Overview of the Hebrew Language
Hebrew is primarily spoken in Israel, where, along with Arabic, it is one of the two official languages. Because Israel is a nation of immigrants, Hebrew is a second language for many of its speakers. Many Israeli Arabs also learn to speak Hebrew as a second language.
Hebrew belongs to the Semitic language group, which also includes Arabic. There are two main branches of Hebrew, called Ashkenasic and Sephardic. They differ mainly in their pronunciation of certain letters. Ashkenasic Hebrew was spoken by the Jews in Central Europe, while Sephardic Hebrew was spoken by those of the Mediterranean basin. Sephardic pronunciation is used in Israel.
Hebrew has made an amazing return from near-extinction. From the ninth century to the nineteenth century, the Hebrew language was not spoken extensively. Mostly, it was used in Jewish religious observance and by scholars studying the Old Testament. However, it underwent a renaissance when the Zionist movement-- begun in the nineteenth century to work for the establishment of a State of Israel-- decided that Hebrew should be Israel's official language. Hebrew was recognized as an official language of Jewish Palestine in 1922 and had established itself as a modern language by the time Israel was officially established in 1948. Modern Hebrew, adapted to meet modern needs, is somewhat different from the ancient language of the Bible from which it is descended.
Few English words come from modern Hebrew vocabulary, but many words come from the Hebrew of the Bible, including amen, hallelujah, and hosanna. In addition, many common names are of Biblical origin, including Adam, Daniel, David, Deborah, Dinah, Joseph, Miriam, and Rebecca. Some words that we think of as Yiddish actually come from Hebrew vocabulary, including maven, chutzpah, and schlemiel.
The exotic appearance of the Hebrew alphabet will prevent most English speakers who are learning Hebrew from imagining false relationships between written Hebrew words and English look-alikes. However, as you are learning to speak Hebrew, confusion can arise. The Hebrew vocabulary word mi (pronounced like the English word "me") means who; the word hu (pronounced "who") means he; and the word hi (pronounced "he") means she.
Formal and Informal Address in the Hebrew Language
Strictly speaking, Hebrew has no formal mode of address. However, using the feminine plural pronouns in the second and third person is generally viewed as formal. In informal usage, the masculine pronouns replace them.
Hebrew Grammar and the Hebrew Alphabet
As you learn Hebrew, you will notice that in the present tense, Hebrew verbs conjugate differently from those of many languages, because the conjugations are by gender and number. For example, the conjugation for the masculine first person singular is the same as for the masculine second and third person singular, but different than the conjugation for the feminine first person singular.
In addition to being written from right to left, Hebrew can pose difficulties for English speakers because it is generally written without representing the vowel sounds. When the Hebrew vowels are written out, the vowel sounds are represented by dots and lines beneath the consonants.
Of the 22 Hebrew consonants, five take a different form when they occur at the end of a word. The Hebrew alphabet does not have capital letters. Hebrew letters are also used for numbers, just as in the Roman numeral system. The number 18 is considered to be lucky because the letters that make it up form the word khay, which means life.
An all-purpose greeting in Hebrew is shalom, used for both hello and good-bye. It means peace.
Regular practice is necessary to learn to speak Hebrew well. That's why good Hebrew software programs can be useful for learning the language. It's easier than ever to begin speaking Hebrew with the resources and software provided by Transparent Language. With our language learning products, you can speak the language, learn the alphabet, master vocabulary, study grammar, and improve your pronunciation quickly!