid station,” is called markaz, which etymologically means more or less “point of onset, center of eradiation,” then “center, headquarters, residence.”  We shall revert to the Hebrew affiliations of this word later.  Markaz is also used for “bus depot” (to distinguish it from “bus station,” a distinction not made in Hebrew).  Other “stations” have nothing to do in current Palestinian Arabic with either of the two; they may be termed maaţţa, a word whose root conveys the notion of “going down, alighting,” and which seems to expand its use to cases where “station” is a take-over from a Western language (as in radio station”).

Consequently it seems that Arabic, while still calling any station a “station,” takes an entirely different attitude towards the question of what “any” station is.  Such an attitude cannot be defined otherwise than on the civilizatory level.  It is Hebrew that takes the Western point of view (and let it be said that point of view is a technical term in this context) by considering as “any” station precisely what European languages consider as “any” station.  Translate the above-mentioned examples into German, French or Italian, and you will find easily that all these are ordinarily “stations,” maybe with some interference produced by French poste.  This is not a question of vocabulary, it is a question of categorical classification, of conceptualization, and that reflected by Israeli Hebrew is Western, and it must be stressed, irrespective of the origin of the speaker.

The establishment of what would be technically called a range of reference for a given lexical entity in accordance with a foreign model of pan-occidental validity is, of course, anything but an isolated case.

With sherut “service” we have sherut mdina “state service,” sherut takhbura “public transportation service,” sherut shidur “broadcasting organization, broadcasting service,” sherut khitulim “diaper service,” sherut mekhonot kvisa ( mekhonot “machines,” kvisa “laundry, washing) “washing machine service,” and let us just recall here the word for “service station,” takhanat sherut.  It would be futile to go into any more of these; they are too numerous.  But still, these cases have a history; why do we have the word sherut for “service” at all?  In Classical Hebrew sherut denotes, if we are to take an accepted dictionary definition, “serving, functioning, particularly in holy office, also for public benefit.”  It is certainly appropriate to circumscribe all these by the simple word service, and I would not argue against the statement that classical sherut meant “service.”

Now what our predecessors who are to be credited with the resuscitation of Hebrew simply did, was this: since we know that Hebrew sherut is English (or French, or “Franglais”) for service, we conclude that service is Hebrew sherut!

Within the limits of these pages we cannot go into any linguistic argument to show how fundamentally wrong such a line of reasoning is.  Let me rely on the instinct and intuition of my reader, who has experienced matters of this kind in any bilingual situation.


b. The “Fatal Question”

When Hebrew was revived the question that was asked for this and for tens of thousands of other words was: “What is X called in Hebrew?”  (Where X was service, the answer was sherut, where X was station, - takhana; for X= German fahren – linsoa).  I have, upon other occasions, called precisely this question la question fatale in the history of contemporary Hebrew.  It is its fatal impact that undermined the relational system of concepts in Classical Hebrew and – as one may retrospectively say with some satisfaction – assured the perpetuation of a European system of civilizatory concepts within the revived Holy Tongue.[9]


c. In What Way Can We Say that Israeli Hebrew Has Grown out of Classical Hebrew?

Do these reflections bear any conflict with the accepted notion of contemporary Hebrew having grown out of Biblical and other layers of Classical Hebrew[10]?  This depends on whether we correctly view the role of Biblical (and post-Biblical Classical) Hebrew in the process of revival. The correct interpretation to my mind is this: it was not the Biblical and other Classical texts that served as the foundation for the reconstruction of the Hebrew linguistic system; the point of departure for the revival was rather the way these texts were understood and traditionally interpreted and conceptually digested.  If we accept that this is not necessarily identical with what these texts mean and may be scientifically be found to say, and moreover, that their understanding had passed through a notional “sieve” that was at least as European as not, we shall find that considering Classical Hebrew as the basis of Israeli Hebrew is not contradictory to viewing the revival of Hebrew as a process of Westernization, any more than is the Western character of present-day Hebrew contradictory to its Semitic genealogy.

I wish to dispel any doubt that might have arisen concerning the choice of the examples cited.  Although we have used expressions like service station and information service, it must be stated here that, as a general principle, our considerations have nothing to do with “modern” or “technical notions,” but are valid as a tool of analysis for any semantic field observable in the Hebrew linguistic system.[11]


d. Biblical Hebrew Centers More on what is Happening vs. Israeli Hebrew on the Position of the Narrator

Perhaps our allusion to the relations between vocabulary entities and conceptual units have not been made sufficiently clear to the non-professional reader, and some skepticism may remain in his mind.  I would not enter here even upon a superficial explanation of these intricacies, were it not for the peculiar, but nevertheless significant, coincidence that the conceptual relations between English and Hebrew vocabularies served as the very first and representative example of differences in notional structure between two languages, in one of the more important modern textbooks of general linguistics.  Its author, H. A. Gleason,[12] offers as the first exercise in his Workbook, devised to introduce students to analytical linguistic thought, the following question:

The four pictures represent four situations.  Below them are labels giving verbs that might be used to describe them in English and in Hebrew.  Make a brief statement on the difference in the English structuring of the content implied in the contrast between come and go and the Hebrew structuring implied in the contrast between and å.

1.       English comes Hebrew bå’

2.       English comes Hebrew å’

3.       English goes Hebrew å’

4.       English goes Hebrew bå’

In translating the Hebrew scriptures into English, how must one determine whether to use come or go?


The required answer about whose accuracy we need not argue here would emerge from breaking up situations 1-4 into their conceptually constitutive elements:

1.      The man turning his face towards the speaking narrator is engaged in a movement whose initial point is outside the circumscribed area (house), while its terminal point is inside that area:    comes = bå’

2.      The man turning his face towards the speaking narrator is engaged in a movement whose initial point is inside the circumscribed area (house), while its terminal point is outside that area:    comes = å’

3.      The man turning his face away from the speaking narrator is engaged in a movement whose initial point is inside the circumscribed area (house), while its terminal point is outside that area:    goes = å’

4.      The man turning his face away from the speaking narrator is engaged in a movement whose initial point is outside the circumscribed area (house), while its terminal point is inside that area:    goes = bå’

From this results that what is common to the uses of å’ and contrasts with those of bå’, is the common situational component of Nos. 2 and 3, viz. the motion leading from inside an area to its outside.  The opposite is true for bå’.   The choice of bå’ or å’, respectively, in Classical Hebrew has nothing to do with whether the movement is directed towards the narrator or away from him.  This may be further illustrated by the well-known fact that the Biblical Hebrew noun for “sun” which frequently occurs with both verbs in contrast, has å’ for its rising in the morning, while it has bå’ for its setting in the evening.

What emerges for English come vs. go is that their choice is dictated by the position of the viewer relative to the movement (but in no way relative to the area in reference to which the movement takes place), which approximately matches current dictionary definitions for English come and go.[13]

This answer clearly refers to Biblical Hebrew (cf. the concluding instructions[14] of the exercise); Gleason is one of the few American linguists who, at several instances of his writings, stresses the structural differences between Biblical and contemporary Hebrew.  Had this exercise been given in view of the equivalences of Israeli Hebrew and English – maybe in that case it would have had no didactic value at all for the purposes of a course in general linguistics – the captions under the drawings 1-3 would have to read as follows:

1.      English come = Israeli Hebrew bå’;

2.      English come = Israeli Hebrew bå’;

3.      English go (out) = Israeli Hebrew yatsa’.

It can be suspected at the first glance that current semantic ranges in Hebrew are re-organized to match European (e.g., English) ones, since one and the same Hebrew verb matches English come in captions 1 and 2.  As a matter of fact, Şå’ and bå’ are no longer contrastive pairs in Israeli Hebrew; they have two different counterparts; they belong to two different semantic fields;


Field I

Field II

from inside area


come out

go out

to goal or viewer-speaker



from outside area


come in

go in

from point of departure or viewer-speaker




It is a logical result from this newly-created situation that in Israeli Hebrew Şå’ may, in many utterances, be easily replaced by bå’  (just as halakh may by nikhnas ) without changing the reality situation referred to, which is absolutely impossible in Biblical Hebrew: e.g.:





“The man


out of the house”



The equivalence of ba’ and come become fairly obvious; it is a result of a conceptual Westernization in Hebrew.[15]


e. Influence of Russian[16]

Western type conceptualization in Hebrew is a process, of course, of several stages or waves, according to the various waves of immigration that formed the earlier layers of settlers in this country.  The earliest layer of conceptualization seems to have been Eastern European-modeled, by now so well-rooted, so thoroughly absorbed, that some of the subsequent layers of conceptualization tend to appear as bulks of “Germanisms,” or, much later, “Anglicisms” in contrast to what is felt by some to be original, not to say primordial, contemporary Hebrew, that is prevalently Slavic-conceptualized language.

The study of some case-histories of this nature will allow us an insight into more aspects of semantic restructuring.

A contemporary dictionary would have to list for tnu’a, apart from a terminological usage stemming from medieval grammar, two productive ranges of reference: “movement (also social or political)” and “traffic (of vehicles or travelers).”  While the conceptual relation between the two can easily be seen, it is still not found expressed by vocabulary relations in many languages.  The type of language that seems to have furnished the model for the conceptual relation is Slavic (Russian dvizyéniye “movement” also denotes “flowing movement of vehicles, traffic” whether úlicnoye “street-“ is expressed or not); Yiddish seems to have been Slavic-inspired (bevegung in both senses) and served as a mediator to Hebrew.

These processes have their reflexes in very abstract spheres of human mental activity.  “Point out verbally” is letsayen, whose classical meaning is “to mark.”  The latter use is now obsolete and taken over by another verb, but persists in a nominal derivation of the verb, tsiyun “mark (at school), landmark, act of pointing out.”  The shift of meaning for the verb, although observable also in the formal relation prevalent between the French verb marquer and remarquer, was undoubtedly catalyzed by Russian zamy’cat “note, notice, remark observe” (cf. German bemerken) which in itself relates to myétka “mark (also at school), sign.”

Merkaz, which is a medieval takeover from Arabic mathematical and philosophic terminology (markaz “center (of eradiation),” cf. above) had no formally related items in the Hebrew vocabulary and presented difficulties if a verb were to be formed for the notion of an act derivable from “center.”  We have now lerakez that denotes two mutually unrelated notions, that of “concentrating” as well as that of “centralizing,”  a conceptual liaison catalyzed again, as it seems, by Russian, where sosry’dotoci(va)t’ carries the same combined range of reference (“middle”).

The cases of tnu’a and lerakez just discussed bear resemblance to that of takhana in that the similarity of semantic structure between Hebrew and another language is observable at the total semantic range of the lexical unit concerned.  Another type of semantic structuring lies in considering one notional content as derived or derivable from another (like the notion of worker from work, which by the way is not the case in Israeli Hebrew), in contrast to its being included in a primary, “motivating” content-range as in the case of takhana.  Conceptual derivability becomes tangible if there is a formal relation between lexical units concerned.

We have two verbs in Israeli Hebrew, lehatsig and leyatseg, related by the radical element common to both, the consonantal sequence         –ts-g.  The first is Classical, in the meaning of “place in a standing position, put on,” later “present” while the latter is modern, in the sense of “represent” and has to be considered notionally derivable from the first.  The possibility of basing oneself on such derivability – irrespective of neo-Latin present vs. re-present, that cannot have been present in the minds of the revivers of Hebrew – seems to have been created through Russian pry’dstavit’ “present, represent, more so since its relation to the verbs “stand” (stoyat’) and “put in a standing position” (stavit’) may have fostered the creation of a correlation with lehatsig in primary sense as motivating form.


We have concentrated on certain aspects of vocabulary for two reasons only, because some had not been coherently presented earlier, and because facts relating to words more easily guide the non-professional reader into the line of thought that is essential for our purposes.  But it must in no way be lost sight of that other areas of linguistic structure are much more material towards establishing the typology of a language.  Nevertheless, if we enter into some grammatical features of contemporary Hebrew we shall do so only very briefly, because a real discussion of the facts concerned would necessitate so many technical preliminaries that our presentation might easily explode.


f. Israeli Hebrew Three-Tense System: past, present and future

Israeli Hebrew has a three-tense system: past, present and future.  This is consistent with the predominant Western European systems,[17] although different from Slavic; what is more important, a classification of time into (a) past, (b) future, (c) what lies between them, is altogether foreign to Biblical and, as it would seem, post-Biblical Classical Hebrew.[18]


g. “Seventh” Personal Form Equivalent to French on – German man

Israeli Hebrew has fully stabilized what was a commencing development in post-Biblical Hebrew: a “seventh” personal form beyond the three persons of the singular and the three of the plural. Widening the scope of the verbal form that had acquired that use in post-Biblical Hebrew, Israeli Hebrew now has a full-fledged equivalent for the French on – German man category in all its breadth and implications, a category so highly important in social conversation.


h. Preservation of Verbless Sentence[19] Due to Russian Influence

Israeli Hebrew sentences may be roughly divided into those that are built around a verb and those that are not: the Hebrew equivalents for “the army fights furiously” or “faint ideas are useless” have a verbal form, the one for “green oranges are sour” has not.  It is often said, and perhaps rightly so, that the very existence of verbless sentences and the possibility of the dichotomy just mentioned is one of the most striking features by which Hebrew preserves its non-European, “Semitic” character.  But Slavic languages, and above all Russian, have the same dichotomy, and what we have just said about the presence or absence of the verb “to be” in our sample sentences would equally apply to it.  It is my considered judgment  that maintaining the contrast between verbal and non-verbal sentence structure was made possible in resuscitated Hebrew right from its beginnings thanks to the support of Slavic language habits. 


i. Western-Type compound Adjectives[20]

One of the more noteworthy features of the educated style of Hebrew is the existence of compound adjectives exactly corresponding to bi-monthly, prehistoric, North-American. This type of adjective, very much en vogue in journalese and educated parlance is a fairly recent acquisition of Hebrew.  We point to it at this juncture because this class of word cannot be considered as the linguistic or cultural property of any specific Western language.  It is an outgrowth of certain properties of Latin word-structure that made it possible to form compound words beginning with quantitative (bi‑), prepositional (pre-) and similar elements, while excluding this possibility in all other cases like, e.g., red-eyed, horse-driven.  Western languages have made so much use of these formal possibilities furnished through their Latin heritage, that the free facility of forming such adjectives has almost become a characteristic distinguishing mark of a Western-oriented language.


j. Styles of Israeli Hebrew

Israeli Hebrew has acquired this facility to such an extent that these words already escape listing in dictionaries.  The last consideration leads us to another Western-type aspect of Israeli Hebrew, namely its stratified character; not only can vulgar, familiar, learned, religious, journalistic, administrative and other styles be clearly distinguished, but the more noteworthy of their distinctive traits lie in the morphological and syntactic areas, as is the case with the European languages of civilization.


k. Westernization of “Parts of Speech”

Finally let me present a typologically highly instructive feature of Hebrew, that nevertheless requires some theoretical explanation.  We shall be concerned here with the division of language elements into parts of speech.  A student of Hebrew whose primary tongue is one of the “Western” languages will pay no attention at all to this matter, finding that a Hebrew noun matches a German noun and that what corresponds to an English verb will be a verb in Hebrew.[21]  The uninitiated reader might wonder what this has to do with a typological characterization of a language, as though the repartition of the “world” into substantival “objects” or “concepts,” verbal “actions” or “states,” and adjectival “qualities” were given by the very nature of things.  But we must call attention here to the fact well-known to even a tyro in linguistics, namely, that the division of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., and even the very number of word classes (parts of speech) in a language is characteristic of its formal structure and not of the universal properties of either the world or the human thinking apparatus; the divisions of parts of speech create a conceptual classification but do not reflect objectively given classes.  The almost perfect one-to-one relation between Israeli Hebrew and Western-European word classes is therefore striking, the more so, since the parts-of-speech groupings as they stand in Western language are not a result of a given nature but of centuries-long development.  Romance languages contradict their common ancestor in various features in this respect and represent, most likely, a compromise between the facts of Latin and those of non-Latin speech systems, that were prevalent in Europe prior to its Romanization or alongside with it.  The fact most noteworthy for us, because it has a clear parallel in the development of Hebrew is that qualities or features apparent in an object (as color, temperature, strength and the like) were expressed in Latin by verbs, not by adjectives.  European languages have undergone a common development that led to expressing this notion by adjectival means and discarding “verbs of quality” altogether.  The type of notion concerned had verbal expression in Biblical Hebrew (there is a verb for “be beautiful,” “be strong” etc., not an adjective for “beautiful,”  “strong”)[22] while Israeli Hebrew has lost – in an obvious process of Westernization, and in contrast, e.g., to Arabic – the quality verbs and has let quality adjectives grow out of them.  While the same word חזק (Israeli – khazak; Biblical - azaq) would be used for the notion of strength in both Israeli and Biblical Hebrew in the phrase ve-ha’anashim khazakim/we-ha’anashim azaqim “…and the men are strong,” transferring the content of such a clause into the past would entail the addition of the past form of the verb “to be” in Israeli Hebrew (ve-ha’anashim hayu khazakim, as in English “The men were strong”), while in Biblical Hebrew a past verbal ending of the appropriate person would be added (we-ha’anashim azaqu).  It is significant that current poetical style has preserved the verbal form as such, but still cannot run counter to the common trend of the language in preserving their type of content: they now serve, in that style, not as verbs of quality, but as verbs of process (“The men became strong”)[23].

The situation in current Hebrew being intrinsically as it has been set out here, language policy must find itself enclosed in the boundaries demarcated in the introductory paragraphs.  Policy-makers – be it intuitively or out of a lack of interest in the below-surface data of language – seem to feel that the thoroughly Western character of Israeli Hebrew would cripple any effort to re-imbue Hebrew with its “ancient” character.[24]  If “purism” were to be defined for the purposes of Hebrew as a trend to regain an image of language prior to, and exclusive of, all foreign influences, then not only Western, but any conceptualization and linguistic mentality framing would be lost for this language, if any such attempt proved successful.  Let it also be borne in mind – a fact rarely taken into account – that language policy is conducted in Israel almost exclusively by scholars who, even if they pretended to be able to, show no signs of freeing themselves of their innate Western categorization habits.  Consequently, even the most sincere, thoroughgoing and immaculate purist language policy will not engage in anything beyond atomized matters pertaining to grammatical forms, morphological subtleties, vowel and consonant alterations, grammatical gender, verbal government, uses of prepositions and conjunctions; but, more deplorably even, purists will engage in questions like how equivalents should be found in Hebrew for such and such features (like adverbs) apparent in the principal foreign languages.

The internal structure of Hebrew, its conceptual “form” (to use a Humboltian term) remains thereby untouched.


l. Westernization of Israeli Hebrew Sentence Structure[25]

There has been a trend, involving some animated polemics, against too far-reaching periodization of the Hebrew sentence in intellectual style.  Too intricate clause chaining is still considered as having a foreign odor, particularly that of German academic style, notwithstanding the fact that complicated sentence structure cannot be a characteristic of a language, but only of stylistic habits and reasoning attitudes of individual writers or types of writing.  Owing to a somewhat misconceived notion of the nature of Biblical syntax, elaborate syntactic subordination was considered as intrinsically un-Hebrew, and there still is a much-favored style of narrative prose, ostentatiously refraining, as much as possible, from clause gradation (subordinate vs. non-subordinate clauses).[26]  We all seem to feel that certain logical concepts bear in them the very nature of principality or, on the other hand, the very nature of subordination.  When we think of “if it rains, we stay at home” it seems natural to us for the staying at home to be the dominant content and therefore exclusively expressible by the independent clause.  The opposite, however, is true for Biblical Hebrew[27] (and, incidentally, for some very ancient Indo-European languages as well).

The grading of logical contents into two classes, and consideration of some of them as principal by nature, of others as dependant by nature, fundamental and Western at the same time, is something which purist language policy cannot even think of discarding.  It would endanger the very working of our thinking mechanism.  It is utterly irrelevant in this context whether the graded chains of clauses are intricate or not; the simplest sentence, as long as it is structured on a “two-storey” basis will still be un-Hebrew[28].


Opposition to Descriptive Studies of Current Hebrew

A singular manner of self-expression on the part of the purist language policy-maker, about a decade ago, was a demand that the linguist refrain from descriptive research into current Hebrew.  This demand, occasionally assuming the finality of a papal interdictum, has been uttered again recently.[29]  Of the reasons given, some are trite, for example, the argument that descriptive grammars might be considered prescriptive and therefore mislead learners and corrupt youth, but others are more noteworthy.  It  has been said upon various occasions that linguistic research into current  Hebrew cannot be conducted because Hebrew is not yet stabilized and the publication of descriptive treatises might serve as a stabilizing factor.  Linguistically it can be said, of course, that any language is in development at any given time, and can still be described, and that there is nothing to keep us from re-describing it, should the changes incurred so necessitate at any given moment.  It may further be argued that , from a purely theoretical point of view, there must be a “system” of some stability, because otherwise communication would be impossible and that a linguist is entitled, if he so wishes, to study established means of communication.  However, a more pertinent and very interesting question has been asked,[30] namely, whether study of the degree and speed of linguistic change undergone by Hebrew in this country would not shed some light  on the question of whether language description was legitimate or not.


3. “Re-Classicization” of Israeli Hebrew

Although there is no published material on this aspect I wish to impart some results achieved from a contrastive observation of “Early Israeli Hebrew” (the written language of the twenties and thirties) compared to usages of our own generation.  The contrast is striking; quotations taken from the early layer have either to be “translated” or reinterpreted, lest the immediate impression they create be one of ridiculous language.  But a distinct direction can be observed in this development; while early revived Hebrew is full of anachronisms, reminiscences from classical sources, words that have become obsolete by now, it is astonishing how much closer present-day Hebrew is, in morphology and syntactic[31] constructions, to what is apparent to the linguist in the structure of Classical Hebrew.


While it is impossible here to substantiate this statement, I wish to offer an explanation.  When Hebrew became “more living,” it became less foreign.  Becoming less foreign means absorbing more and more of the linguistic items that constitute the formal system of Hebrew, so that a linguistic system can be created that is, in fact, largely a reconstitution of a considerable portion of the classical system …. Features of modern standard language that can be considered the result of re-classicization of Hebrew (e.g. case government, stabilization of syntactical interrelation between verbal stems, fargoing revival of the distinctions between various types of noun linking, restriction of adjectives in favour of noun constructions, semantic shadings, particularly in  the domain of verbs) were hardly ever taught by normative grammar, since these very notions are largely the result of modern synchronic descriptive Hebrew linguistics.


4. Futility of Puristic Language Policy

The simple conclusion is that the puristic aspect of language policy is futile.  There could be another facet of language policy which would be in keeping with policies conducted in some culturally less-developed countries, aiming at standardization, at creating a prestige style of linguistic expression, and at leveling out group distinctions between speakers.  This aspect is absent from our cultural life, owing to a peculiar concatenation of circumstances.  The prestige model of Hebrew (an image, whether well or ill conceived, of what Classical Hebrew was) existed before there was anything comparable to group speech or dialects.  The prestige group had been defined before there was language policy.  By a singular historical accident the group of speakers[32] whose speech exhibits more puristically desirable features (“Semitic” tainted phonetics: preponderance of pharyngealized consonants, “darker” articulation and lesser discreteness of vowels, more noticeable distinctness of long and short vowels; on the syntactic level: extremely restricted expression of clause grading) is considered non-prestige by others, and what is more important sociolinguistically, by themselves.  It is the speech habits of groups hailing from Central and Eastern Europe that tend to be imitated by those coming from Oriental countries, while speech habits fostered by purist language policy-makers will not be observable normally, other than with “Oriental” subjects.  One will occasionally find a linguistically-skilled purist using two phonetic styles in speech; one that has been termed “General Israeli” – in private and an oriental-tainted one in public.  Some readers may be reminded of a somewhat comparable situation in Switzerland, where high school students and teachers alike have a classroom language (Swiss-style Hochdeutsch) contrasting with what they speak between classes.


5. Hebrew Language Policy and Language Teaching

Our discussion has led us to language teaching.  The impact of language policy on language teaching has been stronger in Israel than in any other country.  Language education of native children bore, until fairly recently, the character of remedial methods aiming at discarding “errors” and “incorrect language habits” and accordingly, bore much resemblance to teaching Hebrew to speakers of a foreign language.  Only in recent years has language teaching proceeded in Israel on two methodically discrete paths; one, teaching native speakers using acquired language habits to develop analytic languagemindedness, relegating the corrective steps to a later and secondary stage; the second, teaching Hebrew to newcomers, using the results of linguistic analysis to help them overcome earlier habits and ways of verbal thinking, that are unlike those of Hebrew.

Although it was said in the beginning with some optimism that Israeli language teachers are becoming more and more aware of the importance of scientific tools (contrastive linguistic analysis) for their purposes, and that they feel, as I do, that the immediate object of their teaching should be the acquisition by the newcomer of language habits common to the majority of the residents, while remedies for “undesirable” expression habits should be offered to them at the same time as to veteran residents or native speakers, it must be noted that the achievements of linguistic science are not – due to sociological considerations again – exploited as fully as they could be.

Hebrew classes and institutes in the large-scale framework of language education for adults are in fact as much classes of Israelization as they are language classes.  One of the most cherished objects of the scheme in Israel is to imbue the participants right away with the spirit of integration, the “ingathering of exiles.”  It is taboo to hold Hebrew classes for students originating from a single country; all classes must be ethnically heterogeneous, immediately creating an “Israeli” society in miniature.  While this procedure is highly commendable sociologically, it automatically deprives the instructor of the benefits of present-day didactic linguistics.

The most important tool that has been furnished by the linguist to language teaching is contrastive analysis, a method enabling us to formulate the analogous and the non- analogous of any two given languages and to organize and grade our teaching material accordingly, in view of the pair of languages constituted by the target language (in our case Israeli Hebrew) and the primary language of the student.  No scientific appreciation of the relative difficulty of language features, no scientifically devised language teaching material are conceivable nowadays unless they are the result of contrastive analysis, that is, unless they are aimed at students of one mother tongue only.

The consequences of the current system of teaching Hebrew as a foreign language in Israel are clear, and it is to be deplored that with few exceptions, the existing situation does not encourage the creation of scientific teaching materials and didactic tools.  But I am still in a position to conclude this paragraph more optimistically.  A current trend is gathering momentum: we have a linguistics-based audio-visual course of Hebrew which, while still not directed at a single primary language, takes into account analysis contrastive of Hebrew with English and French; there has been an attempt at compiling a scientifically-graded textbook directed to English-speaking students[33]; achievements of students on the higher education level are already tested separately for speakers of one given primary language.

Without exaggeration it may be said that the problems of the educated Israeli community in matters of language – peculiar as it may sound – center around the person of the linguist, who (in whatever shape his image is conceived) has always commanded a great deal of admiration in Jewish life.  It is obvious that the future of Hebrew will not be unaffected by the education and erudition we shall be able to give to a future generation of Israeli linguists.


[1] For more recent publications and general bibliography see and Contemporary Hebrew by Haiim B. Rosén Publisher: Mouton, 1977.  I have corrected obvious errors and supplied the bolding, headings and table of contents to make this rich, but discursive and often polemical essay more accessible. See also The Languages of Israel: Policy, Ideology, and Practice (Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 17) by Bernard Spolsky, Elana Goldberg Shohamy,Multilingual Matters 1999.  This has an extensive bibliography/ DS

[2] Marginally situated European languages (Turkish, Hungarian, Estonian, Finnish and some others) are non-Indo-European.

[3] The term “Semitic” came to supercede, at the end of the 18th century, “Oriental,” precisely when the interest of Western scholars began to concentrate on non-Semitic (chiefly Indo-European) Oriental languages.

[5]Europe” in the civilization sense, in order not to repeat “Western”.  “Transatlantic Europe,” of course, is not excluded.

[6] For transliteration list see

[7] E.g. Exodus 13:20; Numbers chap. 33 (frequently).

[8] Interestingly, a well respected scholar of both Hebrew and Arabic has shown the Modern Standard Arabic has developed in ways very closely paralleling developments in Israeli Hebrew. See Joshua Blau's book "The Renaissance of Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic" (Berkeley: UC Press, 1981) DS

[9] “When speaking of Modern Hebrew as consisting of older Semitic elements and foreign structure, the issue of relexification may arise. Relexification is the process wherein a language uses a lexicon from one language overlaid on a grammatical structure of one or more other languages (Mühlhäusler 1997: 102-108). Wexler (1990) has gone as far as to suggest that Hebrew in its twentieth century form is a relexified Yiddish “ from The Emergence of Spoken Israeli Hebrew by Shlomo Izre’el cf, Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew (Palgrave Studies in Language History and Language Change) by Ghil'ad Zuckermann (Hardcover - January 17, 2004) DS

[10] Generally, when the author uses the term “Classical Hebrew” he means Biblical plus Mishnaic Hebrew see.  DS

[11] “Yet the structure of the emerging language was not and could not have been based upon a preexisting vital Hebrew structure. Gotthelf Bergsträsser, one of the leading Semitists at the beginning of this century, defined Modern Hebrew as a “europäische Sprache in durchsichtiger hebräischer Kleidung” (Bergsträsser 1928: 47; cf. also Rosén 1977: #1.5). A similar observation had already been made by an internal observer, E. M. Lipschütz, as early as 1914:

Our inner language is not Hebrew, but foreign-jargonic. This truth has to be said, although it is not pleasant. The inner form of the words is foreign, and the syntax is foreign. The foreign influence comes from remote languages, most of them Indo-European (Jüdish-Deutsch, Ladino, Judeo-Persian). The influence of the jargons is not to be lost with children and children of children, since the children will have learned the foreign syntactical features within the Hebrew of their parents.

Several years later he speaks of a younger generation for whom “the colloquial language is now rooted in an inner language.” (Lipschütz 1920: 32). This “inner language” was, of course, Hebrew; but it was a new Hebrew, structured during the first decades of the emergence of the spoken language. The generators of this Hebrew were the first group who had this newly emerged language as their mother-tongue.” From The Emergence of Spoken Israeli Hebrew by Shlomo Izre’el

[12] His Introduction to Descriptive Linguistics was primarily devised as a text for his students at the Hartford Seminary, Hartford, Conn.  The specific background of seminary students is taken into account by giving Hebrew an unusually large role in the exemplificatory material of this book.  In reproducing the exercise given below, we have adapted Gleason’s transcription system of Biblical Hebrew to match ours.

[13] Quoted from the Oxford Concise Dictionary: “Come: start, move, arrive towards a point, time or result (often not specified because obvious, while point of departure, if it matters, is always specified; cf. go)…” – “Go: start, depart, move, continue moving, with self-originated or imparted motion, from some place, position, time, etc. (often not specified because obvious, whereas the goal etc. is always specified if it matters; cf. come)…”

[14] Gleason apparently had in mind translators’ habits in cases like Genesis 30:16, where … the Revised Version has “and Jacob came (for wayåbo’) out of the field in the evening, and Leah went (for wateŞe’) out to meet him.”

[15] Israeli Hebrew does not recognize a distinction like German her- vs. hin- (herausgehen, herauskommen vs. hinausgehen, hinauskommen), probably because such a distinction is not part of the Slavic linguistic system that stood at the cradle of revived Hebrew.  May I append a remark aimed at the professional reader to the effect that ba’ vs. yatsa’ have, in Israeli Hebrew, an aspectual contrast (perfective vs. cursive) comparable to come vs. go in English, while no such contrast is apparent in the relation of bå’ vs. å in Classical Hebrew.   

[16] See also Wexler, P. 1990. The Schizoid Nature of Modern Hebrew: A Slavic Language in Search of a Semitic Past. (Mediterranean Language and Culture Monograph Series, 4.) Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.

[17] English has a two-time system (past vs. non-past), but the impact of English on Israeli Hebrew (twice during its history: British English during the Mandatory administration of Palestine, and some amount of stylistic Americanisms as in most countries after World War II) was posterior to the stabilization of the Hebrew grammatical system.  No interference by English would be likely, at any rate, with the Hebrew tense system, because the verbal category most closely linked to the expression of time in English is that of mood (shall love, will love, may love, can love, etc.) and the three Hebrew tenses express time and modal contrasts indifferently.

[18] Probably under Aramaic influence, post-Biblical Hebrew developed a system of durative tenses alongside the original Biblical tenses.  The durative tenses, not unlike English progressive tenses, were constructed of participles and appropriate tenses of the verb “to be.”  Since, however, the present tense, so to speak, of “to be” is zero (that is the construction of the verbless sentence), the impression was liable to be created that durative-characterized expressions had three time degrees, while non-durative ones had only two. 

“Perhaps even the tense system of Modern Hebrew is, to some extent, due to the blend of Biblical and Middle Hebrew, although, in the main, it emerged through European influence. In Modern Hebrew, the suffix tense marks the past, the participle the present, and the prefix tense the future. In Biblical Hebrew it is a moot point whether the verbal system denoted time (the so-called subjective time, i.e., past present and future, referring to the speaker) or aspect (the imperfective aspect, describing the action during its occurrence, and the perfective aspect, referring to it as a fact).

I except myself from treating this disagreement in opinion, since the revivers of Hebrew understood Biblical Hebrew as marking time, and shall be content to describe Biblical tense structure according to the opinion of those who think that it designated time rather than aspects. Moreover, I shall omit the tenses preceded by consecutive waw altogether since they do not occur in modern standard. Accordingly, in Biblical Hebrew the suffix-tense denotes the past, the prefix-tense the present and the future (we do not deal here with the prefix-tense marking iterative or durative past). The participle is outside the Biblical tense system proper. A clause with participle as predicate may, as may any nominal clause, refer to every time, past, present or future. In Middle Hebrew, on the other hand, the suffix-tense marks the past, the participle present and future (the prefix-tense being restricted to modal function and subordinate clauses) . Accordingly, it is only in Modern Hebrew that present and future are marked by special forms; in both Biblical Hebrew and Middle Hebrew they are designated by the same form (by the prefix-tense in Biblical Hebrew, by the participle in Middle Hebrew). Yet the need for distinguishing present and future had already started in earlier layers. In Middle Hebrew this problem was solved by the opposition participle: catid + infinitive, for example, me-avin bata l'-avin atta holekh, w'-li-phne mi atta catid litten din w'-Heshbon "from where have you come (suffix-tense), where are you going (participle) and to whom shall you render account (catid + infinite)?", so that the suffix tense denoted as usual, the past, and the participle emphasized present. In later language, the prefix-tense, which was used in Biblical Hebrew to mark both present and future, came to mark emphasized future, which was in Middle Hebrew denoted by catid + infinitive, rather than by a simple form. This is already reflected by Massekhet Sofrim:  YHWH malakh, YHWH melekh (i.e., melekh, a substantive, rather than molekh, a participle; as often in Middle Hebrew this is due to Biblical influence…), YHWH yimlokh lecolam waced "the Lord has reigned, He is reigning and He will reign forever". Cf. also the much later w'-hu haya w'-hu howe w'-hu yihye “and He was and He is and He will be", which exactly reflects the verbal structure used in Modern Hebrew…. It is not unreasonable to assume that, inter alia, this usage came into being by superposing Biblical structure on Middle Hebrew pattern: in Biblical Hebrew the prefix-tense denoted present and future, in Middle Hebrew the participle emphasized present. Therefore, the participle has come to designate present, limiting the prefix-tense to the future. Nevertheless, it is very possible that the merger of Biblical and Middle Hebrew in the modern standard played only a small role in the emergence of the Modern Hebrew tense structure. It stands to reason that it has emerged mostly through the influence of European tongues….

As a rule, Middle Hebrew forms supersede Biblical ones in modern standard, only when they happen to be "easier". An example is the conjugation of double verbs according to the analogy of the sound verb; additional examples are the use of shel phrases, rather than construct (making the application of special construct forms unnecessary) and the marking of the pronominal object by et, rather than by pronominal suffixes (which prevents the necessity of using verbal forms changed by preceding pronominal suffixes). In Biblical Hebrew the use of et in such cases is not exceptional… (while) in Middle Hebrew they are somewhat more frequent, although pronominal suffixes are also well attested. As a rule, though, Biblical morphology prevails.

Quite different is the situation as to syntax. Biblical syntax, with its preference for co-ordinated, rather than subordinated, clauses, in which the limits between co-ordinated and subordinated clauses are often blurred (cf. the use of w "and" connecting subordinate clauses with following main clauses), was not fitted for expressing the needs of modern culture. Middle Hebrew, on the other hand, much more resembles Standard Average European sentence structure,

exhibiting many more clear-cut subordinate clauses than Biblical Hebrew. Therefore, the sentence structure of Modern Hebrew is closer to that of Middle Hebrew, yet, by the influence of Standard Average European, it has become even more complicated, as demonstrated by the frequent use of periods. Especially frequent are conjunctions taken over or modeled on Middle Hebrew (she, and conjunctions exhibiting preposition + she).

These and other phenomena, which need not be enumerated, make Modern Hebrew a language so fused from various elements as not to be comparable with Modern Standard Arabic. Although Modern Standard Arabic has undergone conspicuous changes ….  compared with the role of Classical grammar, the importance of other linguistic layers is but marginal, morphology remaining almost entirely "Classical". The main difference between Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic is that Hebrew linguistic structure is binary, opposing Modern Hebrew to nonuniform classical languages, whereas Arabic linguistic structure is tri-partite opposing Modern Standard Arabic to the modern dialects on the one hand and to a comparatively uniform Classical language on the other.”

From The Renaissance of Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic: Parallels and Differences in the Revival of Two Semitic Languages by Joshua Blau, Berkeley: UC Press, 1981

One should note the rather complex verbal systems of spoken Arabic dialects expanded through the use of the prefix (imperfect) tense forms preceded by prefixes.

[19] See Verbless Sentences in Arabic and Hebrew by Mushira Eid in Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics III, John Benjamins 1991

[20] “A very important phenomenon, betraying European influence, has been pointed out by H. Blanc:

...the necessity of translating terms from Standard Average European (SAE), have resulted in the introduction of prefixes, a type of morpheme virtually unknown to Semitic languages and for which there is but the barest precedent in earlier Hebrew; these have been adapted from, or invented on the base of, existing Hebrew and Aramaic particles or words, or lifted bodily from SAE, and today form an extremely important and productive part of the language. Most prefixes are so productive that they can be added, as the need arises, to almost any noun or adjective. Thus we have-‘i 'un-'or 'dis-' for nouns, bilti for adjectives (‘i-seder, 'disorder', bilti-mesudar, 'disorderly'); du  'bi-, di-, as in du-siakh, tlat as in tlat-regel 'tripod'; tut, ' sub-, under-,' as in tut-meymi 'underwater'; beyn, 'inter' as in beyn-lumi, 'international' etc. Of those borrowed outright from SAE we may list pro-and anti-: pro-aravi 'pro-Arab', anti-mitzri 'anti-Egyptian.' One of the reasons of the wholesale introduction of prefixes was structurally feasible and easy, even though quite novel, is the partial resemblance such constructions bear to the way Hebrew, as other Semitic languages, uses phrases of closely bound words (the so-called "construct phrases") to form complexes of noun-plus-noun or adjective-plus-noun: rav-tsdadim, 'many-sided,' literally 'many of sides,' is such a consruct phrase, but rav-tsdadi (same meaning) is formed with a prefix rav  meaning 'multi- or poly'."…


On the other hand see From THE MODERN ARABIC LITERARY LANGUAGE; Lexical and Stylistic Developments, Jaroslav Stetkevych, U Chiago Press, 1970, p. 51 for a similar development in Modern Literary Arabic

[21] In the very few cases in which this is not yet the case, certain syntactic developments clearly indicate a trend in this direction.

[22] Biblical Hebrew possesses one “part of speech” less than post-Biblical (and Israeli) Hebrew, since there is no distinct morphological class of adjectives (as is the case of some other non-Indo-European language types).

[23] Israeli Hebrew replacement of stative verbs by adjectives, largely participles of the stative verbs is similar to the situation in Mishnaic Hebrew see An Introductory Grammar of Rabbinic Hebrew by M.Pérez Fernández, (translated by J.Elwolde), Leiden 1997. Paperback 1999, p. 98.  perhaps the choice of going with the Mishnaic rather than the Biblical model was based on the Western linguistic structural norm.  DS

[24] Aba Bendavid, an outstanding Hebrew philologist and active language policy-maker (as an advisory member of the Hebrew Language Academy, his is Advisor on Language for the Israel Broadcasting Service), enumerates in one of the most thoroughly substantiated treatments of the history of Classical Hebrew, thirty principles of his language policy (“The principles of the revival of Hebrew”).  These postulates, formulated on a “good” vs. “bad” or “we should do this, but shouldn’t do that” basis, are quite contrary to the tenor of our attitude here.

[25] For Semitic languages see Lipinski 1997 pp. 484 DS

The situation is similar in Modern Standard Arabic see Joshua Blau's book "The Renaissance of Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic" (Berkeley: UC Press, 1981), pp. 60-141.  Blau’s conclusion is - “… it was through the influence of Standard Average European that the syntax and especially phraseology in both Modern Standard Arabic and Modern Hebrew underwent far-reaching changes.  These features, as well as the use of periods (although they are well attested in earlier stages of Arabic as well), make Hebrew and Arabic similar to European languages.  Both Hebrew and Arabic exhibit the tendency of becoming a part of the European language bundle.  In spelling and morphology both Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic have preserved their ancient character; in other linguistic fields, however they exhibit new layers in the development of their respective languages.” DS

[26] It is usually taken for granted by the non-professional observer that if clauses are graded at all, the number of grades should be two: one clause independent, reigning; another one additive, dependant, subordinate.  “Original” (i.e. Biblical) Hebrew, however, while admittedly not showing bipartite grading, was not – as many scholars believed – devoid of grading, but possessed, as more recent research has shown, three grades, in that the independent clause may either logically govern the dependant one or be (logically again) subordinate to it; Biblical Hebrew, consequently, has subordinate, main and superordinate clauses.

“H. Rosen has noted a far more important phenomenon which has changed the whole make-up of IH - its syntax.

“The development of the "period" with its many subordinate clauses has made IH flexible enough to be employed like any other modern language. To be sure, while IH is to a large extent paratactic, i.e. it prefers to coordinate sentences, MH is much more syntactic, making use of the subordinating she in all kinds of subjunctions. MH has by far still not achieved the flexibility of modern languages in this respect.

“Rosen is also right in pointing out the fact that this development went practically unnoticed by the purists.

“As a matter of fact it already was alluded to by M. Plessner and formulated by the famous Semitic scholar G. Bergstrasser in the following sentence: "( IH) in fact (is) a European language in a translucent Hebrew garment with common European characteristics... being Hebrew but on the surface." There is more than a grain of truth in this statement. though it is greatly exaggerated. Let us only remember that the morphology, the very core of the language (as pointed out by A. Meillet), the conjugations, the declension, the stems, and the noun patterns have scarcely changed. Also, as far as changes have occurred they are well within the confines of Semitic (see Blanc's remarks above). In this respect IH is very much like Akkadian, whose syntax became 'un-Semitic' owing to the influence of Sumerian.

“Even more revealing is the state of affairs in Amharic (thc official language of Ethiopia) which … is a Semitic language in respect to morphology, but an African one in its syntax. Both Amharic and, for example, Neo-Syriac, have become much more 'un-Semitic' in this respect than IH.

“U. Weinreich has pointed out that "the transfer of morphemes which are as strongly bound as inflectional endings... seem to be extremely rare" but "interference in the domain of grammatical relation is extremely common in the speech of bilinguals." To the best of my knowledge, there is no living Semitic language whose word order has not changed from that of its parent language. I also doubt whether there is a Semitic language, except for classical Arabic, where these changes cannot be traced even in earlier times. Therefore, syntactic change as a yardstick to measure whether and how far a language has kept (or lost) its Semitic (or European) structure plays a very modest role. Indeed it is possible to establish the relationship between, say, a modern Arabic dialect and an Ethiopic dialect by comparing their morphology.”

[27] The condition-expressing clause is usually not introduced by any conjunction, while the clause expressing the conditioned content is dependent (superordinate, see preceding footnote) upon the first.

[28] Many of the changes in both languages mirror parallel processes to the extent that observers not aware of exact details may infer that the two languages influenced each other. As a matter of fact, Modern Hebrew did not influence Modern Standard Arabic at all, and even the direct impact of Modern Standard Arabic on Modern Hebrew was limited. The features characteristic of both modern tongues result as a rule from the influence of Standard Average European, developed through permanent contact between the European languages of whatever origin during generations. Hebrew was influenced mainly by the East European variety of this standard (Yiddish and Russian) , by German, French, and (especially later) English; Arabic has been exposed mainly to the influence first of French and later English" Nevertheless, the European language "bundle" evinces so many common features, especially in journalistic style, and the different influences were so slight that the results were almost identical. The close affinity of both languages and the basic similarity of the cultural status of their traditional societies enforced those results….

“… To sum up: the point of departure of Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic was rather alike. Both classical Hebrew and classical Arabic were the literary languages of mediaeval cultures based on religion. These classical tongues remained open toward their modern variants….

“One of the main reasons, if not the most important one, for considering Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic to be separate entities, and not just variations of their classical predecessors, is the widespread loan translations from Standard Average European in the domains of vocabulary and phraseology. Because of loan translations Arabic and Hebrew developed in the same direction, and sometimes the linguist even wonders whether or not these two languages are about to become a part of the European language bundle. Not only is the influence of European phraseology clearly felt in spheres without parallel in classical Hebrew and in classical Arabic, but it also becomes more and more conspicuous to the detriment of well-attested classical phrases. As expected, European influence was especially strong on journalistic style, which is exposed to the pressure of time when journalists are translating from European languages. European phraseology has already penetrated belles lettres in both languages. For a great part of the reading public, newspapers are the main source of reading, and even authors who have command of a higher variety of languages, sometimes consider themselves forced to address the public in journalistic style. Journalistic phraseology penetrates even higher literary language, since authors, reading newspapers, are influenced by their style. The influence of European phraseology is the more conspicuous if the author happens to be educated in one of the European tongues. Small wonder then, that the impact of Standard Average European is felt everywhere.

The long list of parallel loan translations from Standard Average European in Modern Standard Arabic and Modern Hebrew which follows is the result of chance reading. It demonstrates the extent of European influence and the parallel development of Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic because of that influence…. Neither classical Arabic nor classical Hebrew has been sufficiently analyzed to enable us to know their phraseology in a sufficient manner, nor do we yet possess historical dictionaries of both languages. Therefore, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a feature occurring in Modern Standard Arabic or in Modern Hebrew and at first glance accurately modeled on Standard Average European, is already attested in classical literature and has arisen through parallel development. Yet even in those cases one can attribute the frequency of a phrase already attested in classical layers of the language to European influence, which causes an already existing phrase to be used more often….

… Yet the influence of Standard Averaqe European is not restricted to phraseology. It is attested, to a smaller extent to be sure, in the field of syntax as well, thus changing the very linguistic structure of Hebrew and Arabic.

In both Classical Arabic and Hebrew continuative relative clauses are exceptional, if they occur at all. Through the impact of Standard Average European, however, continuative relative clauses have become frequent in both Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic….

In both Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic ,"such" expressed by "as" governing a demonstrative referring back (i. e., "such a thing" being denoted by "a thing like this") agrees with its head, rather than with the noun to which it refers back. This is presumably due to the agreement of such words ("such", Fr. Tel, Ger. solcher, Yid. azoyner, azelcher) to their heads in Standard Average European. For Hebrew, it was H. Rosen who first called attention to this phenomenon….

The adverbial of circumstance in Classical Arabic is … marked by the accusative….  In Biblical Hebrew, in which the case endings have disappeared, the adverbial denoting circumstance has no external mark…. In Classical Arabic, ka is never use as a marker of adverbials denoting circumstance since in sentences like fa-qala -l-xalilu li-ibrahima ka-l-cabithi, ka has preserved the sense of comparison "and al-Xalil said to Abraham as if he were scoffing" (rather than "said to Abraham scoffing"). In Biblical Hebrew, to be sure ka essentiae is attested, exhibiting pleonastic ka in various syntactical positions, not only as introducing the subject or the nominal predicate, but, it seems, also an adverbial denoting circumstance: k'-shod mi-sh-shadday-yabho  "it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty," where k  introduces an adverbial denoting circumstance rather than a comparison. .Yet not only is this feature in Biblical Hebrew quite exceptional, but the fact that k may introduce subjects and predicates as well clearly demonstrates its structurally quite different character. In Modern Hebrew and in Modern Standard Arabic, at any rate, the use of k/ka  marking adverbials denoting circumstance is clearly due to the impact of words like as, Yid. vi, Fr. comme, Italian come denoting both comparison and adverbials of circumstance, and it is also in the wake of European that Heb. b'tor, according to a certain understanding of I Chron. xvii 17 k'-tor and mainly by the influence of Yid. betoyras, and Ar. bi-sifa are used….

In the classical layers of Arabic and Hebrew too clauses denoting circumstance may, inter alia, mark contrast. Nevertheless, the very frequent use of temporal clauses, originally denoting simultaneous action, as designatinq contrast is, no doubt, due to the influence of European conjunctions as while, Fr. lorsque, tandis que, Ger. wahrend. In Hebrew, especially in journalistic style, bo ba-z-z'man she. b' cet she bah ba-sh-shaca she, in Arabic bayna and especially fi Hini an and cala Hini are used.

In Standard Averaqe European nominal clauses are not numerous. Through the preponderance of verbal clauses in Standard Averaqe European, there is the.tendency in Modern Standard Arabic and Modern Hebrew to introduce verbs into nominal clauses. Arabic uses verbs like maththala,allafa, shakkala….  In Hebrew, especially in journalistic style, m'hawwe is very frequent, as in ze m'hawwe mikhshol "this is a stumbling block.”  Nominal or prepositional phrases, rather than verbs, are sometimes introduced into nominal clauses. Arabic utilizes  ciba-ratunan  can and bi-mithjabati…. Modern Hebrew, in a somewhat stilted style, sometimes uses b'Hinat/bi-b'Hinat, as ze b'Hinat mikhshol "this is a stumbling block."

In Standard Average European consecutive clauses introduced by “so that”, Ger. so dass. derartiq dass, Fr. (au)tant/tellement que, de sorte que are very frequent, and it is through their influence that in Modern Hebrew clauses introduced by b’ophen she are quite in vogu…. Modern Standard Arabic uses bi-hadha -l-miqdari Hatta, ila Haddi an, li-dara-jati an ila dara an….The fact that Hebrew almost consistently utilizes one expression, whereas Arabic interchanges various phrases suggests that Hebrew has settled on a certain construction, whereas Arabic is still trying to find its proper expression for this frequent European construction. Nevertheless, both languages are clearly developing in the same direction.

In the Qur'an, final particles are employed to introduce consecutive clauses and this is the case in Middle Arabic as well. This feature is quite frequent in Modern Standard Arabic, and it stands to reason that, in the main, it is due to the influence of European languages….  wa-fi dhati sabaHini-stayaZa -n-nasu li-yajidu fi-S-SuHufi naba’an xaTiran and one morning people awoke to find important news in the newspapers." The last example is especially important since it corresponds exactly to English, in which non-intended result is especially frequent with "to find", clearly denoting that this feature is mainly attributable to European influence. And in Modern Hebrew, the last sentence can be expressed in exactly the same way: u-bhoqer eHad hitcor'ru ha- nashim k'de li-mtzo y'dica Hashubha ba-cittonim.

In English and French the so-called "cleft sentence/phrase coupée (of the type "it was good intention that dictated him these steps," Fr. c'est une bonne intention qui lui a dicté

 cette démarche)are of high frequency. Through their influence, this construction has penetrated Modern Standard Arabic as well as Modern Hebrew. In Arabic, to be sure, it is not altogether alien even to Classical Arabic…. Nevertheless, E. Murqus is correct in regarding this feature as exceptional and due to foreign influence….  In Modern Hebrew journalistic style such sentences are very frequent, as haya ze moshe she-b-ba elay "it was Moshe who came to me", usually corrected to meshe hu she-b-ba elay.

In all layers of Arabic -- in Classical Arabic, in Middle Arabic, and in modern dialects -- the same demonstrative may be employed to refer to different objects.  The clear distinction obtaining in Standard Average European between this-deixis and that-deixis does not obtain, and it is the case in Biblical Hebrew too, for example ze yashpil w'-ze yarim "he puts down THIS and sets up THIS." The speaker concentrates his attention on different objects one after the other in turn and may, therefore, refer to each by the same demonstrative. In both Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic there is a marked tendency to use this- deixis and that-deixis in opposition. Hebrew uses ze as against hahu "this: that", po as against sham "here: there"…. (Modern Standard) Arabic has huna wa-hunaka "here and THERE": huna aw hunaka "here or THERE".

In both Classical Hebrew and Arabic, as a rule, the passive is not used when the aqent is marked. Yet this construction, which had already become quite usual in Middle Arabic,is very frequent in both Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic. Hebrew utilizes min, cal y'de, Arablc min for marking the agent of the passive construction….

In Classical Arabic and Hebrew, when two nouns govern the same nomen rectum, the first noun in construct, as a rule precedes the nomen rectum, whereas the second follows it and is followed by a prenominal suffix referring back to the nomen rectum. In Modern Standard Arabic (as already in Middle Arabic, further in some Arabic dialects) and in Modern Hebrew, however, two nouns in construct that express one notion, are directly followed by the nomen rectum, as Ar.  taSdir(u) wa-stiradu -l-intaji  “export and import of products, Heb. m'nahale u-phoale bet ha-Haroshet “the directors and workers of the factory", q’tzine wHayyale hayeHida  "the officers and soldiers of the unit." There is no doubt that this usage is at least partly influenced by Standard Average European. Closely related to this phenomenon is the use of two contrasted prepositions preceding the governed noun. It occurs … in Middle Arabic as well.  Yet its frequent occurrence in Modern Standard Arabic, as well as in Modern Hebrew is, no doubt, owing to the influence of Standard Average European. Arabic uses, for example, min wa-ila-l-ciraqi "from and to Iraq” …. Hebrew has mar’e ma -sh-she-n-nacase  li-phne -- w'gamme-me’aHore ha-m-matzlema  “it shows what happens before -- and also behind the camera."

In the wake of Standard Average European, Modern Standard Arabic and Modern Hebrew use ,adverbials more frequently than their classical predecessors. They use not only bound morphemes, as Arabic -an (kathiran "much") or Hebrew –it (yaHaasit) "relatively”), but also free morphemes. Arabic utilizes bi with an abstract noun, and so does Hebrew (b'-iTTyyut "slowly", bi-mhirut "quickly"). Both languages use prop-words, Arabic bi-shaklin, bi-Suratin, bi-Sifatin… ,Hebrew b’tzura and especially b 'ophen (b’tzura Hophshit/b ‘ophen Hophshi "freely"). Moreover, through the influence of European tongues, there is a general tendency in both Modern Standard Arabic and Modern Hebrew to use new prepositions to mark more accurate relations, as Ar. min ajji "because of", bi-sha’ni "on the subject of", li-SaliHi "to the advantage of”, cala Daw'i "in the light of", fi/ cala athari "immediately after", natijatan li "as a result of", Hebrew bi-dvar "on the subject of", l’or "in the light of”,  k’totza'a min "as result of" (some of these prepositions occur in older layers, yet their frequency is,no doubt, owing to European impact). Similarly, instead of old opaque conditional conjunctions, new, less arbitrary and more transparent ones may be used, as Ar. sharTa an/shariata an, Heb. bi-tnay she, also b'-miqre she, denoting "on the condition that", Fr. a condition que, Ger. unter der Bedingung dass.

At first glance, it would seem that the changes that have affected Modern Hebrew under the influence of European tongues are more conspicuous than those exhibited by Modern Standard Arabic. The fact that Modern Hebrew has become a spoken language and is, accordingly, used by unlearned people as well, should have entailed stronger alterations. Moreover, in Israel many immigrants have been absorbed who came from an assimilated rather than traditional Jewish environment. These new immigrants have received their education in languages of the gentile societies in which they grew up, often bringing with them a very scanty knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish sources. Wehr's statement that Hebrew linguistic feeling had to be newly created is no doubt correct in the case of these new immigrants, and since many of them,because of their organizational and intellectual capacities, have come to occupy important…  positions, their influence on Modern Hebrew in the direction of excessive europization must not be under-estimated. (However), the differences between Hebrew and Arabic in this field are, at the most, quantitative, but not qualitative….

… both Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic … exhibit the tendancy to become part of the European lanquaqe bundle. Nevertheless, the allegation that anyone of them has already become a European language in external disguise, is … exaggerated, and one should rather consider both Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic to be Semitic languages influenced by Standard Average European. Even features regarded as the most conspicuous manifestations of European impact in general and Yiddish influence in particular on Modern Hebrew are not without parallel in Modern Standard Arabic. Thus, very widespread in Modern Hebrew are sentences like ha-yeled hu tov "the child is good", which exhibit the copula between a single subject and indefinite predicate (in accordance with the place of "is" in many European tongues), rather than after the indefinite predicate as in Biblical Hebrew (ha-yeled tov hu. As we have seen, Modern Standard Arabic frequently uses … in exactly the same position (parallel to Modern Hebrew mehavve), thus exhibiting the influence of the European copula as well (though, admittedly, the use of Modern Hebrew hu in this position is even more frequent). Similarly the tense structure of Modern Hebrew has, by the influence of European tongues, undergone important changes, using the suffix-tense for the past, the participle for the present, and the less prefix-tense for the future. Yet the tense system of Modern Standard Arabic has not remained without changes either, though they are less conspicuous than in Modern Hebrew. A clear tendency obtains not to use the prefix-tense for the past. Therefore, contrary to genuine Classical Arabic, baynama "while" is followed by the suffix-tense, rather than by the prefix-tense. There is a stronger tendency than in the earlier layers of Arabic unequivocally to mark the future by making sa/sawfa precede the prefix-tense in many syntactic environments in which they do not ordinarily occur in Classical Arabic. Thus they are utilized in negative clauses in interrogations and conditions. Moreover, kana sa preceding the prefix-tense is used, denoting a determination in the past that was not carried into effect. One of the outstanding features of Modern Standard Arabic is the use of  raa governing the prefix-tense to mark both ingressive and durative action....

 From The Renaissance of Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic: Parallels and Differences in the Revival of Two Semitic Languages by Joshua Blau, Berkeley: UC Press, 1981

[31] One that the author does not mention is, the use, iIn Modern Hebrew, of the normal infinitive as a general imperative, no doubt under the influence of European languages (eg. German) recreates a major use of the infinitive absolute in Biblical Hebrew well described by Haiim Rabin (A Textbook of Israeli Hebrew p. 315) as "...used in commands that are addressed to nobody in particular, but are valid for everybody; its use is in such cases comparable to that of the imperative. significantly, an example will be found in the Decalogue." DS

[32] This group, which he also refers to as “Oriental” consists of Jews from Arab countries whose native language is Arabic.

[33] See Textbook of Israeli Hebrew by Haiim B. Rosén University of Chicago Press 1962. DS