Israeli Hebrew[1]

by David Tene – Ariel vol. 25 (1969) pp. 48-63

Reprinted by David Steinberg with permission of copyright holders


Dr. David Tene is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Hebrew Linguistics of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.  He does research on Israeli Hebrew, medieval grammatical and has done quantitative study of language in Hebrew poetry.



The Main Components of Native Israeli Hebrew

Native Hebrew Phonology

The Renovation of Hebrew Vocabulary

Word Structure

Verbal Patterns (Vp) and Verbal Bases (RVp)

Nominal Patterns (Np) and Nominal Bases



It has been noted that contemporary Hebrew is “the most extraordinary example of a linguistic revival.”  For hundreds of years before its revival, it was almost exclusively used for writing and reading: in synagogue, in school, in some kinds of belles lettres, sometimes in official Jewish documents and in commercial correspondence[2].  Today Hebrew is a normal living language, spoken as well as written.  The Hebrew-speaking community embraces all groups in society and all the social roles enacted in communication, such as: originators – philosophers, scientists, political leaders; purveyors of information – journalists, radio and television announcers, teachers; censors – lawyers, rabbis; receivers – the listening and reading public, etc.  It is the common language of work, home, school and the street.

An essential feature of the revival of Hebrew has been the revival of Hebrew speech.  The question soon arose, however, which of the variety of pronunciations should be considered the exemplary one.  Yellin (1905) supported the introduction of the pronunciation called “Oriental” or “Sephardic,” this was in fact the one used by the Sephardic community in reading the Bible and in prayers.  In 1913 Yellin convinced the Hebrew Language Committee to adopt his position:  which was, grosso modo, the pronunciation of Hebrew graphemes according to the pronunciation of the equivalent graphemes in Arabic except for ב, פ, צ. The Committee assumed that this was the Hebrew pronunciation before Hebrew ceased to be a spoken language, and probably considered their decision to be sufficient for this pronunciation to materialize.

What in fact happened was this: the newcomers who decided to speak Hebrew brought with them, from a traditional Hebrew education, a knowledge of the Hebrew graphemes according to the Tiberian vocalization.  On the other hand, all members of the same linguistic community brought with them the phonemic stock of their vernacular.  Therefore, the Hebrew pronunciation of each different group established itself as a result of two factors (Blanc, 1968): a set of spelling-pronunciation rules that established grapheme-to-phoneme equivalences, and the allophonic and distributional mechanisms of the spoken vernacular.  None of the spoken vernaculars had a phoenemic stock equivalent to the graphemic stock of the Biblical masoretic text.  The communities differed one from the other in the actual establishment of the phoenemic distinctions equivalent to the graphemic ones.  As a result, one of the main characteristics of spoken Hebrew at the end of the last (19th) century was the variety of pronunciations.

In the census carried out in May, 1961, 2,200,000 persons gave Israel as their country of permanent residence.  Linguistically, three groups emerged.  Group A consisted mainly of 200,000 Arabs, who declared that Palestinian Arabic was their first and main language.

Group B, its primary language neither Hebrew nor Palestinian Arabic, numbered 1,500,000 (74.7% of the Jewish population) and fell into two distinct sub-groups.  The first sub-group consisted primarily of post-1946 adult immigrants who spoke other languages than Hebrew as their main form of expression and communication, Hebrew being spoken only when the hearer did not understand their first or main language.  Their Hebrew pronunciation bore a heavy foreign “accent,” which was felt also in syntax and semantics.  Their number was not considerable nor their social status prominent.  The second sub-group consisted either of pre-1948 youth or adolescent immigrants, or Israelis born of immigrants who did not yet speak Hebrew.  They used Hebrew as their main vehicle of communication and expression although, as mentioned before, Hebrew was not their first language. And, indeed, their speech showed the foreign intonations of their first language. This sub-group was larger and more socially prominent, but, being older, was a diminishing factor.

Group C was made up of about 500,000 inhabitants who gave Hebrew as their first and main language, constituting 25.3% of the Jewish population. The census showed that 37.8% of the Jewish  population of that year were Israeli born. So that 66.8% of Group C were Israeli born Jews and principally people who, in 1961, were under 45-50 years of age. Their number was rising from year to year as well as their relative proportion within the population and their status in society.

These figures are rather outdated today (1969). At the end of 1968 the Jewish population of Israel was about 2,435,000, and in that year Blanc assumed that native speakers of Hebrew (our Group C) formed 40% of the Jewish population, or about a million persons.

The Hebrew speech of Group B varies greatly but has certain distinct characteristics. It is heard through the phonological "sieve" of the member's primary language. On the one hand, they are "deaf" to the distinctive oppositions in Hebrew, if these distinctions are not relevant in their primary language, and, on the other, they impose irrelevant distinctions on Hebrew only because they are relevant in their primary language and its rules of free variation. It is estimated that about two dozen primary languages are spoken by Group B. Add this to the dialects of those primary languages and one begins to realize how heterogeneous Hebrew speech is in this group.

Group C, by contrast, consists of native speakers of Hebrew, for whom the revival of the language is something in the "distant" past. For them, it is a genuine primary language (mother-tongue), through which they learn the mechanism of speech and the world is "revealed." Their speech is now showing signs of growing stabilization and standardization, and becoming dominant in society. It has some features of, pronunciation learned from their bilingual parents or grandparents but the status of these features has changed. Amongst the bilinguals, the features are like "sand carried by a stream"; amongst the native speakers they are "sedimented sand deposited on the bottom of a lake." When newcomers are confronted with the Hebrew speech of Group C, they are influenced by it and as a rule try to imitate it deliberately. It is in comparison to Group C that the speech of non-natives bears the mark of foreign "accents."

In other words, the essential sociolinguistic feature of contemporary Hebrew is the emergence of native speech, and its growing stabilization.


The Main Components of Native Israeli Hebrew

According to Blanc, native Israeli Hebrew is made up of three essential components:

(a) The basic grammar and vocabulary of the Hebrew Classics (the Old Testament and the post-Biblical literature);

(b)  The non-Hebrew influence of the divergent backgrounds of the direct predecessors of native Israelis;

(c)  The new forms created by the native speakers without reference to the Classics.

The complex interweaving of the three components is to be discerned in each part of the structure of the language, and the relative weight of each component may vary throughout. In phonology, the influence of the vernaculars of the bilingual predecessors is decisive (component b). Speech innovations created by the native speakers themselves (component c) can also be discerned. In morphology, however, component a is alone of decisive weight, which is also visible in syntax[3] in its basic element. As far as vocabulary is concerned, the non-Hebrew linguistic background left its mark in the form of noun loans. But in the inventory of roots - which is the skeleton of Hebrew vocabulary - these loans are very few in number on the expression plane (in the inventory of signifiers), although very numerous on the content plane (in the inventory of signifieds), which means that the number of loan translations is overwhelming. So it can be stated that the root inventory of native Israeli Hebrew is, in its largest part, Classical Hebrew signifiers combined with non-Classical Hebrew signifieds.  The share of the two varieties of Classical Hebrew - Biblical and Mishnaic - is not equal in all areas. In the morphology of native Israeli Hebrew, it is that of Biblical Hebrew which is conspicuous. In the syntax of native Israeli Hebrew, it is the syntactical features common to both Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew that are prominent. This is also true of the specific features – of Mishnaic syntax whereas the specific features of Biblical syntax are almost unrepresented. 

Although, at first glance, native Israeli Hebrew appears to be a mechanical mixture of components, which would be in flagrant opposition to the very idea of linguistic structure, closer scrutiny shows that this is not the case. The essential unconscious creation of the native speakers has effected its own reorganization of the system, causing the productivization of some inherited elements and the fossilization of others, and introducing innovations by analogy which have in turn simplified the system and added new distinctions between free variants, either inherited or new, and so on.


Native Hebrew Phonology

We now see that native Hebrew speech contains a considerable sediment of features stemming from the primary languages of the renovators of Hebrew. For this reason it is now generally admitted, at least in linguistic circles, that the outstanding feature of native Israeli phonology is its (partial) desemitization.

There are two varieties of native speech. One of them has the following phonemic inventory[4]:

p f t s c (ć) s k x ' h

b v d z - (ģ ź) g - ` --             m n r l y a e i o u

The second actualizes the following phonemic inventory:

 p f t s c (ć ś) k x ' h

b v d z - (ģ ź) g R --             m n l y   a e i o u


The main difference between them concerns the part played by the pharynx in articulation: the pharynx is used as a place of articulation in one and not in the other. Furthermore, the first variety has two phonemes, (pharyngal, unvoiced) and ` (pharyngal, voiced), both fricative phonetically; in the second these do not exist. In the first variety, maar "tomorrow" is a different phonological form from maxar "(he) sold" and the opposition between (pharyngal, unvoiced) and x (palated, fricative) keeps the two words distinct from each other; in the second maxaR "tomorrow" and maxaR "(he) sold" are two occurrences of one and the same form and, from the pronunciation of either word hors contexte one cannot know if the speaker meant to say "tomorrow" or "(he) sold." The same applies to `. In the first variety, hu me`ir oto "he awakens him" is opposed to hu meir oto "he sheds light on him," whereas in the second hu meiR oto is one phonological form semantically ambiguous, meaning equally "he awakens him" and "he sheds light on him." In the first variety the opposition between ` (pharyngal, voiced) and the absence of any phonemic consonant keeps these two forms distinct from each other. In the second variety such an opposition is unattested. For the sake of convenience we shall call the first variety-variety and the second-variety x.

This divergence in the inventories of phonemic features and of phonemes results in numerous differences in the areas of the linguistic structure of the two varieties: the distribution of the phonemes and their frequency, the phonemic shape of the morphs and their distribution, the amount of homophony and the measure of departure of the spoken word from the written.

It goes without saying that this division of native Hebrew speech into two varieties is not connected with a regional division of Israel. It is connected with the primary language of the parents and/or grandparents of the native speakers of Hebrew. The parents of speakers of variety came originally from countries which, before World War I, belonged to the Ottoman Empire, including Palestine. Their primary language was some dialect of spoken Arabic and/or Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish). The parents of the speakers of variety x immigrated from Eastern or Central Europe and their primary language was generally some dialect of Yiddish and/or a European language pronounced with a tinge of Yiddish. Our classification of varieties within native Hebrew speech and its correlation to these primary languages are, of course, a schematic generalization. Likewise, we have no numerical data concerning the division, but it is assumed that, amongst the native speakers younger than fifteen years, the speakers of the two varieties are equal in number.

As is well known, the ability to use the pharynx in articulation is one of the major differences between Arabic speech (as well as the presumed pronunciation of the greater part of ancient Semitic languages unaffected in their early stages by the influence of some non-Semitic language) and the Indo-European languages. With the loss of this ability, variety x indeed lost a prominent Semitic feature, and one is entitled to say that it became partially desemitized, to attribute this process to its foreign non-Semitic sediment. The foreign sediment of variety is Semitic, namely Arabic, and here the ability to articulate in the area of the pharynx in this variety was maintained. And, there is, therefore, a partial restraint from desemitization. But this restraint, too, is a result of the foreign sediment of this variety. In any case the foreign sediments (Semitic in variety , non-Semitic in variety x) constituted the factors which were active in the phonological restructuring of native Hebrew.

Variety x lost another Semitic feature too, namely emphaticality (the opposition between articulation by pushing back the mass of the tongue towards the rear wall of the pharynx and articulation without that movement). Thereafter, the distinction between ţ (ט) and t (ת), between q (ק) and k () disappeared and likewise the opposition between (צ) and s (ס) has changed. These developments are also to be considered as signs of partial desemitization of variety x as a result off its foreign non-Semitic sediment. The same applies to the reorganization of initial consonantal clusters and all that flows from it concerning the structure of syllables. But it should be noted that the loss of emphaticality and the formation of initial consonantal clusters are now an integral part of the structure of variety as well. But, in this case, one cannot explain the features developed in variety as opposed to the foreign Semitic sediment, namely as a part of the stabilization of native speech as a whole. Therefore, in dealing with variety , they must be regarded as the buds of processes taking place in native Hebrew proper, and they are indeed the ones which give native Hebrew speech on the whole its desemitized character, as opposed to the presumed speech of Classical Hebrew.

It may be maintained that in Israeli Hebrew phonology, the foreign and the largely unconscious activity of the native speakers themselves has been decisive. Similarly, the main characteristic of native Hebrew phonology is its (partial) desemitization.

Can it be said that either variety carries prestige with it? In this sense, as related to social advancement, the answer must be in the negative. No speaker of Hebrew is asked to improve his pronunciation so as to fulfill a particular task or occupy a prestigious position in Israeli society.

Blanc affirms variety x to be in constant progress and communally undifferentiated, variety H to be in constant decline, and, as a rule, communally marked. On this basis, in 1968, he suggested that "general Israeli' (our variety x) in two of its "styles," "average informal" and average formal," may be considered as a de facto double standard of native Hebrew.


The Renovation of Hebrew Vocabulary[5]

The restorers of the language were aware of the designative inadequacy of its vocabulary as existing in classical texts. Even such words as newspaper, watch, kitchen, now part of basic Hebrew, were unknown before the revival. For this reason they paid great attention to the problem of "how to fill the gap," as they put it, and their efforts were directed towards planned innovation. In cases where they did not find the sought-for word, they would derive a new word from an existing root "according to the rules of derivation and on the basis of analogy," and, to be more exact, they created "artificially a formal-grammatical analogy." At any rate the new words created in this manner were so similar in form to the inherited ones that one could not realize that they were innovations. If this method was ineffective, Aramaic or Arabic[6] words were adapted by extracting their roots and by “Hebraicizing” according to the rules of agreement governing the constituents of ancient Semitic tongues.  This meant that the new roots did not deviate from the structure of the inherited Hebrew roots.  When these new roots were staggered with Hebrew grammatical patterns, they supplied Hebrew words which were indistinguishable from the inherited ones.  If neither method worked the technique was applied to non-Semitic words.  That is how the word mivRešet “brush” (noun) and its verb hivRiš, “(he) brushed,” were formed from the corresponding words in non-Semitic languages, (German – bürste; French – brose; Yiddish – baršt, found also in Arabicfurša a loan word from Turkish (Rosen, 1955-56).  The word mivRešet  “brush” is, therefore, a loan only in the root, but not in the grammatical pattern, which is mi--e-et, found in identically inherited words, for example, misgeRet (a biblical word meaning, in modern Hebrew, “frame”).  So much for simple foreign words.  Respecting compound ones, such as kindergarten or skyscraper, a loan translation was made.  In this process, the Hebrew construct state was used as a conversion formula of the foreign compound noun, and care was taken that the new Hebrew nouns derived as construct states should be progressive and not regressive compounds, that is, not yladim-gan but gan-yladim (lit. “garden (of) children”) “kindergarten”, not šxakim-mgaRed but mgaRed-šxakim (lit. scraper (of) skies) “skyscraper.”[7]

The new compound noun is, therefore, borrowed only through the semantic process of its genesis, but in form is no different from inherited ones such as beyt kneset (lit. house (of) gathering) “synagogue.”  Here too, the formal Hebrew grammatical character was kept.  In the last resort, the innovators borrowed a foreign word and decided its gender according to its original ending: lira “pound” – feminine, tRaktoR “tractor” – masculine.  Thee borrowed nouns are not integrated, either phonologically (place of stress, consonantal clusters) or morphologically.  The non-integration indicates their foreign origin.

All this innovation activity has given Israeli Hebrew vocabulary a considerable number of new words.  Even an ordinary concise dictionary with a strong conservative tendency (Even-Shoshan, 1955) contains 30% of words invented during the last hundred years (ibid. – volume of Addenda, 1961), but it stands to reason that the actual number of innovations is even greater, because the planned innovation did not satisfy the needs of communication and expression, or keep pace with their development. There are many fields in which the vocabulary was filled not only with loan translations but also with words borrowed from the Jewish vernaculars, from the Arabic and from European languages. This applies to realia, to the emotive and appellative vocabulary (interjections, orders, requests. greetings, curses and the like) and especially familiar usage in endearing expressions or pet names.

Those who took part in coining the innovations looked upon their work as a means of closing the gap between Classical Hebrew vocabulary and contemporary needs. What really happened, however, in the process of language revival can be described linguistically as follows. The immigrants brought with them the content inventory of their primary languages. These lexical contents were stored in their primary language competence as signifieds which maintained solidarity relation with signifiers; for instance, the content "book" maintains a solidarity relation with the expression buk. When the restorers started to renovate the language, they did not intend to -- and, even if they did, could not--escape from the content inventory of their primary languages. Therefore they used the ready-made contents and did not try to classify and describe things afresh. And so it came about that each one of them became the locus of inter-lingual identification of contents of words of his primary language with contents of Hebrew words. In this manner, the nature of the linguistic sign was changed. In the primary language, the sign (e.g., words) had been a solidarity relation between content and expression. With one's decision to abandon the primary language and to acquire Hebrew, all the signs became compound ones. These compound signs had one signified, resulting from the inter-lingual identification, and it was this that maintained solidarity relation with two signifiers: the first in one's primary language (non-Hebrew) and the other in one's second language (Hebrew). At any rate what kept the two signifiers of the compound sign together was the replica function: the Hebrew signifier was a replica to the non-Hebrew signifier after the respective signifieds had been identified.

This stage of compound signs left its impress on the Hebrew content inventory even when it became the main language. Accordingly, on the content plane we do not have mere addition but a complete restructuring of the content inventory according to the foreign linguistic background. This restructuring affected not only the innovations but also the inherited vocabulary. In matters linguistic-as a contemporary linguist has said-the expression is the means, whereas the content the aim. The mere necessity (or lack of necessity) to innovate was due to the content inventory of the primary languages. This inventory determined which words they would restore to use and which they would leave unused. As the primary languages were European it is clear that the content plane of Hebrew vocabulary became highly Europeanized. Even in such fields of basic vocabulary such as family relationship, physical and character qualities, social relations. utensils, clothing, names of plants and animals and seasons of the year, there were Biblical and/or Mishnaic nouns, which no longer functioned in their original meaning in the generation of revival. Moreover, in that generation, all the vocabulary-both the innovations and the renovated old words-was made up of replicas of non-Hebrew words. So, the renovators could not escape from their tendency to impose, on each Hebrew word, the full meaning of the non-Hebrew word which was its source. Likewise, they imposed on Hebrew words the rules of collocation of non-Hebrew words, i.e., the sum of lexical contexts, possible and impossible, frequent and rare, both in free lexical expressions as well as in idiomatic ones. Rosen (1955/56) illustrated this phenomenon by the word sherut which was introduced into Hebrew as a replica of the English word "service."

Together with the normalization of the nature of the lexical sign, normal systematic relations began to be active in the inventory of lexical signs of native Hebrew. Words started to maintain associative relations according either to their expression or their content (Rosen 1955/56). The various semantic miniature systems ("the semantic fields") began to reorganize themselves, the border lines between them were drawn and the degrees of difference between words in the same field were re-formulated. Complete synonyms began to the differentiated either by content specialization or by their reorganization within the frame of the “style scale”, or by their different collocation. A process of elimination of pernicious homonymy commenced and polysemy, too; that is to say the gradual extension of meaning began to take place such as, for instance, the secularization of words taken from the vocabulary of holy worship.  This restructuring of the content plane of native Hebrew vocabulary has hardly been dealt with in descriptive studies, urgent though such a description is, in my opinion.


Word Structure

We have seen that Israeli Hebrew differs from Classical both in phonology and in the semantics of vocabulary.  The phonology is (partially) desemitized, the semantics highly Europeanized[8].  Nevertheless, Israeli Hebrew has kept its identity as a Semitic language in the grammatical structure of words.  The derivation of the word and especially its inflections have proved to be highly resistant to the interference of foreign linguistic background of bi-lingual predecessors.

As to the internal structure of the word, Semitic languages, including Classical Hebrew, are totally different form non-Semitic, e.g., European languages.  In English, for example, the non-compound word is either a minimal unit carrying meaning (i.e. moneme) (e.g., act), or a linguistic form of more than one moneme (e.g., unacceptable, inactivates).  The first one has three monemes: un-accept-able, the second has five: in-act-iv-ate-s.  As to the signifiers of these five monemes:  the fifth has one phoneme, the other four have more than one; the second has three phonemes and the other three have two each.  Observe that the phonemes of the signifiers are contiguous.  This is the rule in English.  Therefore, a sentence like “The boys walked slowly up the hill,” which is composed of ten monemes, as far as its monemic structure goes, is a sequence of signifiers  made up of contiguous phonemes, as can be seen also from the written representation of the sentence:  the boy-s-walk-ed-slow-ly-up-the-hill.  This is not the case in Semitic languages.  A Hebrew verb like šalátnu “we dominated” has three monemes š-l-t “the idea of domination”; -a-a- “non-passive past”; -nu “we.”  The last moneme has a signifier consisting of contiguous phonemes, whereas the first two have signifiers consisting of non-contiguous ones.  The phonemes of the first signifier are staggered with the phonemes of the second and hence are called “staggered monemes.”  The first signifier can never consist of vowels alone, but consists wholly, or at least partially, of consonants.  The second one can never consist of consonants alone, but consists wholly or partially of vowels.  The first moneme is a lexical one, i.e., it is a member of a virtually open set of alternatives, and actually of a set of some thousands of members.  These lexical monemes are called Roots (hence: R). The second moneme is a grammatical one, i.e., it is a member of a closed and narrow set of alternatives.  These monemes are called Patterns (hence: P). When found in verbal forms the name is Verbal Pattern (hence: Vp), and when found in a nominal form Nominal Pattern (hence: Np).  Now the following rule can be established: all verbal forms in Semitic language have necessarily a base which has the structure RVp.  All simple nominal forms have actually, or at least virtually, a base which has the structure RNp.  This golden rule of word structure in Semitic languages, which, of course, existed in Classical Hebrew, stands unaltered in Israeli Hebrew, so that it can be claimed that, in this aspect, Israeli Hebrew has kept its Semitic character.

Thus, too, Israeli Hebrew did not borrow foreign verbs in their original form as it did foreign nouns.  Since each verbal base necessarily has the structure RVp, Hebrew has to analyze the foreign verb and extract an R from its original form and stagger its signifier with a Hebrew Vp signifier .  Thus, when Hebrew borrowed the noun telefon “telephone,” it just could not borrow the corresponding foreign verb “to telephone,” but had to extract an R from this foreign verbal form and stagger its signifier, namely t-lf-n with one of the Hebrew Vp signifiers to form the Hebrew verbal base tilfen “(he) telephoned.”  This form is therefore borrowed only as far as its R is concerned, but, as concerns its Vp, it is autochthonous Hebrew.  As R is the lexical part and Vp the grammatical one, such verbs are lexically borrowed and grammatically autochthonous.  As far as nouns are concerned, Hebrew could borrow foreign nouns in their original form as it possessed nouns which synchronically were unanalysable in RNp, such as šulxan “table”, kise “chair”, sefel “cup,” yom “day,” yam “sea’etc.  The borrowed nouns aligned themselves to these, and their foreign origin is evident in a lack of integration, both phonologically and morphologically.

Inflectional monemes (i.e., those minimal units bearing meaning which figure for instance, in the oppositions between English words such as boy – boys; take – takes; sing – sang – sung), have revealed themselves in Israeli Hebrew as the almost unaffected part of grammatical structure.  Indeed, Hebrew seems to be impenetrable to foreign influence as far as the conjugation of verbs and the declension of nouns are concerned.  The sets of inflectional morphemes, the possibilities of choice within the sets, the structure of the signifiers and their amalgams, the structure of the signifieds  (such as the opposition of  “tense,” “person,” “gender,” “number”), all were untouched by foreign influence.  Naturally, the actual shape of the signifiers changed, but this was a direct consequence of the restructuring of the phoenemic inventory, while their paradigmatic relations (i.e. the relation “either” - “or”) and their syntagmic relations (i.e. the relation “and”  -  “and”) did not.  Inflection is the domain where Israeli Hebrew kept its Semitic character almost intact.

One of the main problems of the revival of Hebrew was how to adapt it to the expression of the needs of a modern society.  The real difficulty was not in supplying the noun, because nouns could be borrowed and used without full grammatical integration; it lay in describing the actions, processes and states of modern life.  This required verbs.  And, since the signifier of the Hebrew verb is of necessity RVp, the borrowing of verbs is impossible without full grammatical integration.  Hence the imperious need to supply new R’s to derive new RVp’s.  Indeed, the renovation of the R inventory is one of the main characteristics of Israeli Hebrew as far as its word-structure is concerned.  It was done in two ways: massive polysemicization of Hebrew inherited R’s; extraction of new R’s from the consonantal part of signifiers of nouns, adverbs and even of compound nouns, either autochthonous or borrowed.

At the source of the first of these processes we find the linguistic background of the restorers of Hebrew.  This generation provided many polysemic R’s so that today one can hardly find a monosemic R in Hebrew.  To illustrate, Hebrew inherited the R, z-R-k “the idea of throwing,” which was and still is used with two Vp’s.  We have, therefore, zaRak “he threw” opposed to nizRak “he was thrown.”  The nomen action, i.e., zRika “throwing” became polysemic some time during the period of revival.  Following a semantic process which did not take place in Hebrew but did occur in some European languages, zRika began to mean “injection.”  Now speakers of Hebrew extracted an R from this word z-r-k “the idea of giving injections.”

The second means by which Hebrew succeeded in dealing with modern processes and actions was the derivation of new R’s from existing Hebrew words such as nouns and adverbs.  Sometimes the new R’s were derived from a noun that was a moneme.  Such is x-šm-l “the idea connected with electricity.”  With this R we have a newly derived verbal base, such as xišmel “he electrified,” xušmal “he was electrified,” taken from the biblical etymologically uncertain ašmal, which is generally interpreted as meaning “a mixture of gold and silver.”  The use of this biblical word in its modern sense illustrates one of the planned innovations dealt with above.  At any rate, before extracting the new R this word was a moneme and we have seen that all Hebrew nouns are virtually analyzable into R’s and P’s.  Sometimes the new R’s are derived from a noun whose base is RNp.  Such an R is m-k-m “the idea of locating,” used in such verbal forms as mikem “he located,” mukam “was located,” hitmakem “he located himself.”  It was derived from the noun makom “place,” which is in itself a RNp.  In the new R, the first m is part of the signifier of an RNp, whereas k-m come from the signifier  of an inherited R.

The actual shape of the R signifier was remodled according to Israeli Hebrew phonology and a detailed description of the R alternants is not possible here.  It suffices to say that in modern Israeli, as in Classical Hebrew, no R signifier can be made only of vowels and that he majority of R signifiers have the afore-mentioned structure.  But as opposed to previous Hebrew the weight of quadri-consonantal R signifiers has increased considerably. This is due to the new R’s which have mainly C-CC-C signifiers (C=any consonantal phoneme).   Nevertheless, one may find new R’s generally derived from borrowed nouns which have even a five-consonantal signifier, such as t-lgR-f in tilgRef “(he) telegraphed.”

As far as their semantics is concerned, these new R’s are an innovation.  Synchronically, the great majority of Hebrew R’s are “opaque,” i.e., the solidarity relation between the signifier and the signified is unmotivated, arbitrary and conventionalized.  This is not the case with the new R’s dealt with.  They are partially “transparent.”  Indeed, the relation between the expression m-k-m and the content “to locate” is partially “motivated,” because this R is synchronically associated with the expression makom which means “place.”  Partially “transparent “R’s also are to be found in Classical Hebrew (e.g., onomatopoeic or denominative R’s), but they were always a small minority in the R inventory, whereas nowadays their number is rising considerably.


Verbal Patterns (Vp) and Verbal Bases (RVp)[9]

Israeli Hebrew has inherited a set of seven Vp signifiers[10].  If we take k-t-l as an illustration of R we can have seven RVp signifiers: 1. katal, 2. niktal, 3. hiktil, 4. huktal, 5. kitel, 6. kutal, 7. hitkatel.  The seven Vp’s occurring in these seven forms will be referred to as Vp 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 respectively.  Each R whose signifier has the structure C-C-C can automatically occur with the seven Vp signifiers mentioned, whereas R’s whose signifiers have the structure C-CC-C can occur only with Vp 5, 6, 7.

The main semantic function of the Vp’s is to convey “voice” oppositions: given a context of an identical R these can convey only four “voice” oppositions at the most (the active, the passive and the causative and non-causative oppositions).

It follows that there is a great gap between the number of Vp signifiers which can occur automatically together with each R signifier whose structure is C-C-C and that of Vp signifieds opposed with the “voice” category, namely, seven signifiers but only four signifieds.  Hence, theoretically at least, each R of the above-mentioned signifier structure described can occur with three Vp signifiers which are practically not used in conveying “voice” oppositions.  And, of course, there are R’s which do not use four Vp signifiers, or five or even six.  Accordingly, given a certain R, one can hardly predict how many and which of the seven Vp signifiers will actually be used to derive RVp’s, which content oppositions each Vp will contract.  This feature of the behavior of the Vp’s is generally referred to by the somehow dubious expression, that the use of the Vp’s is “partially lexicalized.” 

We have by now detected a basic feature of the Vp system, that there appears to be an asymmetry between the number of the Vp signifiers automatically possible and the number of the Vp signifieds needed for “voice” oppositions.  This facilitated the massive polysemicization of Hebrew R’s already mentioned, without which the main chance of the RVp structure in its overwhelming productivity would probably have been precluded in Israeli Hebrew.  So, too, given a certain R, it made possible the use of “vacant” VP’s to convey oppositions other than “voice” oppositions, for instance, “aspectoid” ones.

As a result of this asymmetry the normal functioning of the verbal system was rendered possible and its main Semitic derivational feature was ensured.  Consequently those VP’s were used which had no part in conveying “voice” oppositions.  The majority of the restorers of Hebrew spoke Yiddish, a language which, being of German origin, tinged with Slavic influence, which has “aspectoid” oppositions expressed by morphemes as well.  Consequently they made use of those Vp’s which had no part in conveying “voice” oppositions even after the massive polysemicization of R’s.  These “vacant” VP’s became marked members of “aspectoid” oppositions, by the process of adding auxiliary verbs other than haya, lit. “was,” such as natan lit. “gave” and xataf, lit. “caught” to derive signifiers of compound verbal bases (RVp RNp).  This is one of two main innovations which have taken place in Israeli Hebrew as far as the verbal base derivation is concerned.  The other is the “aspectoid” feature expressed by the opposition between simple verbal bases (RVp) and compound ones (RVp RNp).  Both are due to the influence of foreign linguistic background (especially of Yiddish) of the direct predecessors of native Israeli Hebrew.


Nominal Patterns (Np) and Nominal Bases[11]

Israeli Hebrew nouns (including adjectives) may  be divided into four derivational types:

1)     Nouns whose base is a moneme (N) such as šulxan “table.

2)     Nouns whose base is a RNp such as ševeR “breakage.”

3)     Compound nouns with a bi-basic structure, such as xadaR-oxel “dining room” (lit. “room (for, of) food”).

4)     Nouns which have a derivational suffix and/or a derivational prefix, such as dukiyum “co-existence,” where du – “co” is a derivational suffix and kiyum “existence” is an RNp.

To these four major types we must add two minor ones:

5)     Nouns like sakum “cutlery,” the signifiers of which are wholly or partially derived from sakin kaf umazleg “cutlery” (lit. knife, spoon, fork).  These nouns are to be considered N’s, but, while inherited ones are “opaque,” these are “motivated”.

6)     Borrowed nouns such as professor “professor.”  These are to be considered as N’s unless some RP can be derived by extracting an R from the consonantal part of the borrowed signifiers.

The N type is unproductive and its weight in the inventory is diminishing.  The RNp type is to be deemed as resistant to foreign interference, as in the fact that the derivation by prefixation is very limited.  On the other hand, the derivation of compound nouns and that by suffixation are generally derivational calques (loan translations) and, therefore, the result of foreign interference.   But even here native Hebrew shows signs of resistance.  Noun composition in native Hebrew is falling away slightly, whereas the RNp type is gaining in productivity.  Derivation of compound adjectives with or without derivational suffixes has become very common in native Hebrew since pre-Israeli Hebrew was almost totally devoid of adjectival derivation.  At the same time, borrowed adjectives are relatively few in number.  Similarly, borrowed adjectival suffixes such as –le, - ćik “endearing diminutives,” –nik  “person being a member of,” while flourishing in the early period of Israeli Hebrew, are now falling into oblivion and are being replaced by Hebrew derivational suffixes.


[1] For more recent publications and general bibliography see; I have corrected obvious errors and supplied the bolding and table of contents to make this essay more accessible. DS

[2] “The spread of the nationalistic movements in Europe in the nineteenth-century spurred the idea of the national revival of the Jewish people in its land. A consequence of this was the call for the revival of the Hebrew language as a prerequisite for the Jewish national revival. This call was raised vigorously by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, later known as “the father of the Hebrew language revival”. Ben-Yehuda, who immigrated to Palestine in 1881, was a leading figure in the activities surrounding the revival of Hebrew. He fought fanatically for its spread as a spoken language, going so far as to make his eldest son (born in 1882) speak Hebrew as his first language. Yet it was not until the first decade of the twentieth century, after another wave of immigration (the so-called second Aliya) had arrived, that the rapid spread of spoken Hebrew and the nativization of Hebrew took place (Bar-Adon 1975: 19; cf. Haramati 1979: chaps. 2-4). The popular status of Ben-Yehuda as the only reviver of the Hebrew language is, thus, nothing but a myth. Agnon, the Nobel-Prize laureate in literature, summed up his attitude to Ben-Yehuda and the revival of the language in the following comment: “the people look for a hero, and we give them one” (Bar-Adon 1977: 96, my translation). (For Ben-Yehuda and the revival of Hebrew see Fellman 1973 and the review by Wexler [1975]; also Bar-Adon 1975: chaps. 2-3.)” from The Emergence of Spoken Israeli Hebrew by Shlomo Izre’el

[3] … Yiddish (and European) interference are most strongly felt in the domain of syntax…. Two instances will illustrate this point….

“(In Israeli Hebrew)  nouns like rofe 'doctor', menahel 'director', sofer 'author'    come before the name, contrary to what we would expect on the basis of BH (Biblical Hebrew) and MH (Mishnaic Hebrew) usage. To the best of my knowledge, even purists have never taken exception to this usage.

“If an Israeli is asked to translate the English sentence 'the house is big', he will give habayit gadol or use the copula habayit hu gadol. Only rarely, if pressed, might he offer a third construction habayit gadol hu. Yet the second construction, so widely used in IH (Israeli Hebrew), exists neither in BH nor in MH except for the "identity clause" as is Yoseph hu’ hashaliT 'Joseph was the vizier', Gen. 42, 6 where both subject and predicate are determined). In BH and MH we find either the first construction without the copula, or the third construction with the copula after the predicate. (The copula also folIows the predicate in the gadol hu habayit  'big is the house' type of construction, where the sentence begins with the predicate). Incidentally, this is the case with all Semitic languages possessing a copula. The second construction, of course, reflects the influence of Yiddish, Fench. German, and English where the copula comes between the subject and predicate.

“The most astonishing fact is that not only did this replica formation in IH pass uncontested, but it was not even recognized as an intruder by writers and eminent Hebrew scholars. Surely an outstanding sign of the depth of the influence of the foreign substrata upon IH is the fact that it is found even in the works of such classical Hebrew writers as Bialik. …

“Hebrew writers were sometimes unconsciously influenced in their use of prepositions by their Yiddish or other substrata….”


[4] I had to somewhat alter the transliteration due to limitations in the fonts available to me. In the original ś was sometimes used in place of š=sh. I have used š or sh throughout DS

[5] cf. Israel Language Policy and Linguistics by Haiim B Rosén and Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew (Palgrave Studies in Language History and Language Change) by Ghil'ad Zuckermann (Hardcover - January 17, 2004)

[6] e.g. merkaz

[7] Cf. late 19th century terms “e.g. toeff boker “guden morgen,” toeff laila “gude naicht,” with an inverted order). See Groote 1860; Babinger 1920; Klausner 1923.” From The Emergence of Spoken Israeli Hebrew by Shlomo Izre’el

[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]…It is believed that she + imperfect denoting the jussive, e.g.,she-yelekh 'let him go' is a Yiddish calque, but this requires clear-cut proof.

“One very important trait of the IH verb originating in Yiddish has been noted by H. Blanc. Under Slavic influence, the Yiddish verb developed "aspectoid" distinctions wherein plain action is contrasted with "instantaneous or abrupt variety of the same action", e.g., ich shrayb ‘I  write' vs. ich gib a shrayb 'I am writing for a moment' (gib from gebn 'to give'). In cases of the "plain verb vs. prefixated verb... the contrast is between a plain verb with imperfective lexical meaning and a prefixated verb with perfective lexical mcaning", e.g., shlofn ‘'to sleep' vs. aynshlofn 'to fall asleep' where the second verb "denotes transition from some other state or action to the state or action denoted" by the first member.

“The first trait is to be found in IH in expressions construed of a noun plus the verb natan 'give' (= Yiddish gebn), e.g., natan kfitza (=gebn a shprung) 'to jump', natan tzitzul (=gebn a klung) 'to ring, phone',

“More important than these substandard phrases is the fact that "there are a number of Hebrew verb pairs.., qaTal  vs. niqTal or qaTal  vs. hitqaTTel which "are functionally equivalent to some Yiddish pairs of the second type", e,g., yashav (zien) 'to be sitting', hityashev (/avek/ zeen zech) 'to sit down'; shakhav (lign)  'to be lying down', nishkav  (/avek/ Ieygn zich), 'to lie down'; ‘amad (shteyn) 'to stand',  ne’emad (/avek/ shteln zich, opshteln zich) 'to stand up, to come to a halt'; zakhar (gedenken) 'to remember', nizkar  (dermanen zich) 'to recall to mind’…. (However) some of the pairs … already appear in BH but especially in MH with the same function….

A History of the Hebrew Language by Eduard Echezkel Kutscher, edited by Raphael Kutscher 1982 THE MAGNES PRESS, THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY, JERUSALEM EJ. BRILL, LEIDEN….DS

[10] Those adopting the view (traditional for all Semitic languages) that conjugations of verbs from the same root constitute one paradigm must consider the semantic relationship between the various conjugations. In the extreme formulation of this view, every conjugation is said to have a particular meaning in relation to the "basic form" of the verb, the form pa’al….

A similar, though less extreme, position is generally taken in textbooks. These also treat the pa’al conjugation as the basic form, said to be semantically "simple," but they attempt to establish a semantic relationship for each root between the pa’al conjugation and other conjugations, it being assumed that each of these makes some addition to the basic meaning of the pa’al. The principal additional meanings, expressed synthetically by a change in the form of the verb, are said to be passive, reflexive, reciprocal, strengthening, durative, iterative, causative, change in state, declarative, and deprivative. Thus, for example, the niph’al is said to express the passive when the active agent is found with the pa’al e.g., shavar ("he broke")— nishbar ("it was broken") or hiph’il, e.g., hirgica ("he soothed")— nirgac ("he was soothed"); reflexive, e.g., nishmar, nizhar ("he took care of himself"); or reciprocal, e.g., nidberu ("they spoke to one another"). The pi’el is said to express the strengthening, e.g., shavar ("he broke")— shibber ("he smashed"); the durative, e.g., raqad ("he danced")— riqqed ("he danced for a long time"); repetitive, e.g., qavar ("he buried")— qibber ("he buried many"); causative, e.g., lamad ("he learned")— limmed ("he taught"); or deprivative, e.g., sheresh ("he uprooted"). The pu’al is said to be the passive equivalent of verbs with the same root in pi’el. The hitpa’el is explained as denoting the reflexive, e.g., hitraHetz ("he washed himself"); reciprocal, e.g., hitlaHashu ("they whispered to each other"); passive chiefly when the active is in the pi’el, e.g., bishel ("he cooked")— hitbashel ("it was cooked"); or strengthening, e.g., hitnashem ("he breathed strongly"). The hiph’il is said to denote the causative, chiefly when the active is in the pa’al, e.g., malakh ("he reigned")— himlikh ("he made [him] a king"), and consequently changes the verb from intransitive to transitive, e.g., yashab ("he sat")— hoshiv ("he caused to sit," "he set"), or from unitransitive to ditransitive, e.g., ‘akhal ("he ate")— he’ekhil ("he fed"); a change of state, e.g., heceshir ("he became rich"), especially a change of color, e.g., hilbin ("it became white"); or declarative, e.g., tzaddik ("righteous")— hitzdik ("he declared as righteous," "he justified"). The hoph’al/huph’al is considered the passive equivalent of the hiph’il. In addition, some verbs with a "simple" meaning like that of the pa’al appear in other conjugations, e.g., nikhnas ("he entered"), riHef ("he hovered"), hitnagged ("he opposed"), himtin ("he waited").

However, this view of the semantic relationships of the conjugations, with the pa’al taken as the basic conjugation, does not sufficiently fit the facts. Even a partial examination of Hebrew verbs shows that, except for pu’al and hoph’al/huph’al (which almost always have a predictable relationship with pi’el and hiph’il respectively), we cannot automatically predict the meaning of a root in one conjugation from that of the same root in another conjugation. Though there are many instances of predictable semantic relationships between the conjugations, like those given above, in many instances verbs of the same root have no relationship at all or have an unpredictable relationship, e.g., dibber ("he spoke") - hidbir ("he subdued"); mahar ("he bought a wife")— miher ("he hastened"); batzar ("he gathered grapes")— nivtzar ("it was withheld")— bitzer ("he fortified"); saphar ("he counted")— sipper ("he told")— histapper ("he had his hair cut"); saphak ("he clapped hands")— sippek ("he supplied")—hispik ("he made enough")—histapek ("he had sufficient"); he’emin ("he believed")— hitammen ("he trained himself"). It may well be that at an early period of the language, the conjugations constituted a paradigm of predictable semantic relationships similar to the paradigm of changes of person and tense within a conjugation, but as a consequence of the development of meanings of verbs throughout the history of the language, the conjugations cannot now be recognized as belonging to one paradigm.

Similarly, there was once a fixed semantic relationship between nouns of different patterns belonging to the same root. Indeed, even in contemporary Hebrew there are such relationships, e.g., between nouns denoting people with particular occupation such as sappar ("barber") and the corresponding noun for the place of work, mispara ("barber shop"). In general, new nouns have been formed in recent times on the appropriate patterns, e.g., katif ("season for picking fruit growing on trees") and talish ("season for picking fruit growing on low bushes") for the seasons of agricultural work; mirpa’a ("clinic") and mikhbasa ("laundry") for places of work. Nevertheless, each noun is treated as an entirely independent noun; the semantic relationship between nouns of the same root has not resulted in their being considered one noun with various patterns.


Two forms have predictable relations when they fulfill two conditions:

(1) If one of them exists, it follows that the other exists too;

(2) When the meaning of one of them is known, the meaning of the other one is self-explanatory. Only forms having predictable relationships with other forms can be considered as belonging to the same paradigm, since only these can be freely used by a speaker though he has never heard them before and are unambiguous to the hearer though he has never encountered them before. For example, within one conjugation there are predictable relationships between forms varying only in person or tense …. Similarly, the relationships between verbs in pi’el and hiph’il and verbs of the same root in pu’al and hoph’al/huph’al, respectively, are virtually predictable. There is not complete predictability because some intransitive verbs in pi’el, e.g., Tiyyel ("he went for a walk") and riHef ("he hovered"), and in hiph’il, e.g., hismik ("he became red") and heHlid ("he [it] became rusty") either do not have corresponding forms in pu’al or hoph’al/huph’al or, if they do, these do not express a passive meaning.

Predictable relationships between pa’al and niph’al (with respect either to the existence of one form if the other exists or to the stipulated semantic relationship) apply only to some verbs. Thus, there is no corresponding form in the other conjugation for yarad ("he descended"), nivhal ("he was alarmed"), or nishbac ("he swore"), and a predictable active-passive relationship is lacking between yashav ("he sat")— noshav ("it was inhabited"); kanas ("he assembled")— nikhnas ("he entered"); or yashen ("he slept")— noshan ("he was old"). Even less predictable are the relationships between pa’al and pi’el. It is impossible to know whether the change from pa’al to pi’el will entail strengthening, lengthening, repetition, causation, or some other meaning, which might be completely different from that of pa’al, e.g., shiHek ("he played")— shaHak ("he laughed"), Hinnekh ("he educated")— Hanakh ("he inaugurated"), bishel ("he cooked")— bashal ("it ripened"). Moreover, there are many verbs in pi’el that have no corresponding forms in pa’al, e.g., tiyyel ("he went for a walk"), zinnev ("he routed the rear"), Hiddesh ("he renewed"), Hiyyekh ("he smiled"), tzivva ("he commanded").

Similarly, it is impossible to be confident that the hiph’il will express the causative of the pa’al, since many verbs in hiph’il do not have any semantic connection with the same root in the pa’al, or have an unpredictable relationship, e.g., yarak ("he spat")— hirik ("it became green"); sarat ("he scratched")— hisrit ("he filmed"); ratza ("he wanted")— hirtze ("he lectured"). Furthermore, there are some verbs in hiph’il whose passive is in niph’al as well as in hoph’al/huph’al (occasionally with some difference in nuance), e.g.,  hirtiac ("he deterred")— nirtac, hidpis ("he published")— nidpas, and these somewhat disturb the predictability in relationship between hiph’il and hoph’al/huph’al.

There is certainly no predictable relationship between pa’al and hitpa’el. Not only are there two large categories of semantic relationships, exemplified, on the one hand, by raHatz ("he washed")— hitraHatz ("he washed himself"), and on the other, by katav ("he wrote")— hitkattev ("he had a correspondence with [someone"]), but there are also many verbs appearing in only one of these conjugations, e.g., gazal ("he robbed") and hitkarer ("he caught a cold"), or which have independent meanings in the two conjugations, e.g., saphar ("he counted")— histapper ("he had his hair cut"). The semantic relationships between other conjugations, such as pi’el hitpa’el or pi’el hiph’il are also unpredictable in similar respects.

An awareness of this situation requires a consideration of the conjugations not as an inflection of one verb but as a set of different verb patterns related by derivation. The relationships between pi’el and pu’al and between hiph’il and hoph’al/huph’al may perhaps be an exception to this generalization.

Uzzi Ornan Encyclopedia Judaica article Hebrew Grammar


[11] “In word formation, modern Hebrew, for the most part, follows the methods inherited from former stages of the language. The available noun and verb patterns are used to the full for innovations. Yet, some possibilities of derivation and combination that in older Hebrew were realized in relatively small measure are now put to use more extensively and, as some maintain, even excessively. The following deserve special mention and exemplification:

(1)    Many nouns and adjectives are derived from noun bases by adding suffixes:

(a)    -an, fem. -anit for nouns, as in:…hatzeran, "trumpeter"; …totaHan, "artilleryman"; …dodan, fem. dodanit, "cousin"; …mahpe>an, "revolutionary," n.;…tiqan, "cockroach,", from …tiq, "envelope," i.e., the protective shell of the insect's eggs.

(b)    -ay, fem. -ait for nouns, as in: …ittonay, fem. 'ittonait, "journalist"; …bulay, "philatelist"; …aviray, "airman"; …mekhonay, "machinist"; …telefonay, fem. telefonait, "telephone operator"; …statistiqay, "statistician".

(c)    -on, fem. -onet, often for diminutive nouns: dubbon, "young bear, teddy bear";…yaldon, "small boy",…yaldonet, "small girl";…shedon, "sprite".

(d)    -i, fem. -it, mainly for adjectives:…tzevai, "military"; …gammadi, "dwarfish"; …afsi, "amounting to nothing";…tehomi, "abysmal",…anaqi, "colossal". The suffix -i is also widely used to derive adjectives from compounded pairs of nouns, as in ...tzefon-mizrahi, "north-eastern", from …sefon-mizrah, northeast; …gav-leshoni, "dorsal," in phonetics, from …gav-lashon, "dorsal surface of the tongue";…kelal-enoshi, "all-human, universal". This mode of derivation, found in the Bible in gentilitial names, like …Ben-Yemini, "Benjaminite" and …Bet-Hallahmi, "Bethlehemite", has also been extended to compounds whose first member is a quantifier, as in …had-kivuni, "unidirectional";…du-leshoni, "bilingual"; …rav-tzedadi, "many-sided"; or a preposition, as in …ben-leummi, "international"; …qedam-miqtzoi, "pre-professional": …cal-enoshi, "superhuman".

(e)    -it, for nouns, some diminutive (besides being the feminine form of -i): …mekhonit, "automobile"; ...monit, "taxi"; …yadit, "handle"; …mappit, "napkin"; … tavit, "label".

(f)     -ut, for abstract or collective nouns: …borerut, "arbitration": …tziyyonut, "Zionism"; …roqeHut, "pharmacology"; … meyalledut, "obstetrics"; …ittonut, "press".

(g)    Several of the foregoing suffixes may combine to form new derivations, such as: …mahpekhani, "revolutionary," adj.; …mahpekhanut, "revolutionism"; …toteHanut, "artillery"; …ittonaut, "journalism"; …gammadiyyut, "dwarfishness"; …afsiyyut, "worthlessness"i.

(2)    New nouns are built by joining elements of two other words, particularly when this is suggested or facilitated by both words having one or more consonants in common or by the second word beginning with a glottal stop (alef) which can easily be omitted. …qolnoa, "cinema" is but a simple joining of …qol, "sound" and…noa, "movement", while…ofannoa, "motorcycle" joins…ofan, "wheel" and …noa. Two original consonants are omitted in …daHpor, a blending of the verbal roots…d.H.f. and …H.f (p).r; with the recurring pair H and f(p) inserted only once, the sequence…d.H.f(p).r is left and shaped into a noun with the vowel sequence a.o frequent in nouns. On the same vowel pattern ramzor, "traffic light" is formed from the verbal root r.m.z, "to indicate" and the noun or, "light" whose initial …'alef is elided. The popular creation …shmartaf, "babysitter” is compounded from…sh.m.r., "to watch" and …taf, "children", but the Academy prefers …shomer-taf modelled after the biblical … shomer-saf, "keeper of the door".

(3)    Among verbal innovations the amount of denominative verbs is significant: …rishshet, "to cover with a net" comes from…reshet, "net";…qirqa, "to ground [an aircraft]" from …qarqa, "ground": …nittev, "to pilot" from…nativ, "path", and numerous others, especially scientific, technological, and military terminology. For such new active verbs, the pattern piel is preferred with hifil left far behind and paal (qal) almost entirely neglected.

(4)    Many of these new denominative verbs are derived from nouns with prefixed or suffixed formatives. Thereby, new roots, mostly quadiliteral, have entered the language:…mirkez, "to centralize", with it the passive participle…mvmurkaz, and the action noun…mirkuz have been derived from…merkaz, "center" to differentiate from the former verb…rikkez, "to concentrate" which shows the original root …r.k.z,…misper, "to number" contains in its secondary root…m.s.p.r the consonants of …mispar, "number", a noun derived from the primary root…s.f(p).r. The relation between…tizmer, "to orchestrate"), …tizmoret, "orchestra", and the primary root …z.m.r is similar. In a piyyut by Eleazar Kallir (of the early Middle Ages) there is the verb…hitmir originating from…temura, "change" which in turn is based on the primary root …m.w.r; the verb…hitmir has now passed from its remote literary source into modern use in the meaning "to substitute" in chemistry. From the primitive root …H.m.z Ben-Yehuda formed the noun …Hamtzan, "oxygen", and this served as a base for the new verb ...Himtzen, "to oxydize".

(5)    Another way to form denominative verbs is to derive new roots from contractions or acrostics of compound words. Thus, from… din-ve-Heshbon, "account, report" first the acrostic …duaH or …devaH, "report" came into use, and then the verb …divvaH, "to report" was formed with the artificial root …d.w.H.. In order to obtain a Hebrew verb for "to internationalize," to which ...ben-leummi, "international" did not lend itself, a contracted root …b.n..m had to be presumed to arrive at the desired verb …bine) and its action noun …binum, "internationalization". However, this presumption is not so farfetched, since there is a Hebrew noun …umma, besides …leom for "nation."

(6)    In analogy to several verbs of the shafel formation inherited from biblical and later Aramaic and Hebrew, some new causative verbs and action nouns with the prefixed sh- have been created from existing roots, mainly where other verb formations had already been exploited for the same root. To these innovations, some of which have been sanctioned by the Academy, belong shiHzer, "to restore", root …H-z-r, "to return", and its action noun …shiHzur; …shiqqem, "to rehabilitate" with …shiqqum as action noun, root …q-w-m, "to rise"; …shifret, "to elaborate" derived from …perat, "detail"; …shikhpel, "to duplicate, multiply (written matter)"), etc. Among the first and most widely used of these new words were …shiHzur with the meaning of restoration of a previous condition inherent in its root …H-z-r, and …shiqqum), which intrinsically only means "causing to rise, erecting," but was used in contexts entailing the connotation of "again." Many speakers, therefore, came to attribute this meaning of remaking or redoing to the shafel formation, and by way of vindicating this semantic shift, some even interpreted the prefixed sh- as an abbreviated …shuv, "again". On this assumption, more verbs and action nouns with initial sh -, corresponding to English re-, have been formed and in part accepted: …shiHlef, "to re-exchange"), root …H-l-f—in another sense …shalHef < shaHlef is already found in the Aramaic of the Targum and Talmud; …shiacarukh, "reassessment", root …c-r-k; …shizra, "to resow", root …z-r- c,… shigzur, "back formation" in linguistics, root …g-z-r- "to derive", etc.

(7)    A considerable number of passive verbal adjectives has been adopted with the vowel sequence a-i inserted in the root and corresponding in meaning to French and English adjectives in -able, -ible. The first of these probably was …shavir, "breakable", followed by …qari, "readable", …savir, "reasonable", …kavis, "washable", …hadir, "penetrable", …daHis, "compressible", and more. However, this pattern has at all times served in the formation of other adjectives (as the biblical cashir "rich" and of nouns (as the biblical qatzir "harvest"). Its application to defective roots meets with difficulites; its use is limited to derivations from paal (qal) verbs, and its corresponding abstract noun is ambiguous (e.g., deHisut may be understood as "compressibility" and as "[state of] compression," from daHus, "compressed"). Words of this semantic category are, therefore, also formed in other ways, either with the suffix -i appended to an action noun, as in …shimmushi, "practical", from …shimmush, "practice, use", or, as in classical Hebrew, either by the use of passive participles, such as, mitqappel, "collapsible," "folding"; …ne’ekhal, "edible"; …mittaltel, "portable", etc., or by compounding … ben- or - …bar- with abstract nouns, mostly action nouns, as in …ben semekh; "reliable", …ben-buz [Bialik], "contemptible"; …bar-bitzuca "executable"); …bar-bittul, "abolishable"), etc.

Syntactic structure in translated literature and in journalistic writing has been greatly influenced by European languages (now mainly English). One of the results, for example, is the frequent appearance of non-restrictive, continuative relative clauses, such as, … ("The police pursued the thief, who escaped into the nearest house"). Although this use is found neither in the colloquial language nor in that of writers whose Hebrew is considered exemplary, it is frequent in journalese and officialese. Some linguists do not condemn it on this level of the language, and the same applies to other syntactic structures, equally foreign to more elevated and conservative style.”

Eli Eytan Encyclopedia Judaica article Hebrew Language