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Do you know?
Hebrew is a unique ancient language.
Over 9 million people speak Hebrew worldwide.
It is one of the official languages of the State of Israel. Around 90% of the Israeli Jews can speak Hebrew fluently.
There are about 1 million Hebrew speakers outside Israel.
History of the Hebrew Language
Hebrew is an ancient Semitic language and belongs to the Canaanite subgroup. It is one of the oldest living languages and the last surviving Canaanite language. The earliest written script of Hebrew can be traced back to 3,000 years ago. This was the time when distinct Canaanite languages were not yet evolved. The differences between various languages were also somewhat blurred. However, linguists suggest, this proto-Canaanite script had similarities to the Classical Hebrew that developed later. During this time, Israelite tribes who invaded Canaan used to speak the language.
The Hebrew language has a rich and complex history. Classical Hebrew, also known as Biblical Hebrew, was used between the 10th century BCE and 1st century CE. This is the language of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and Torah. During 200 CE, Mishna, a collection of Jewish traditions, was written in a dialect different from Biblical Hebrew.
The language continued to evolve in the following years; however, the development was somewhat sporadic. Spoken Hebrew was displaced by Aramaic, a closely related Canaanite language; however, the linguists are yet to ascertain exactly when that happened. Early historians thought the shift had taken place as early as the 4th century BCE. However, several archaeological pieces of evidence were unearthed later. They suggest that spoken Hebrew continued to be used till the end of the Roman period. Although spoken Hebrew was dead by 200 CE, the Medieval Hebrew was still used in literary and religious texts and played a critical role in Judaism for several centuries.
In the following centuries, several attempts were made to revive literary Hebrew. Among them, one of the most prominent movements was Haskalah, which took place in Germany during the early 19th century. During the same time, Jews of various linguistic backgrounds in Jerusalem started to use a form of spoken Jews for commercial purposes. Towards the end of the century, Jewish people from all over the world began to immigrate back to Israel. They initiated a movement to revive the Hebrew language, and Eliezer Ben – Yehuda was at the forefront. He took the responsibility of modernizing the language. Ben – Yehuda, along with other Jewish intellectuals, developed tools to create a spoken language out of the literary and liturgical language. The modern Hebrew constructed during this time is the Hebrew that the people in Israel use today.
Why learn Hebrew?
How to learn Hebrew?
Is it hard to learn Hebrew?
It can be tricky to learn and become fluent in Hebrew. The American Foreign Service Institute ranks Hebrew in the fourth category. That means learning Hebrew takes more time than Spanish, French, German, etc. However, it is less challenging than Mandarin, Arabic, Korean, or Japanese. This ranking is based on the experiences of English speakers.
What makes it challenging to learn Hebrew?
In written Hebrew, vowels are usually not used. For an uninitiated, it can be tricky to read a word that is only made with consonants. Some words have the same consonants and various possible vowels. Simply by looking at the word, it is difficult to understand which word it is. Mastering certain pronunciations can also be challenging. For example, the Hebrew speakers use a distinctively guttural ‘r’ sound. A non-native speaker needs to practice mimicking the sound. Another aspect that makes Hebrew complicated is its gendered nature. In Hebrew, forms for pronouns, verbs, and adjectives change according to the gender of the subject. You need to learn the suffixes and conjugations to form the sentences correctly. Besides, you need to know about the seven distinct types of verbs and their respective pattern of conjugation. This part can really be hard for a non-native speaker, and it may take a considerable amount of time to master it.