[b-hebrew] Mishnaic Hebrew

Kevin Riley klriley at alphalink.com.au
Wed Nov 23 17:13:40 EST 2011


Have you considered that reduction in the 'richness' of a language comes 
not only when a language is no longer spoken 'natively', but also where 
it is in reduced circumstances.  There are many examples that could be 
chosen, but perhaps a more familiar example is that of the Celtic 
languages.  It is not only in areas where Irish (for example) became a 
second language that it's vocabulary and syntax became simplified, but 
also in areas where it remained the main language.  You can still today 
find children who before going to school have a very poor command of 
English and can function fluently in Irish.  But their Irish is not as 
rich, and never will be unless they actively work on it, as that of 
Irish speakers 3 or 4 centuries ago.  The results you see as indicating 
Hebrew is a 'learnt' language could just as easily indicate that Hebrew 
is no longer the language for all activities, but could still be spoken 
by the majority of the population as their native language.  It was the 
loss of the literary classes to English that impoverished Irish.  Not 
even that the nobility and scholars ceased to speak Irish, simply that 
most moved the high level language activities to English.  In other 
words, you had a situation of diglossia.  Irish remained in many areas 
the first language a child learnt, and continued as the language in 
which they conducted most of everyday life, but literature and formal 
occasions called for English.  I think that fits better the stories of 
Rabbis getting the meaning of rare Hebrew words from servants.  The 
'upper classes' are likely to live more of their lives in situations 
calling for the 'high' language, whereas the lower classes spend a much 
greater proportion of their lives using the 'low' language.  I can no 
more prove this situation existed than you can your theory, but it is 
worth considering whether there are other scenarios apart from the one 
you favour that can explain the data just as well - or even better.

Kevin Riley

On 24/11/2011 8:27 AM, K Randolph wrote:
> Chavoux:
> On Wed, Nov 23, 2011 at 12:54 PM, Chavoux Luyt<chavoux at gmail.com>  wrote:
>> Hi Karl
>> You wrote:
>>> We find the statement in Nehemiah 13:24 that the mixed marriages resulted
>>> in children who did not understand Hebrew. That would not have been
>>> necessary if this had been a Hebrew speaking milieu—even if the children
>>> spoke the other languages at home, they would pick up Hebrew at a young
>> age
>>> from the street. But this does become an issue in an Aramaic speaking
>>> milieu where the women from mixed marriages taught their children their
>>> native tongues at home, possibly as a second language, where speaking
>>> Hebrew was something to be taught as a second language, necessary because
>>> of its religious and civic uses (similar to medieval Latin).
>> I must say that I doubt it that a language (and its pronunciation)
>> could disappear in a single generation.
> The Babylonian Exile itself lasted over two generations, and the events
> listed in both Nehemiah and Ezra were a few generations after that. I think
> Nehemiah opens in 417 BC and Ezra slightly after that.
> Those who have worked with immigrants and their children find that the
> children generally have but a smattering of their parents’ languages, the
> grandchildren almost none, unless the language is systematically taught as
> a second language. In the latter case, the children’s primary language that
> they speak in their everyday usage is the language of their milieu, their
> ancestors’ language the second language.
>> Yes some of the mixed children
>> could not understand Hebrew. But there certainly must have been enough
>> native speakers of Hebrew to keep the language alive (there were still
>> some old men alive who remembered the first temple!), especially in
>> Israel itself among the returnees.
> See above.
>> Shalom
>> Chavoux Luyt
> Karl W. Randolph.
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