Modern Hebrew or Israeli Hebrew (Hebrew: עברית חדשה, ʿivrít ḥadašá[h], [ivˈrit xadaˈʃa] – "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. 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).
The term "Modern Hebrew" has been described as "somewhat problematic" as it implies unambiguous periodization from Biblical Hebrew. Haiim B. Rosén supported the now widely used term "Israeli Hebrew" on the basis that it "represented the non-chronological nature of Hebrew". In 2006, Israeli linguist Ghil'ad Zuckermann proposed the term "Israeli" to represent the multiple origins of the language.
One can divide the history of the Hebrew language into four major periods:Biblical Hebrew, until about the 3rd century BCE; the language of most of the Hebrew Bible
Mishnaic Hebrew, the language of the Mishnah and Talmud
Medieval Hebrew, from about the 6th to the 13th century CE
Modern Hebrew, the language of the modern State of Israel.
Jewish contemporary sources describe Hebrew flourishing as a spoken language in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, during about 1200 to 586 BCE. 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.
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. 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. 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. Although it has been influenced by non-Semitic languages, Modern Hebrew retains its Semitic character in its morphology and in much of its syntax. 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. These theories have not been met with general acceptance, and Modern Hebrew continues to be considered a Semitic language by most experts. Modern Hebrew is based on Mishnaic and Biblical Hebrew, and is commonly seen as a direct continuation of one or both.
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
The pharyngeal consonants /ħ/
are only pronounced by older Mizrahi speakers. Most speakers replace them with /x~χ/
The glottal consonants are not usually pronounced except in careful or formal speech.
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.
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.
Hebrew has nine vowel phonemes, five short and four long:
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/.
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. 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:
The syntax of Modern Hebrew is mainly Mishnaic, while also showing the influence of different contact languages to which its speakers have been exposed over the past century.
The word order of Modern Hebrew is predominately SVO (subject–verb–object). Biblical Hebrew was originally verb–subject–object (VSO), but drifted into SVO. 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.