[b-hebrew] Hebrew as a spoken language

dwashbur at nyx.net dwashbur at nyx.net
Sat Oct 27 14:58:55 EDT 2007

On 27 Oct 2007 at 18:26, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:

> On 10/26/07, Dave Washburn wrote:
> > Hold on.  You said in an earlier posting that, even after Latin ceased to
> > be the common language and was restricted to the religious environment,
> > it continued to change and develop.  But Hebrew couldn't have done the
> > same thing?  That sounds like special pleading, and it doesn't work.
> No I didn't.  Karl said that.  I remain non-committal on that point of whether
> Latin continued to change after it died as a commonly spoken language.
> However, I did state that Latin served as a language for liturgy and religious
> affairs while it was still a popularly spoken language, not just for religious
> matters but for standard day to day matters.  It only later died (or more
> accurately, it didn't die, but its later stages are not called Latin, but rather
> Romance, Italian, French, Spanish, etc.)  

Ummmmm, no.  It ceased to be the common spoken language essentially after the fall of the 
Roman empire.  It continued to be used by certain elite groups well into the Renaissance, 
but the common folk didn't know it.  I'm not sure how you manage to try and drag 
descendant languages into it, but I won't go there.

> > I never said it was a language "dead hundreds of years at the time."   What
> >I have said over and over, and I believe Karl did as well, is that it
> ceased to be
> > the common language around the time of the Exile.  Pot and kettle, my friend.
> >From my point of view, a language is dead if it survives solely as a literary
> language and is not the language that any mother uses to say to her child,
> "No, you can't have candy," and the child answers "Why not?"

While I could dispute your definition, it's irrelevant, because I never said, and as far as I 
know Karl never said, that Hebrew was "dead."  Please stop the smokescreen.  We all 
agree that it was spoken, but the questions, which you seem to keep dodging, are 1. by 
whom, 2. how widespread was its use after the Exile, and 3. when did it cease to be a 
common language learned at the parents' knees?  All this other stuff is peripheral.

> > >From my point of view, the Bar Kokhba letters are also significant
> > > because of a letter explaining why the letter itself was not written
> > > in Hebrew, because no one nearby the author knew Hebrew.  The very
> > > statement suggests that elsewhere where letters were in Hebrew,
> > > Hebrew was a spoken language.  See here:
> > > http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-hebrew/2004-November/021371.html
> >
> > This is getting tiresome.  Please stop misrepresenting my words.
> The Bar Kochba correspondence are not "religious," they are political.
> Bar Kochba probably did legislate a use of Hebrew as a language of
> political communication.  However, what the letter shows is that this
> could not be enforced in places where people did not speak Hebrew
> in common day to day life.  I ask that in any case that evidence is
> offered for spoken Hebrew (such as the BK correspondence), and
> you still interpret "spoken" as "not spoken by the common population,"
> you show how it is consistent with the evidence provided.  

You just did that for me.  Yes, BK's writings are political, but they are built on a strong sense 
of nationalism.  What was one thing that set the nation apart?  The Hebrew language, which 
had been used by the religious leaders and perhaps some other elites, though this latter is 
questionable.  You agree that there were "places where people did not speak Hebrew in 
common day to day life."  I submit that these "places" were much more widespread than you 
care to acknowledge, in fact the vast majority of the common people fell into such a 
category.  And your citation of the BK letters appear to bear this idea out.  So it would seem 
that you answered your own question.

> if I misrepresent your words, please state what the appropriate
> representation is.  I try to do it when I feel you misunderstand me, and
> I think if you do the same it would serve to further the discussion.

You keep claiming that I said Hebrew was "dead."  I never have, because it wasn't.
> > > It was suggested that Hebrew was a language of trade, legal
> > > documents, and high society.
> >
> > Suggested by whom?  Not by me.  Citations, please.
> Karl.  This discussion began when I contested a common assertion made by
> Karl.  You came in essentially to defend what Karl said.  You may not have
> said it.  But I did not say that you said it.    See here:
> http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-hebrew/2007-October/034065.html
> You responded to this post here:
> http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-hebrew/2007-October/034067.html
> You had no problems with Karl making that statement then.

If you had bothered to quote it in toto, I wouldn't have had a problem with you repeating it.  
However, you didn't.  He said:

...it was the language of law, trade, religion, high literature, spoken
fluently by millions *though none learned it at his mother's knee*.
(emphasis mine)

Note what he actually said: law (religiously-based), trade (I might question that, but it's not a 
major point), religion (which you conveniently omitted), high literature (not "high society" as 
you claimed).  And he explicitly said none learned it "at his mother's knee," which is the 
whole question.
> > [snip]
> > > Yes, we are discussing Hebrew, not Aramaic.  But I could have said
> > > the same thing for Latin.  Of course, other languages which died or did
> > > not die out are useful for comparison in the case of Hebrew.  In the days
> > > before internet, mass communication, and even the printing press,
> > > language death was much much slower.   A town would not magically
> > > switch over to a new language when the official documents began to
> > > be spoken in the new language.  The elite would actually learn the
> > > new language.  But the common farmer who had to go to the public
> > > market to sell his stuff?  What did he need the language of the empire
> > > for?
> >
> > Latin is useful for comparison because it moved from being a common
> > language to a restricted usage, specifically religious, which I suggest also
> > happened to Hebrew after the Exile.  This clearly did not happen to Aramaic,
> > so it really isn't relevant.
> What about Syriac?  But more importantly, you can't just allow comparisons
> which suit your position (even though, see the above, I do not feel those
> comparisons are justified).  In the case of Aramaic, what Neo-Aramaic
> shows is that a language can remain living -- in the sense that it is spoken
> by common people for non-religious or non-literary purposes, "learned at
> mother's knee", centuries, even over a thousand years after the language
> of the surrounding area has changed.  This is why it becomes highly
> suspect to suggest that Hebrew was no longer spoken a generation or
> two after the exile.

I'm tired of this.  Nobody said "Hebrew was no longer spoken a generation or two after the 
exile."  I have corrected this statement several times but you persist in the 
misrepresentation.  I'm finished with this discussion.
> > > You can claim that the DSS and BK and Mishnaic statements and
> > > language, among other things do not prove that Hebrew was a living
> > > language.  But it is just a claim?  Why don't they prove.  Where is the
> > > evidence?
> >
> > Already answered.
> I must have missed it.  Please point me to the appropriate paragraph in
> the archives.

I have neither the time nor the interest to comb through the archives correcting your 
oversights.  I will not reply again.

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

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list