Hebrew

Hebrew is a Semitic language that is native to Western Asia. It’s spoken by over 9 million people, of which 5 million have it as their native language. Most speakers are citizens of the State of Israel, which was established in 1948. Along with Arabic—to whom it’s linguistically related—Hebrew is one of the official languages of the country. It’s currently regulated by the Academy of the Hebrew language (האקדמיה ללשון העברית).

Hebrew is written from right to left. It uses an abjad script, which is a writing system where each letter stands for a consonant. This means that vowels are not represented, even though some consonants can represent vowels (matres lectionis). A system of diacritical signs known as niqqud may be used to indicate vowels, especially in dictionaries, poetry, and texts for children.

Hebrew words are typically made up of 3-consonantal roots, from which nouns, adjectives, and verbs are formed by inserting vowels, doubling consonants, adding prefixes or suffixes, etc. Although Biblical Hebrew had a verb-subject-object ordering, Modern Hebrew prefers subject-verb-object. The verb ‘to be’ in the present tense is omitted. Another fun fact is that Hebrew has no capital letters.

The oldest Hebrew inscriptions date from the 10th century BCE (before the Common/Current Era). Hebrew flourished as a spoken language in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah until 586 BCE. The Tanakh, also called the Hebrew Bible, was written mostly in Hebrew. Some passages were written in Aramaic, another Semitic language that would end up displacing Hebrew as a spoken language in the Land of Israel.

After the 2nd century CE (Common/Current Era) when the Roman Empire had exiled most of the Jewish population, Jews would end up adopting the languages of the societies in which they found themselves. In some cases, they would develop new languages, such as Ladino and Yiddish. By the 5th century CE, Hebrew was no longer spoken. Still, it would continue to survive as the language of Jewish liturgy and rabbinical literature.

In the 19th century, Hebrew was revived as a spoken and literary language. It became the lingua franca of the Jews that lived and/or moved to the Land of Israel, which was part of the Ottoman Empire up until 1917. Standard Modern Hebrew was developed by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922). Hebrew is currently the only successful example of a revived dead language.

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