Modern Hebrew

Modern Hebrew
Israeli Hebrew
עברית חדשה, ʿivrít ḥadašá[h]

The word shalom as rendered in Modern Hebrew, including vowel points
Native to Israel
Native speakers
9.0 million (2014)[1]
including native, fluent, and non-fluent speakers.[2][3]
Early forms
Hebrew alphabet
Hebrew Braille
Signed Hebrew (oral Hebrew accompanied by sign)[4]
Official status
Official language in
Regulated by Academy of the Hebrew Language
האקדמיה ללשון העברית (HaAkademia LaLashon HaʿIvrit)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 heb
Glottolog hebr1245[5]

The Hebrew-speaking world:
  regions where Hebrew is the language of the majority
  regions where Hebrew is the language of a significant minority

Modern Hebrew or Israeli Hebrew (Hebrew: עברית חדשה, ʿivrít ḥadašá[h] – "Modern Hebrew" or "New Hebrew"), generally referred to by speakers simply as Hebrew (עברית Ivrit), is the standard form of the Hebrew language spoken today. Spoken in ancient times, Hebrew, a Canaanite language, was supplanted as the Jewish vernacular by the western dialect of Aramaic beginning in the third century BCE, though it continued to be used as a liturgical and literary language. It was revived as a spoken language in the 19th and 20th centuries and is one of the two official languages of Israel, along with Modern Standard Arabic.

Modern Hebrew is spoken by about nine million people, counting native, fluent, and non-fluent speakers.[2][3] Most speakers are citizens of Israel: about five million are Israelis who speak Modern Hebrew as their native language, 1.5 million are immigrants to Israel, 1.5 million are Arab citizens of Israel, whose first language is usually Arabic, and half a million are expatriate Israelis or diaspora Jews living outside Israel.

The organization that officially directs the development of the Modern Hebrew language, under the law of the State of Israel, is the Academy of the Hebrew Language.


The most common scholarly term for the language is "Modern Hebrew" (עברית חדשה ʿivrít ħadašá[h]). Most people refer to it simply as Hebrew (עברית Ivrit).[6]

The term "Modern Hebrew" has been described as "somewhat problematic"[7] as it implies unambiguous periodization from Biblical Hebrew.[7] Haiim B. Rosén supported the now widely used[7] term "Israeli Hebrew" on the basis that it "represented the non-chronological nature of Hebrew".[6][8] In 2006, Israeli linguist Ghil'ad Zuckermann proposed the term "Israeli" to represent the multiple origins of the language.[6]


Main article: Hebrew language

One can divide the history of the Hebrew language into four major periods:[9]

Jewish contemporary sources describe Hebrew flourishing as a spoken language in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, during about 1200 to 586 BCE.[10] Scholars debate the degree to which Hebrew remained a spoken vernacular following the Babylonian captivity, when Old Aramaic became the predominant international language in the region.

Hebrew died out as a vernacular language somewhere between 200 and 400 CE, declining after the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132–136 CE, which devastated the population of Judea. After the exile Hebrew became restricted to liturgical use.[11]


The revival of the Hebrew language was led by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Modern Hebrew used Biblical Hebrew morphemes, Mishnaic spelling, and Sephardic pronunciation. Idioms and calques were made from Yiddish. Its acceptance by the early Jewish immigrants to Ottoman Palestine was primarily due to support from the organisations of Edmond James de Rothschild in the 1880s and the official status it received in the 1922 constitution of the British Mandate for Palestine.[12][13][14][15] Ben-Yehuda used a stock of 8,000 words from the Bible and 20,000 words from rabbinical commentaries and codified and planned the new language, Modern Hebrew.[16] For a simple comparison between the Sephardic version of Mishnaic Hebrew and the Yemenite version of the same, see Yemenite Hebrew.


Modern Hebrew is classified as an Afroasiatic language of the Semitic family and the Canaanite branch of the North-West semitic subgroup.[17][18][19][20] Although it has been influenced by non-Semitic languages, Modern Hebrew retains its Semitic character in its morphology and in much of its syntax.[21] A minority of scholars argue that the revived language had been so influenced by various substrate languages that it is genealogically a hybrid with Indo-European.[22][23][24][25] These theories have not been met with general acceptance, and Modern Hebrew continues to be considered a Semitic language by most experts.[18][26] Modern Hebrew is based on Mishnaic and Biblical Hebrew, and is commonly seen as a direct continuation of one or both.[27]


Modern Hebrew is phonetically simpler than Biblical Hebrew, having fewer phonemes, but is phonologically more complex. It has 25 to 27 consonants and 8 to 10 vowels, depending on the speaker and the analysis.

The following table lists the consonant phonemes of Israeli Hebrew in IPA transcription:[1]

Labial Alveolar Palato-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
Stop pb td kɡ ʔ2
Affricate ts  ()4()4
Fricative fv sz ʃ(ʒ)4 x~χɣ~ʁ (/r/)3 (ħʕ)1 h2
Nasal m n
Approximant l j (w)4
1 The pharyngeal consonants /ħ/ and /ʕ/ are only pronounced by older Mizrahi speakers. Most speakers replace them with /x~χ/ and /ʔ/.[28]
2 The glottal consonants are not usually pronounced except in careful or formal speech.[28]
3 Commonly transcribed /r/. This is usually pronounced as a velar fricative [ɣ], sometimes as a uvular fricative or approximant [ʁ], and sometimes as a uvular or alveolar trill, depending on the background of the speaker.[28]
4 The phonemes /w/, /tʃ/, /dʒ/, /ʒ/ were introduced through borrowings.

Obstruents assimilate in voicing: voiceless obstruents (/p t ts tʃ k, f s ʃ x/) become voiced ([b d dz dʒ ɡ, v z ʒ ɣ]) when they appear immediately before voiced obstruents, and vice versa. For example:

Hebrew has nine vowel phonemes, five short and four long:[1]

front central back
high i u
mid e̞ː o̞ː
low ä äː

Long vowels occur unpredictably where two identical vowels were historically separated by a pharyngeal or glottal consonant, and the first was stressed. Any of the five short vowels may be realized as a schwa [ə] when far from lexical stress. There are two diphthongs, /aj/ and /ej/.[1]

Most lexical words have lexical stress on one of the last two syllables, of which the last syllable is the more frequent in formal speech. Loanwords may have stress on the antepenultimate syllable or even further back.


Modern Hebrew morphology is essentially Biblical.[29] Modern Hebrew has also maintained much of the inflectional morphology of its classical forebears. In the formation of new words, all verbs and the majority of nouns and adjectives are formed by the classically Semitic devices of triconsonantal roots (shoresh) with affixed patterns (mishkal). Mishnaic attributive patterns are often used to create nouns, and Classical patterns are often used to create adjectives. Blended words are created by merging two bound stems or parts of words. Modern Hebrew has thus been able to expand its vocabulary effectively to meet the needs of casual vernacular, of science and technology, of journalism and belles-lettres, while retaining the flavor of its ancient Semitic origins.


Modern Hebrew has loanwords from Arabic (mainly Judeo-Arabic), Aramaic, Yiddish, Judaeo-Spanish, German, Polish, Russian, English and other languages. Modern Hebrew has preserved many ancient Hebrew words that were originally loanwords from the languages of surrounding nations: Classical Hebrew literature borrowed from other Canaanite languages as well as Akkadian. Mishnaic Hebrew borrowed many nouns from Aramaic, as well as some from Greek. In the Middle Ages Hebrew borrowed heavily from Spanish, Greek, and Arabic. Some typical examples of Hebrew loanwords are:

ביי/baj/goodbye Englishbye
דיג׳יי/ˈdidʒej/DJלדג׳ה/ledaˈdʒe/to DJto DJ
ואללה/ˈwala/really!? Arabicواللهreally!?
כיף/kef/funלכייף/lekaˈjef/to have fun[w 1]كيفpleasure
חפיף/χaˈfif/lightlyלהתחפף/lehitχaˈfef/to scram[w 2]خَفِيفlightly
אבא/ˈaba/daddy Aramaicאבאthe father/my father
חלטורה/χalˈtura/shoddy jobלחלטר/leχalˈteɣ/to moonlightRussianхалтураshoddy work[w 3]
בלגן/balaˈɡan/messלבלגן/levalˈɡen/to make a messбалаганchaos[w 3]
תכל׳ס/ˈtaχles/directly Yiddishתּכליתgoal
חרופ/χʁop/deep sleepלחרופ/laχˈʁop/to sleep deeplyכראָפּsnore
שפכטל/ˈʃpaχtel/putty knife GermanSpachtelputty knife
גומי/ˈɡumi/rubberגומיה/ɡumiˈja/rubber bandGummirubber
gazoz[w 4]
eau gazeuse
פוסטמה/pusˈtema/stupid woman Ladino inflamed wound[w 5]
אדריכל/adʁiˈχal/architectאדריכלות/adʁiχaˈlut/architectureAkkadianarad-ekallitemple servant[w 6]
  1. bitFormation. "Loanwords in Hebrew from Arabic". Retrieved 2014-08-26.
  2. "morfix dictionary". Retrieved 2014-08-26.
  3. 1 2 bitFormation. "Loanwords in Hebrew from Russian". Retrieved 2014-08-26.
  4. bitFormation. "Loanwords in Hebrew from Turkish". Retrieved 2014-08-26.
  5. bitFormation. "Loanwords in Hebrew from Ladino". Retrieved 2014-08-26.
  6. אתר השפה העברית. "Loanwords in Hebrew from Akkadian". Retrieved 2014-08-26.


The syntax of Modern Hebrew is mainly Mishnaic,[29] while also showing the influence of different contact languages to which its speakers have been exposed over the past century.

Word order

The word order of Modern Hebrew is predominately SVO (subject–verb–object). Biblical Hebrew was originally verb–subject–object (VSO), but drifted into SVO.[30] Modern Hebrew maintains classical syntactic properties associated with VSO languages—it is prepositional rather than postpositional in making case and adverbial relations, auxiliary verbs precede main verbs; main verbs precede their complements, and noun modifiers (adjectives, determiners other than the definite article ה-, and noun adjuncts) follow the head noun, hence in genitive constructions the possessee noun precedes the possessor. Moreover, Modern Hebrew allows and in cases requires sentences with a predicate initial.



  1. 1 2 3 4 Dekel 2014
  2. 1 2 Klein, Zeev (March 18, 2013). "A million and a half Israelis struggle with Hebrew". Israel Hayom. Retrieved 2 November 2013.
  3. 1 2 Nachman Gur, Behadrey Haredim. "Kometz Aleph – Au• How many Hebrew speakers are there in the world?". Retrieved 2 November 2013.
  4. Meir & Sandler, 2013, A Language in Space: The Story of Israeli Sign Language
  5. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Hebrew". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  6. 1 2 3 Dekel 2014; quote: "Most people refer to Israeli Hebrew simply as Hebrew. Hebrew is a broad term, which includes Hebrew as it was spoken and written in different periods of time and according to most of the researchers as it is spoken and written in Israel and elsewhere today. Several names have been proposed for the language spoken in Israel nowadays, Modern Hebrew is the most common one, addressing the latest spoken language variety in Israel (Berman 1978, Saenz-Badillos 1993:269, Coffin-Amir & Bolozky 2005, Schwarzwald 2009:61). The emergence of a new language in Palestine at the end of the nineteenth century was associated with debates regarding the characteristics of that language.... Not all scholars supported the term Modern Hebrew for the new language. Rosén (1977:17) rejected the term Modern Hebrew, since linguistically he claimed that 'modern' should represent a linguistic entity that should command autonomy towards everything that preceded it, while this was not the case in the new emerging language. He also rejected the term Neo-Hebrew, because the prefix 'neo' had been previously used for Mishnaic and Medieval Hebrew (Rosén 1977:15–16), additionally, he rejected the term Spoken Hebrew as one of the possible proposals (Rosén 1977:18). Rosén supported the term Israeli Hebrew as in his opinion it represented the non-chronological nature of Hebrew, as well as its territorial independence (Rosén 1977:18). Rosén then adopted the term Contemporary Hebrew from Téne (1968) for its neutrality, and suggested the broadening of this term to Contemporary Israeli Hebrew (Rosén 1977:19)"
  7. 1 2 3 Matras & Schiff 2005; quote: The language with which we are concerned in this contribution is also known by the names Contemporary Hebrew and Modern Hebrew, both somewhat problematic terms as they rely on the notion of an unambiguous periodization separating Classical or Biblical Hebrew from the present-day language. We follow instead the now widely-used label coined by Rosén (1955), Israeli Hebrew, to denote the link between the emergence of a Hebrew vernacular and the emergence of an Israeli national identity in Israel/Palestine in the early twentieth century."
  8. Haiim Rosén (1 January 1977). Contemporary Hebrew. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 15–18. ISBN 978-3-11-080483-6.
  9. Hebrew language Enclopedia Brittannica
  10. אברהם בן יוסף ,מבוא לתולדות הלשון העברית (Avraham ben-Yosef, Introduction to the History of the Hebrew Language), page 38, אור-עם, Tel Aviv, 1981.
  11. Sáenz-Badillos, Ángel and John Elwolde: "There is general agreement that two main periods of RH (Rabbinical Hebrew) can be distinguished. The first, which lasted until the close of the Tannaitic era (around 200 CE), is characterized by RH as a spoken language gradually developing into a literary medium in which the Mishnah, Tosefta, baraitot and Tannaitic midrashim would be composed. The second stage begins with the Amoraim and sees RH being replaced by Aramaic as the spoken vernacular, surviving only as a literary language. Then it continued to be used in later rabbinic writings until the tenth century in, for example, the Hebrew portions of the two Talmuds and in midrashic and haggadic literature."
  12. Hobsbawm, Eric (2012). Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-39446-9., "What would the future of Hebrew have been, had not the British Mandate in 1919 accepted it as one of the three official languages of Palestine, at a time when the number of people speaking Hebrew as an everyday language was less than 20,000?"
  13. Swirski, Shlomo (11 September 2002). Politics and Education in Israel: Comparisons with the United States. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-58242-5.: "In retrospect, [Hobsbawm's] question should be rephrased, substituting the Rothschild house for the British state and the 1880s for 1919. For by the time the British conquered Palestine, Hebrew had become the everyday language of a small but well-entrenched community."
  14. Palestine Mandate (1922): "English, Arabic and Hebrew shall be the official languages of Palestine"
  15. Benjamin Harshav (1999). Language in Time of Revolution. Stanford University Press. pp. 85–. ISBN 978-0-8047-3540-7.
  16. Roberto Garvio, Esperanto and its Rivals, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015, p. 164
  17. Hebrew at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  18. 1 2 Weninger, Stefan, Geoffrey Khan, Michael P. Streck, Janet CE Watson, Gábor Takács, Vermondo Brugnatelli, H. Ekkehard Wolff et al. The Semitic Languages. An International Handbook. Berlin–Boston (2011).
  19. Robert Hetzron (1997). The Semitic Languages. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780415057677.
  20. Hadumod Bussman (2006). Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics. Routledge. p. 199. ISBN 9781134630387.
  21. Patrick R. Bennett (1998). Comparative Semitic Linguistics: A Manual. Eisenbrauns. ISBN 9781575060217.
  22. Olga Kapeliuk (1996). "Is Modern Hebrew the only "Indo-Europeanied" Semitic Language? And what about Neo-Aramaic?". In Shlomo Izre'el; Shlomo Raz. Studies in Modern Semitic Languages. Israel Oriental Studies. BRILL. p. 59. ISBN 9789004106468.
  23. Wexler, Paul, The Schizoid Nature of Modern Hebrew: A Slavic Language in Search of a Semitic Past: 1990.
  24. Izre'el, Shlomo (2003). "The Emergence of Spoken Israeli Hebrew." In: Benjamin H. Hary (ed.), Corpus Linguistics and Modern Hebrew: Towards the Compilation of The Corpus of Spoken Israeli Hebrew (CoSIH)", Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, The Chaim Rosenberg School of Jewish Studies, 2003, pp. 85–104.
  25. See p. 62 in Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2006), "A New Vision for 'Israeli Hebrew': Theoretical and Practical Implications of Analysing Israel's Main Language as a Semi-Engineered Semito-European Hybrid Language", Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 5 (1), pp. 57–71.
  26. Yael Reshef. "The Re-Emergence of Hebrew as a National Language" in Weninger, Stefan, Geoffrey Khan, Michael P. Streck, Janet CE Watson, Gábor Takács, Vermondo Brugnatelli, H. Ekkehard Wolff et al. (eds) The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook. Berlin–Boston (2011). p. 551
  27. Robert Hetzron. (1987). "Hebrew". In The World's Major Languages, ed. Bernard Comrie, 686–704. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  28. 1 2 3 Dekel 2014.
  29. 1 2 R. Malatesha Joshi; P. G. Aaron, eds. (2013). Handbook of Orthography and Literacy. Routledge. p. 343. ISBN 9781136781353.
  30. Li, Charles N. Mechanisms of Syntactic Change. Austin: U of Texas, 1977. Print.

External links

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