[b-hebrew] Hebrew as a spoken language

dwashbur at nyx.net dwashbur at nyx.net
Thu Oct 25 19:36:01 EDT 2007

On 25 Oct 2007 at 22:55, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:

> On 10/25/07, Dave Washburn wrote:
> > This appears to be a straw man argument, because I don't know
> > of anyone who actually claims it died  out *completely*.  The argument
> > is that it ceased to be a street language.  I have seen plenty of claims
> > that the DSS, BK documents, etc. PROVE that it was still a commonly-
> > spoken language at the time of Jesus and such, and my point is that
> > they prove no such thing.  To paraphrase your statement above, the
> > question is not whether some people stopped speaking Hebrew.  The
> > question is whether *most* people stopped speaking Hebrew.  The
> > available evidence would suggest the answer is "yes" and the DSS
> > and such do not negate that conclusion.
> The claim was that we can't be sure that it did not die out.  Not that we
> can't be sure that it almost died out.  Not that we can't be sure that it
> did not survive in some small cities that people could visit to learn
> Hebrew.  Rather, that it died out.  There is no straw man argument here.
> When someone makes a claim, I take it as is.  I am not supposed to
> put additional conditioning factors on the claim that are not stated.

The commonly-accepted definition of a language dying out is, it is no longer in common use 
or falls out of general use.  And I'm not sure when we agreed that Hebrew did "survive in 
some small cities that people could visit to learn Hebrew."  I have never suggested such a 
thing; all along I have said that Hebrew "survived" as  a religious language, which is to say it 
fell into narrowly specialized use.  In this regard it "died out" just the same as Latin did at 
the end of the Roman period.  It only "survived" as  a religious language, restricted to 
specialized usage.  That's not survival in the linguistic sense.  You can press literalism as 
much as you like, but knowing Karl's approach to language, and especially Hebrew, I have 
virtually no doubt that this is how he meant the phrase "died out."  When responding to 
another's statement, it's necessary to interpret that statement the way he meant it.
> A language is a means of communication.  It "lives" so long as it is still
> spoken by some community on a daily basis.  It does not die out
> overnight.  Rather, the community slowly breaks up into smaller
> communities, as parts of the community abandon the language.
> There is no telling what the size of the community was.  However,
> that the Mishnah was written in Hebrew suggests that the community
> for whom the Mishnah was written largely spoke Hebrew.  I do not
> think it is the Pharisees, however, because the Pharisees are disputed
> at one point in the Mishnah.

This is an arbitrary definition at best, espcially when dealing with a linguistic matter.  You're 
welcome to it, but it would not be legitimate to claim that it's an actual answer to what Karl 

Dave Washburn
Why do it right when you can do it again?

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list