[b-hebrew] will: modern vs. old hebrew

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Thu Dec 30 21:28:52 EST 2010


On Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 4:22 PM, Nir cohen - Prof. Mat. <nir at ccet.ufrn.br>wrote:

> hello will,
> first i want to refer to your comment on the difference between
> the examples i cited:
> i do not believe that a nation's sentiment to its language
> is influenced by knowing the past trajectory of this language.
> both religious jews and nationalist israelis believe, for better
> or for worse, that hebrew had always been used, and only had
> suffered setbacks here and again. most of them (including, i
> discover, myself) do not know the facts about jewish life in
> the early diaspora. still, they consider old hebrew as part
> and parcel of their language.

The same attitude is held about Elizabethan English, but when people sit
down to read it, they understand only about 80%. The percentage goes down in
poetry, up in narrative. For example, I never understood why I did not want
the Lord my shepherd, until I read it in Hebrew, and on that day I learned
an English archaism.

I have met Israelis at trade shows who have admitted to me that they have
difficulties reading Tanakh for language reasons. Similarly, I have heard (I
could be wrong) that there is a translation of Tanakh to modern Israeli
Hebrew for modern readers.

> returning to your question, below i try to describe what i mean
> by "modern hebrew subsumes old hebrew". basically, jews throughout
> history were careful not to change hebrew as it appears in the bible.
> it is exactly for this reason that i as an israeli find it so easy
> to read the bible.

See above.

> all the revisions of old hebrew (mishnaic, medieval, modern
> etc) were made so as to preserve all the features of the canonized torah.
> most words have been preserved VERBATIM and without a change of meaning,
> the grammer has been preserved TO THE LETTER. the old past form
> VAYEDABER was abandoned, but the new form DIBER is also biblical. the
> accusative/genitive suffix (UNETATIXA, MIPI) etc is not the rule anymore,
> but
> is still used (MA SHIMXA etc). the 7 binyanim are just as in the bible,
> without any change. ALL the grammatical rules of the bible are respected,
> though not all are studied at school and/or are respected
> (say, nobody nowadays drops the DAGESH in beged-kefet berosh mila
> (KI-VAXAR instead of KI-BAXAR).

This is the difference between thinking functionally vs. thinking formally.
Formally, little has changed, other than adding all sorts of waws, yods,
aleps, and so forth. It still closely resembles Masoretic Hebrew. But the
functions they represent have greatly changed.

An example of the two ways of thinking is found at
http://www.wikinfo.org/index.php/Hebrew_thought . And how many words had
changed meanings as early as the Mishnaic period, and modern Hebrew
preserves the Mishnaic meanings?

End result, if a person knows only Biblical Hebrew, he will not be able to
understand modern Israeli Hebrew. A newspaper looks about as foreign as
Chaucer does to a modern American.

>> journalistic hebrew deviates slightly due to lack of vowels, and adds
> freely
> aleph, yod, vav where they do not belong. some daily-use dictionaries,
> and many authors, already adopt this modified way of writing, altogether in
> a
> non-uniform way.
> clearly, street language, slang, and internet talk are pretty different.
> for example, most israelis cannot spell correctly, apply the vowel system.
> or use the DAGESH correctly. exactly because

Not formally, but in practice.

> so, in this sense i do not completely agree with karl when he says that
> modern
> hebrew has different grammar than biblical hebrew. just a
> little bit.

Take for example the verb: formally it still has the yiqtol, qatal,
participle, infinitive and so forth, but they denote different functions.
One of the few things I learned about modern Hebrew is that the different
forms denote tense: the yiqtol is future, participle present, and qatal
past. But in Biblical Hebrew, the participle used in declarative
conversation denotes future, present, and if I looked, I probably could find
past as well. Both the qatal and yiqtol denote future, present and past.
Those differences and others similar to that loom large when trying to get a
feel for the language and to anticipate from the context what types of words
to expect next based on what went before. (That’s a skill I learned to
compensate for dyslexia.)

A person who is comfortable with Biblical Hebrew but unfamiliar with modern
Hebrew will find sentences where he expects to find a verb, there will be a
noun, or an infinitive and instead finds an adjective, and so forth. I don’t
mean this negatively, but modern Israeli Hebrew looks weird.

> in the broader cultural sense, biblical (and to some degree, mishnaic)
> quotations are frequent in common daily use, biblical hebrew features in
> songs, poems and other literay work, much more so
> than shakespeare in english.

That’s because most modern people have difficulty understanding Shakespeare,
unless translated to modern English. Biblical quotations from the KJV are
far more common and influential. Faith has a large influence there.

> nir cohen
> Karl W. Randolph.

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