[b-hebrew] Hebrew - a live language throughout the generations

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Wed Dec 29 16:37:35 EST 2010

On Wed, 29 Dec 2010 11:46:38 -0800, "Yodan" <yodan at yodanco.com> wrote:
> Shalom! 
> I apologize in advance for not reading all the recent posts on whether
> Hebrew is (has been) a live, dead, or resurrected from the dead language. 

Then you probably should.

> Therefore, I'm not sure if anyone mentioned the book Ivrit Safa Meduberet
> ("Hebrew - A Spoken Language") by Shlomo Haramati, a professor at the Hebrew
> University. This slim, easy-read book, published in 2000, reviews the use of
> Hebrew throughout the generations and discusses/debunks the myth that Hebrew
> was a dead language that was "resurrected" by Ben-Yehuda. 

As has been brought up elsewhere in this thread, whether Hebrew was "dead"
or not will depend on one's definition of what a "dead" language is.  The
most common one is a language that has no native speakers.  Does Prof.
Haramati contend that Hebrew was continuously used as the mother tongue of
a community from ancient times to the present?  If not, then by the common
definition, Hebrew was in fact dead.  (Please note that I am not endorsing
this terminology, just recording it.)

> One of the points in this book is that while Ben-Yehuda's efforts and
> accomplishments in inventing new words and in making the daily use of Hebrew
> as a primary language are invaluable and are certainly acknowledged, it is
> incorrect to consider Hebrew a dead language. 

It may or may not be incorrect depending on one's definitions.

> Because it is clear (to me and to many others) that today's Hebrew has
> evolved from Biblical Hebrew through the continued use of the language, much
> as modern English has evolved from old English etc.,

Clear?  Why is it clear?  Modern Hebrew did not evolve as a spoken language
in the same way that Modern English has evolved from Old English, but was
largely recreated consciously on BH models.

> I don't see how we can
> say that Hebrew (or Biblical Hebrew) is a dead language. IMHO a "dead"
> language is one that, except for academic researchers, no one is using it in
> speaking, writing, teaching, prayer, singing, communicating, etc. 

Of course you can define a "dead" language in any way you want (and I'm not
saying your way is wrong), but others have different criteria.

> If Fred, who insists on referring to Hebrew (Biblical Hebrew, I presume) as
> a dead language has not done so already, perhaps he'll kindly defined "dead
> language" for us. If he has done so, sorry I missed it (as I said, I didn't
> read each post on the topic - my apologies).

Actually, he has.

William Parsons

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