[b-hebrew] Mishnaic Hebrew

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Wed Nov 23 19:35:27 EST 2011


You make an interesting point.

However, the higher level activities in post-Babylonian Exile Judea were
supposed to be in Hebrew, not Aramaic. The highest, of course, being the
cultic activities of their religion. The next highest being the internal
governmental activities. High literature another.

Lower level activities, like occasional contact with their distant emperor
and trade, could be carried on in Aramaic. That the lower level activities
including the local market, even home use, apparently were in Aramaic would
seem to be the opposite of your point. But thanks for bringing it up, it
made me stop and think.

That the Hebrew became simplified in this situation argues that the pool of
native mother-tongue Hebrew speakers was very small thus unable to keep up
the richness the language previously had, or as I think is more probable,
that Hebrew was spoken as a second language, similar to how Latin was
spoken as a second language during the medieval period to take care of the
higher level activities in that time and place.

Taken in context with the comment by Nehemiah only strengthens my
conclusion that Hebrew was a second language.

As for that story about rabbis learning from a servant girl about Hebrew
language, there is only one that I have heard of repeated ad nauseam where
today we have no indication of where she learned Hebrew (could have been
from hearing the rabbi and his students studying) nor how long she worked
for the rabbi before he recognized her competence and used her in
linguistic activities. That lack of information about her does not allow us
to use her example as evidence for anything.

Karl W. Randolph.

On Wed, Nov 23, 2011 at 2:13 PM, Kevin Riley <klriley at alphalink.com.au>wrote:

> Karl
> 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

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