Hebrew is spoken by 4,9 million people in Israel.
Modern Hebrew, Ivrit, was
declared the official language of Israel in 1948.
- Ben-Yehuda based Modern Hebrew on Biblical Hebrew. When the
Committee set out to invent a new word for a certain concept, it
searched through the Biblical word-indexes and foreign dictionaries,
Arabic. While Ben-Yehuda preferred Semitic roots to
European ones, the abundance of European Hebrew speakers led to the
introduction of numerous foreign words. Other changes which had taken
place as Hebrew came back to life were the systematization of the
grammar (due to the Biblical syntax sometimes being limited and
ambiguous) and the adoption of standard Western punctuation.
- Russian influence is particularly evident in Hebrew. For example,
the Russian suffix -acia is used in nouns where English has the suffix
-ation. It is so both in direct borrowings from
Russian, for example "industrializacia",
industrialization, and in words that do not exist in
English "cannibalization" turns into Hebrew "canibalizatcia").
English influence is also very strong, perhaps due to the thirty years
of British rule under the Mandate and the dense ties with the United
States. Yiddish influence is also found, in some diminutives for
Arabic, being the language of numerous Mizrahic and
Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Arab countries as well as of the
Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, has also had an important influence on
- Modern Hebrew is printed with a script known as "square". It is
the same script, ultimately derived from Aramaic, that was used for
copying of Bible books in Hebrew for two thousands years. This script
also has a cursive version, which is used for handwriting.
- Hebrew has been the language of numerous poets, which include
Rahel, Hayim Nahman Byalik, Shaul Tchernihovsky, Lea Goldberg, Avraham
Shlonsky and Natan Alterman. Hebrew was also the language of hundreds
of authors, one of whom is the Nobel Prize laureate Shmuel Yosef Agnon.
- Nearly every immigrant to Israel is encouraged to adopt Standard
Hebrew and its nuances as their daily language. As a dialect, Standard
Hebrew was originally based on Sephardi Hebrew, but has been further
constrained to Ashkenazi phonology to form a unique modern dialect.
- Hebrew grammar is mostly analytical, lacking inflectional
mechanisms for dative constructs, and having no systematic ablative,
accusative or dative constructs. However inflection does play an
important role in the formation of the verbs, nouns and the genitive
construct, which is called "smikhut". Words in smikhut are often
combined with hyphens.
- Hebrew distinguishes between masculine nouns---such as yeled
(="boy, child")---and feminine nouns---such as yaldah (="girl"). There
is no neuter gender. Generally, almost all nouns that end in "ah" are
feminine. Sometimes, as in the example, a feminine form can be formed
through adding a final "ah" to a masculine noun (written as the letter
- Modern Hebrew is written from right to left using the Hebrew
alphabet. Modern scripts are based on the "square" letter form, in
which most of the letters are made by adding lines to the letter resh
(ר). In handwriting, a similar concept is used, however where printed
letters have right angles, scripts have arcs. All Hebrew consonant
phonemes are represented by a single letter. Although a single letter
might represent two phonemes (thus the letter "bet" represents both
/b/ and /v/), they always differ only in the stress, and so can be
considered a single consonant.
- Vowels are optional and written as dots and dashes under the text.
Different combinations of dots and dashes signify different types of
vowels. A convenient rule to remember is that long vowels have an even
number of dots and dashes. The semi-vowels hei, vav and yud can
represent both a consonant (/h/, /v/ and /y/, respectively) or a
vowel, which presence is ambiguous. In the latter case, these letters
are called "emot qria" ("matres lectionis" in
Latin, "mothers of
English). With a vowel, the letter alef is mute. When a
vowel is absent, alef stands for /a/. The letter hei in the end of a
word also sounds like /a/ and signifies the feminine gender. The
letter waw standing after the vowels /u/ and /o/ lengthens them, and
so does the letter yud after the vowel /i/.
- The Hebrew language is normally written in the Hebrew alphabet.
Due to publishing difficulties, and the unfamiliarity of many readers
with the alphabet, there are many ways of transcribing Hebrew into
Roman letters. The most accurate method is the International Phonetic