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Israeli Hebrew

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Israeli Hebrew

"Ivrit" redirects here. For other uses, see Hebrew language.
Modern Hebrew
עִבְרִית ʿIvrit
Native to Israel
Native speakers 7 million[1][2][3] 9 million worldwide[4][5]  (2013)
Language family
revitalized Mishnaic Hebrew or relexified Yiddish
Writing system Hebrew alphabet
Hebrew Braille
Official status
Official language in  Israel
Recognised minority language in  Poland[6]
Regulated by Academy of the Hebrew Language
האקדמיה ללשון העברית (HaAkademia LaLashon HaʿIvrit)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 heb
Linguist List Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
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Modern Hebrew (Hebrew: עברית חדשה‎, Ivrit Chadashah), also known as Israeli Hebrew (Hebrew: עברית ישראליתivrit yisre'elit), is the result of the most successful language revitalization project in history, and intimately linked to the Zionist movement and the founding of the modern state of Israel. There is debate over whether it is a direct continuation of Mishnaic Hebrew or is something closer to a relexified Yiddish, with a grammar that is more Slavic than Semitic.

The revival of the Hebrew language was led by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Modern Hebrew is spoken by about nine million people[4][5] — most of them citizens of Israel, of which three million are native speakers of Modern Israeli Hebrew, two million are new immigrants, one million are Israeli Arabs and half a million are Israelis or diaspora Jews who continue to live abroad.

Modern Hebrew is, together with Modern Standard Arabic, an official language of the modern state of Israel, and before the state's establishment it was one of the official languages of the British Mandate for Palestine.[Modern Hebrew specifically?]

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


At present Modern Hebrew has been the native language in many families for three generations. The main generational differences are in vocabulary, as is true in many other present-day spoken languages.

Modern Hebrew has been developing in a multi-lingual environment. Half of Modern Israeli Hebrew speakers are not native speakers; furthermore, native speakers of Modern Hebrew usually learn at least one foreign language. In this situation, Modern Hebrew is affected intensively by many foreign languages—through the years Modern Israeli Hebrew has borrowed many words from Aramaic, Yiddish, Ladino, Arabic (mainly spoken Judeo-Arabic and various Levantine Arabic dialects), Latin, Greek, Polish, Russian, English and other languages.

According to the Academy of the Hebrew Language, in the 1880s (the time of the beginning of the Zionist movement and the Hebrew revival) there were mainly three groups of Hebrew regional accents: Ashkenazi (Eastern European), Sephardi (Spanish/Portuguese/Italian), and Mizrahi (Middle Eastern – largely used by Jews of Iraqi, Moroccan, Tunisian, Egyptian, Syrian, and Yemeni heritage). Over time features of these systems of pronunciation merged, and nowadays we find 2 main pronunciations of colloquial (not liturgical) Hebrew: Oriental and Non-Oriental.[7]


The vast majority of scholars see Modern Hebrew as a direct continuation of Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew, though they concede that it has acquired some European and colloquial Arabic vocabulary and syntactical features, in much the same way as Modern Standard Arabic[8] (or even more so, dialects such as Moroccan Arabic). Some dissenting views are as follows:

  • Paul Wexler[9] claims that modern Hebrew is not a Semitic language at all, but a dialect of "Judaeo-Sorbian". He argues that the underlying structure of the language is Slavic, but "re-lexified" to absorb much of the vocabulary and inflectional system of Hebrew in much the same way as a creole. This view forms part of a larger complex of theories, such as the theory that Ashkenazi Jews are predominantly descended from Slavic and Turkic tribes rather than from the ancient Israelites.
  • Shlomo Izre'el[10] focuses on the "emergence" of "Spoken Israeli Hebrew" in terms of a "creation of a new language" and attempts to fit the nativization of this "new linguistic entity" into the "larger continuum of Creole and Creole-like languages" but does not seem to believe at all in any relexification hypotheses, whether from a Slavic or any other linguistic substratum (with references to his own earlier work on the creolization hypothesis (1986)[11] and the works of Goldenberg (1996)[12] and Kuzar (2001)[13]).
  • Ghil'ad Zuckermann[14][15] compromises between Wexler and the majority view: according to him, "Israeli" (his term for Israeli Hebrew) is a Semito-European hybrid language, which is the continuation not only of literary Hebrew but also of Yiddish, as well as Polish, Russian, German, English, Ladino, Arabic and other languages spoken by Hebrew revivalists.[16][17] Thus, "Yiddish is a primary contributor to Israeli Hebrew because it was the mother tongue of the vast majority of revivalists and first pioneers in Eretz Yisrael at the crucial period of the beginning of Israeli Hebrew".[18] According to Zuckermann, although the revivalists wished to speak Hebrew, with Semitic grammar and pronunciation, they could not avoid the Ashkenazi mindset arising from their diaspora years. He argues that their attempt to negate diasporism and avoid hybridity (as reflected in Yiddish) failed. "Had the revivalists been Arabic-speaking or Berber-speaking Jews (e.g. from Morocco), Israeli Hebrew would have been a totally different language – both genetically and typologically, much more Semitic. The impact of the founder population on Israeli Hebrew is incomparable with that of later immigrants."[19]

So far, none of these views has gained significant acceptance among mainstream linguists, and both have been criticized by some as being based less on linguistic evidence than post- or anti-Zionist political motivations.[20] However, some linguists, for example American Yiddish scholar Dovid Katz, have employed Zuckermann's glottonym "Israeli" and accept his notion of hybridity. Few would dispute[according to whom?] that Hebrew has acquired some European features as a result of having been learned by immigrants as a second language at a crucial formative stage. The identity of the European substrate/adstrate has varied: in the time of the Mandate and the early State, the principal contributor was Yiddish, while today it is American English. There has also been some influence, on vocabulary rather than structure, from Arabic, both in the form of Palestinian Arabic and, during the large scale immigrations of Mizrahi Jews during the 1950-60s, the Yemenite and North African dialects. Russian influence may also be observed during the founding period.



The Hebrew word for consonants is ‘itsurim (עיצורים). The following table lists the Hebrew consonants and their pronunciation in IPA transcription:

Labial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal Template:IPA link/core Template:IPA link/core
Plosive Template:IPA link/core   Template:IPA link/core Template:IPA link/core   Template:IPA link/core Template:IPA link/core   Template:IPA link/core Template:IPA link/core
Affricate Template:IPA link/core     Template:IPA link/core   Template:IPA link/core
Fricative Template:IPA link/core   Template:IPA link/core Template:IPA link/core   Template:IPA link/core Template:IPA link/core   Template:IPA link/core Template:IPA link/core Template:IPA link/core Template:IPA link/core    
Approximant Template:IPA link/core Template:IPA link/core Template:IPA link/core

Historical sound changes

Standard (non-Oriental) Israeli Hebrew (SIH) has undergone a number of splits and mergers in its development from Biblical Hebrew.[21]

  • BH // had two allophones, ] and ]; the ] allophone has merged with // into SIH //
  • Whereas BH // has become SIH //, the phoneme // has been re-introduced into modern Israeli Hebrew in some loanwords and their derivations (see Hebrew Vav → Vav as consonant)
  • BH // had two allophones, ] and ]; the ] allophone has merged with // into SIH //, while the ] allophone has merged with // into SIH //
  • BH // and // have merged into SIH //
  • BH // and // have usually merged into SIH //, but this distinction may also be upheld in educated speech of many Sephardim and some Ashkenazim
  • BH // had two allophones, ] and ]; the incorporation of loanwords into Modern Hebrew has probably resulted in a split, so that // and // are separate phonemes.

Yiddish influence

Though an Ashkenazi Jew in Czarist Russia, the Zionist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda based his Standard Hebrew on the Sephardic dialect originally spoken in Spain, and therefore recommended an alveolar ]. But as the first waves of Jews to resettle in the Holy Land were northern Ashkenazi, they came to speak Standard Hebrew with their preferred uvular articulation as found in Yiddish or modern standard German, and it gradually became the most prestigious pronunciation for the language. The modern State of Israel has Jews whose ancestors came from all over the world, but nearly all of them today speak Hebrew with a uvular R because of its modern prestige and historical elite status.

Oriental Hebrew

Many Jewish immigrants to Israel spoke a variety of Arabic in their countries of origin, and pronounced the Hebrew rhotic as an alveolar trill, identical to Arabic ر rāʾ . Under pressure to assimilate, many of them began pronouncing their Hebrew rhotic as a voiced uvular fricative, often identical to Arabic غ ġayn. However, in modern Sephardic and Mizrahi poetry and folk music, as well as in the standard (or "standardized") Hebrew used in the Israeli media, an alveolar rhotic is sometimes used. Oriental speakers tend to use an alveolar trill [r] rather than the uvular trill [ʀ], preserve the pharyngeal consonants /ħ/ and (less commonly) /ʕ/ rather than merging them with /χ ʔ/, preserve gemination, and pronounce /e/ in some places where non-Oriental speakers have null (the so-called shva na).

There are mixed views on the status of the two accents. On the one hand, prominent Israelis of Sephardic or Oriental origin are admired for the purity of their speech and Yemenite Jews are often employed as newsreaders. On the other hand, the speech of middle-class Ashkenazim is regarded as having a certain Central European sophistication, and many speakers of Mizrahi origin have moved nearer to this version of Standard Hebrew, in some cases even adopting the uvular resh.


Hebrew also has dagesh, a phonological process of consonant strengthening that is indicated in pointed texts by a dot placed in the center of a consonant. There are two kinds of strengthenings: light (kal, known also as dagesh lene) and heavy (hazak or dagesh forte). The light version applies to the phonemes /b/ /k/ /p/ (historically, also /ɡ/, /d/ and /t/), causing them to be pronounced as stops rather than fricatives, and operates when the dagesh occurs in the beginning of a word or after a consonant (i.e. a silent shva). The heavy dagesh occurs after vowels and applies to all consonants except gutturals and /r/, originally causing them to be pronounced as geminate (doubled) consonants; it also selects the stop allophone of /b/, /k/, /p/, etc. (In Modern Hebrew, gemination has disappeared, and hence the heavy dagesh has a phonological effect only on /b/ /k/ /p/, affecting them the same as the light dagesh.) Traditional Hebrew grammar distinguishes two sub-categories of the heavy dagesh according to their historical origin: structural heavy (hazak tavniti) and complementing heavy (hazak mashlim). Structural heavy dagesh corresponds to consonant doubling that was inherited from Proto-Semitic, and occurs in certain verb conjugations and noun patterns (mishkalim and binyanim; see Modern Hebrew grammar). Complementing heavy dagesh corresponds to consonant doubling that arose within Hebrew as a result of consonant assimilation, most commonly of an /n/ to a following consonant (e.g. Biblical Hebrew /ʔatˈtaː/ "you (m. sg.)" vs. Classical Arabic /ˈʔanta/).

The pairs //~//, //~//, and //~// were historically allophonic, as a consequence of the phenomenon of spirantization known as begadkefat. In Modern Hebrew, however, all six sounds are sometimes phonemic.

This phonemic divergence might be due to a number of factors: mergers involving formerly distinct sounds (historical pronunciation // of vav merging with fricative bet, becoming //, historical pronunciation // of kuf merging with plosive kaf, becoming //, and historical pronunciation // of het merging with fricative kaf, becoming //), loss of consonant gemination, which formerly distinguished the stop members of the pairs from the fricatives when intervocalic, and the introduction of syllable-initial // and non-syllable-initial // and // (see Begadkefat).

Varieties of ayin

The letter Ayin (ע) historically represented a voiced pharyngeal approximant. Most modern Ashkenazi Jews do not differentiate between א and ע; however, many Mizrahi Jews distinguish these phonemes, as well as Jews from any background wishing to speak Hebrew in its pure (Masoretic Tiberian) form. Georgian Jews pronounce it as ]. Western European Sephardim and Dutch Ashkenazim traditionally pronounce it ] (like ng in sing) – a pronunciation which can also be found in the Italian tradition and, historically, in south-west Germany. (The remnants of this pronunciation are found throughout the Ashkenazi world, in the name "Yankl" and "Yanki", diminutive forms of Jacob, Heb. יעקב).

Changes in pronunciation of Resh

In Hebrew, the classical pronunciation associated with the consonant ר rêš was flapped ], and was grammatically treated as an ungeminable phoneme of the language. In most dialects of Hebrew among the Jewish diaspora, it remained a flap or a trill ]. However, in some Ashkenazi dialects as preserved among Jews in northern Europe it was a uvular rhotic, either a trill ] or a fricative ]. This was because most native dialects of Yiddish were spoken that way, and their liturgical Hebrew carried the same pronunciation. Some Iraqi Jews also pronounce rêš as a guttural ], reflecting their dialect of Arabic.

An apparently unrelated uvular rhotic is believed to have appeared in the Tiberian vocalization of Hebrew, where it is believed to have coexisted with additional non-guttural articulations of /r/ depending on circumstances.


Main article: Niqqud

The Hebrew word for vowels is tnu'ot (תְּנוּעוֹת). The orthographic representations for these vowels are called Niqqud. Israeli Hebrew has 5 vowel phonemes, represented by the following Niqqud-signs:

phoneme pronunciation in
Modern Hebrew
approximate pronunciation
in English
orthographic representation
"long" * "short" * "very short" / "interrupted" *
/a/ ] (as in "spa") kamats gadol ( ָ ) patach ( ַ ) chataf patach ( ֲ )
/e/ ] (as in "bed") tsere male ( ֵי ) or tsere chaser ( ֵ ) segol ( ֶ ) chataf segol ( ֱ ), sometimes shva ( ְ )
/i/ ] (as in "ski") chirik male ( ִי ) chirik chaser ( ִ )  
/o/ ] (as in "more") cholam male ( וֹ ) or cholam chaser ( ֹ ) kamatz katan ( ָ ) chataf kamatz ( ֳ )
/u/ ] (as in "flu" but with no diphthongization) shuruk (וּ) kubuts ( ֻ )  
* The severalfold orthographic representation of each phoneme attests to the broader phonemic range of vowels in earlier forms of Hebrew. Some linguists still regard the Hebrew grammatical entity of Shva na—marked as Shva (ְ)—as representing a sixth phoneme, /ə/. However, the phonetic realisation of any Shva in modern Hebrew is never a Schwa (the mid central vowel denoted as ]) or any vowel otherwise phonetically distinguishable from the other phonemes, but is rather always either identical to those of the phoneme /e/ or is mute, therefore there is no consensus in this matter.

In Biblical Hebrew, each vowel had three forms: short, long and interrupted (chataf). However, there is no audible distinction between the three in modern Israeli Hebrew, except that tsere is often pronounced [eɪ] as in Ashkenazi Hebrew.


Main article: shva

The Niqqud sign "Shva" represents four grammatical entities: resting (nach / נָח), moving (na' / נָע), floating (merahef / מְרַחֵף) and "bleating" or "bellowing" (ga'ya / גַּעְיָּה). In earlier forms of Hebrew, these entities were phonologically and phonetically distinguishable. However, in Modern Hebrew these distinctions are not observed. For example, the (first) Shva Nach in the word קִמַּטְתְ (fem. you crumpled) is pronounced ] ([kiˈmäte̞t]) even though it should be mute, whereas the Shva Na in זְמַן (time), which theoretically should be pronounced, is usually mute ([zmän]). Sometimes the shva is pronounced like a tsere when accented, as in the prefix "ve" meaning "and".


Hebrew has two frequent kinds of lexical stress, on the last syllable (milrá; מלרע) and on the penultimate syllable (the one preceding the last, mil‘él; מלעיל), of which the first is more frequent. Contrary to the prescribed standard, some words exhibit a stress on the antepenultimate syllable or even further back. This occurs often in loanwords, e.g. פּוֹלִיטִיקָה /poˈlitika/, "politics", and sometimes in native colloquial compounds, e.g. אֵיכְשֶׁהוּ /ˈeχʃehu/,[22] "somehow"; אֵיפֹשֶׁהוּ /ˈefoʃehu/, "somewhere". Colloquial stress is also often shifted from the last syllable to the penultimate, contrary to the prescribed standard, e.g. כּוֹבַע, normative stress /koˈvaʕ/, כובע מופיע בתנ"ך בספר שמואל ובישעיה ושם הוא מוטעם במלעיל, ולכן אי אפשר לומר שבעברית המדוברת שינו את מקום הטעם;

colloquial stress /ˈkovaʕ/ "hat"; שׁוֹבָךְ normative stress /ʃoˈvaχ/,???
colloquial stress /ˈʃovaχ/, "dovecote". This is also common in the colloquial pronunciation of many personal names, for example דָּוִד normative stress /daˈvid/, colloquial stress /ˈdavid/, "David".[23]

Specific rules correlate the location or absence of stress in a syllable with the written representation of vowel length and whether or not the syllable ends with a vowel or a consonant.[nb 1] Since spoken Israeli Hebrew does not distinguish between long and short vowels, these rules are not evident in speech. They usually cannot be inferred from written text either, since usually vowel diacritics are omitted. The result is that nowadays stress has phonemic value, as the following table illustrates: acoustically, the following word pairs differ only in the location of the stress; orthographically they differ also in the written representation of the length of the vowels, however if vowel diacritics are omitted (as is usually the case in Modern Israeli Hebrew) they are written identically:

common spelling
(Ktiv Hasar Niqqud)
mil‘él-stressed milrá-stressed
spelling with
vowel diacritics
pronunciation translation spelling with
vowel diacritics
pronunciation translation
ילד יֶלֶד /ˈjeled/ boy יֵלֵד /jeˈled/ will give birth
אוכל אֹכֶל /ˈoχel/ food אוֹכֵל /oˈχel/ eating (masculine
singular participle)
בוקר בֹּקֶר /ˈbokeʁ/ morning בּוֹקֵר /boˈkeʁ/ cowboy

Little ambiguity exists, however, due to context and syntactic features; compare e.g. the English word "conduct" in its nominal and verbal forms.


Modern Israeli Hebrew has borrowed many words from Aramaic, Yiddish, Ladino, Arabic (spoken Arabic, mainly Judeo Arabic and Palestinian Arabic), German, Latin, Greek, Polish, Russian, English and other languages. Some typical examples are:

loanword derivatives origin
Hebrew IPA meaning Hebrew IPA meaning language spelling meaning
ביי /baj/ goodbye   English bye
אגזוז /eɡˈzoz/ exhaust
דיג׳יי /ˈdidʒej/ DJ לדג׳ה /ledaˈdʒe/ to DJ to DJ
ואללה /ˈwala/ really!?   Arabic والله really!?
כיף /kef/ fun לכייף /lekaˈjef/ to have fun[w 1] كيف pleasure
חפיף /χaˈfif/ lightly להתחפף /lehitχaˈfef/ to scram[w 2] خَفِيف lightly
אבא /ˈaba/ daddy   Aramaic אבא the father
לאלתר /lealˈtar/ immediately לאלתר /lealˈter/ to improvize על אתר right here
חלטורה /χalˈtura/ shoddy job לחלטר /leχalˈter/ to moonlight Russian халтура shoddy work[w 3]
בלגן /balaˈɡan/ mess לבלגן /levalˈɡen/ to make a mess балаган chaos[w 3]
תכל׳ס /ˈtaχles/ directly   Yiddish תכלית goal
חרופ /χrop/ deep sleep לחרופ /laχˈrop/ to sleep deeply חְרוֹפּ sleep
שפכטל /ˈʃpaχtel/ putty knife   German Spachtel putty knife
גומי /ˈɡumi/ rubber גומיה /ɡumiˈja/ rubber band Gummi rubber
גזוז /ɡaˈzoz/ carbonated
gazoz[w 4]
eau gazeuse
פוסטמה /pusˈtema/ stupid woman   Ladino   inflamed wound[w 5]
אדריכל /adriˈχal/ architect אדריכלות /adriχaˈlut/ architecture Akkadian arad-ekalli temple servant[w 6]




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