Jewish-Languages Mailing List

July 2001

Date: Tue, 03 Jul 2001 12:49
From: Sarah Bunin Benor <sbenor @>
Subject: Jewish Language Research Website

Tsuguya Sasaki and I are pleased to announce that the Jewish Language
Research Website is up and running:

It's still in draft form, and as you can see there are a number of holes.
We're still missing info and bibliographies from many people on this list,
and we haven't yet put in the descriptions of each Jewish language and
suggested reading. If you're interested in helping with that, please
contact Sarah at sbenor @ And if there are any problems on
your individual pages, please let us know. A few of you sent in your info
after the deadline, and that will appear on the next draft, as will
anything else I receive by August 1. In September, we plan to officially
launch the site and announce it to Jewish Studies and Linguistics
listserves. Thanks again for all your submissions.

-Sarah Bunin Benor

Date: Sat, 07 Jul 2001 01:31
From: miriam <miryamsh @>
Subject: judeo-portugues

Dear sirs
Mrs. Sara Bunin Suggested me to ask you if you have data about people studying
judeo-portugues language. I would like to have some contacts in this field.
Thank you Miriam

Date: Mon, 09 Jul 2001 17:10
From: Sarah Bunin Benor <sbenor @>
Subject: greeting in Jewish languages

A colleague writing liner notes for a Jewish music recording has a


Do you know, do Jews in all or many of the different communities in
Europe, Asia, No. Africa and the Middle East say "Shalom Aleichem," or
some variant such as the Yiddish or Judeo-Arabic? Do linguists agree that
this is a Hebrew phrase brought into Jewish languages? Or is it more
ambiguous in each case?


Please e-mail me with information about this in the language(s) you work
on, and I'll compile a summary for him and for this list.

Sarah Bunin Benor

Date: Sat, 14 Jul 2001 15:12
From: Sarah Bunin Benor <sbenor @>
Subject: Israeli Association for the Study of Language and Society

From Eliezer Ben-Rafael saba @

We are pleased to announce the creation of the Israeli Association for the
Study of Language and Society (IALS). This association was created to fill
the void which exists in Israel in the investigation of language and
society. Our intention is to create a professional community that will
include people of diverse disciplines who investigate, or are interested
in, the relation between language and society. Subjects of interest
include: the evolution of Hebrew throughout Israeli society, and,
eventually, beyond Israel's borders; the attrition and/or retention, and
evolution, of Jewish languages in specific groups - Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic,
Ladino, etc.; the attrition and/or retention, and evolution of non-Jewish
languages - Russian, Polish, Rumanian, German, etc. - conveyed by Jewish
groups; the development of Palestinian Arabic; the penetration and
expansion of worldwide communication languages - focusing on English, but
also French, Italian, etc. Any other research on language - such as
language contact, code-switching, etc - that is pertinent to the relation
of language and society is, of course, of interest to this Association as

This Association welcomes individuals who work outside Israel on these
subjects, especially individuals who work on Jewish languages. The Annual
Conference of the Association that is scheduled in May 2002 should be a
great opportunity to plan common activities and working sessions.

The Annual conference will be held on the 7/8 of May 2002, and it is hoped
that we will be able then to set up permanent working groups in a variety
of fields. Following that, we hope to develop the basis for a periodical.
In the meantime, that is in about 2 or 3 weeks, we will already have a
site where we will be able to publish, at least in this way, not only
information but also articles. From there we may proceed, hopefully, to
set up an electronic journal.

As for the question of fees, we do ask for individual members to
contribute the sum of 100 shekels (about 22$), if they are full members
(MA or PhD), 80 shekels (12$) (students). The registration form is

We hope that as many people as possible will suscribe to the mailing list
of interested people and that we will be able to attract them to our
activities as members.

For more information, contact ials @

Eliezer Ben-Rafael
Tel Aviv University

Date: Sat, 14 Jul 2001 15:18
From: Sarah Bunin Benor <sbenor @>
Subject: Israel Association for the Study of Language and Society

Message from Eliezer Ben-Rafael saba @

Dear colleagues,

I am Eliezer Ben-Rafael, a sociologist from the Tel-Aviv University. One
of my major fields of research is bilingualism in Israel, and the social
parameters of the retention and attrition of Israel's linguistic
resources. I have also the privilege to be the present chairperson of a
new Israeli Association for the Study of Language and Society (IALS) that
has been set up about a couple of months ago.

Sarah Bunin Benor has kindly agreed to send out to the suscribers of this
list the small text that I have sent her about this Association. This
message emphasized that this Association aspires to bring together all
researchers, practioners and others who share an interest in the relation
of language to society. Hence, it is open not only to linguists or
sociolinguists but also to sociologists, economists, historians,
philosophers, literature scholars and many others.

The present message is to inform you about our next major activity, that
is, the 2002 Annual Conference. This Conference will take place under the
title "Language and Identity in a multicultural society", on May 5-7,
2002, at Tel-Aviv University. By the nature of things, many papers will
consider language-society issues in Israel, but we do hope that colleagues
from abroad will join us and present their work, in order to widen the
Association's ranks and the range of its interests. We intend to
crystallize the Conference Program by November, and my colleague
Yitzhak Sternberg, the Secretary of the Association, and myself will be
delighted to answer any query you might have. You can, of course, use my
mail address, but you have also the Association's address at your
disposal: ials @ We also hope that we will have a website in
about a couple of weeks and that this will be a convenient way to convey
information to all people interested in our activities. We will inform you
as soon as this site is operative. To those of you who are interested in
being members of the Association, please send a check of $25 to: The
Institute for Social Research, Department of Sociology, Tel-Aviv
University, Tel-Aviv 69978, Israel. Please specify in your letter: 1/Name
2/title 3/personal address 4/institutional affiliation 5/particular
interests and current activities in the area of "language and society"
6/phones, fax, e-mail address

With my best feelings,
Eliezer Ben-Rafael

Weinberg Professor of Political Sociology
Department of Sociology, Tel-Aviv University
Naftali Bld 606, Tel-Aviv 69978, Israel
Tel: +972 3 640.88.24

H: Hadror 11, Ramat-Hasharon 47203, Israel
Tel: +972 3 540.62.97; Fax: +972 3 540.22.91

Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2001 10:35
From: "Ghil`ad ZUCKERMANN" <gz208 @>
Subject: Ivrit versus Hebrew

Dear researcher of Jewish languages,

I have discussed the following matter with Sarah and Tsuguya and we have
decided that it would be good to open this up for discussion on the list.
The following represents my own query/proposal.

With regard to, do you
think that there might be a possibility of distinguishing between HEBREW
(i.e. Biblical-Talmudic-Medieval...) and IVRIT (i.e. the language
currently spoken in Israel)? Both are highly researched, so, in a way,
EACH of them deserves at least the status of Judaeo-Persian etc.

We might want to make a distinction between scholars who deal only with
Hebrew, and those who focus on Ivrit (for whom Hebrew is prehistory)
because often the research of Hebrew is very different from that of Ivrit.
The similarity between someone exploring Hebrew and someone exploring
another non-currently-spoken Jewish language is greater, I believe, than
the similarity between someone researching Hebrew and someone researching
Ivrit. (Obviously, however, there are researchers who belong to both

The use of the term IVRIT in English (cf. "Ivrit" used in German by Wild
1977) is similar to that of YIDDISH rather than *JEWISH or to the possible
use of "Français" as opposed to "French". I use "Ivrit" to supersede the
commonly used terms which refer to the language currently spoken by
Israelis, such as the vague "Modern Hebrew" (it is unclear whether this
embraces the nineteenth century Hebrew of the Haskalah), the ambiguous or
periphrastic "Modern Israeli Hebrew", and finally the useless "Hebrew"
tout court, each of these being misleading. The indexicality of the term
"Contemporary Hebrew" (see, for example, Rosén's 1977 book _Contemporary
Hebrew_) renders it accurate only when referring to the language currently
spoken in Israel.

Instead of calling it "Ivrit", one could use "Israeli" (cf. English,
Italian) or (if one insists) "Israeli Hebrew" (the latter is used, for
example, by Sáenz-Badillos 1993). These terms, however, might also be
misleading since Ivrit was spoken before the establishment of the State of
Israel in 1948 and some of the neologisms were coined in the diaspora and
not in Eretz Yisrael. Another term could be Tsabarish, from tsabar
"prickly pear", a nickname for native Israelis (Sabra), allegedly thorny
and "dugri" on the outside and sweet inside. In any event, it seems
inadequate to translate the name "milón olamí leivrít medubéret"
(Ben-Amotz and Ben-Yehuda, 1972) into English as "The World Dictionary of
Hebrew Slang".

All this may not only be a semantic issue - unlike Greek, for example,
where there has been an unbroken chain of native speakers from Ancient to
Modern Greek, Hebrew was not used as a vernacular for approximately 1,750
years, and therefore the twentieth century "revived Hebrew" cannot be
regarded as a direct continuation of the Hebrew of the past. There is much
debate over whether it is really possible to revive a language (without
changing its nature), and one might question whether Ivrit is a Semitic
AltneuLANGUE, and thus regard the term "Hebrew" as misapplied.

Finally, the dichotomy between HEBREW and IVRIT is obviously impossible in
Ivrit itself (there, Ivrit might be called israelit, isreelit, tsabarit
etc., unless one utters IvRit - with an alveolar trill - imitating the
English pronunciation :-) ). This might serve as a beautiful illustration
of the fact that sometimes an external analysis has some advantages which
do not exist in an internal one. The Jewish Languages website is neither
in Hebrew nor in Ivrit - it is in American.

Best wishes,

 ("\''/").__..--''" -._
 `o_ o ) `-. ( ).`-.__.`)
 (_Y_.)' ._ ) `._ `. ``-..-'
_..`--'_.-_/ /--'_.' .'
(il).-'' ((i).' ((!.-'

Ghil`ad Zuckermann

Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2001 13:18
From: George Jochnowitz <jochnowitz @>
Subject: Re: Ivrit versus Hebrew

Despite all the differences in meaning between "Ivrit" and "Hebrew," I think
introducing a new term is a bad idea. A new word adds an extra barrier
between our research and the rest of the world. Laypersons should be able
to look at scholarly work without being intimidated by unfamiliar names for
familiar languages.

The fact that "Israeli Hebrew" is an anachronistic term should not cause a
problem. Israeli Hebrew simply antedates Israel. Similarly, German
antedates Germany; Italian antedates Italy.

Chaucer's English and our English are both English, although they are even
more different from each other than Israeli Hebrew is from Biblical or
Mishnaic Hebrew. There is nothing especially awkward about saying "Middle
English" or "Modern English." As for Old English, the term "Anglo-Saxon"
has grown less and less common.

Ben Yehuda knew that Hebrew would have to be partially reinvented.
Nevertheless, he chose Hebrew to be the basis for his new language, not
French or German.

The existence of Modern Hebrew has no parallel that I am aware of. A
language that once had no native speakers now has them. If I didn't know
about the use of Israeli Hebrew, I would say it couldn't possibly have
happened. Since it did happen, against all odds, we should celebrate its
existence by calling it "Hebrew."

George Jochnowitz

Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2001 14:22
From: Bernard Spolsky <spolsb @>
Subject: Re: Ivrit versus Hebrew

If you read my chapter on Hebrew in Fishman's new book on Reversing Language
Shift, you will see that I certainly agree that revived languages are unlike
their earlier namesakes. But so of course are all the currently used
recognizable varieties of English, Hebrew, French, etc. It seems wiser to
keep the simplest term for the language as a whole, and use various
adjectives to delimit it when appropriate.

Professor Emeritus Bernard Spolsky
32 Habad Street
97500 Jerusalem, ISRAEL
Phone: +972(2)628-2044 Fax: +972(2)628-5472
e-mail: spolsb @

Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2001 14:34
From: Bernard Spolsky <spolsb @>
Subject: Re: Ivrit versus Hebrew

I basically agree with Jochnowitz.
I have been told there are at least 2 native speakers of Cornish.
Bernard Spolsky

Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2001 15:11
From: Miriam Isaacs <misaacs @>
Subject: Re: Israel Association for the Study of Language and Society

I am delighted to learn of the new effort in Israel, but also would like
ask a question generally. My concern is the very wording of the object of
inquiry, wondering whether this may skew approaches to the subject
matter. The attrition, retention, evolution- in the terms of the call
seem leading. I would value others' opinions and thoughts on the subject.

Date: Tue, 17 Jul 2001 16:51
From: Hayim Sheynin <hsheynin @>
Subject: Re: Ivrit versus Hebrew

This was very nice discussion. Basically the question is covered.
Only some additional notes. First, there is a difference between Ivrit (as
an artificial mix of Hebrew of different periods and styles, with some
errors in adoption of certain words, like 'melafefon' for cucumber [instead
of cabbage] or 'ribah' for jam, preserves [instead of compote] --and many
other examples--) and Sabra Ivrit (how it is spoken by native Israelis). Of
course, phonology of Israeli Hebrew is different from the period of the
living Hebrew, which was strictly Semitic, especially phonologically and
syntactically. In Modern Hebrew there are phonetic influences (or maybe even
entire phonetic base) of Yiddish. There are differences in formation and
meaning of tenses. There are non-Semitic syntactic structures. There is use
of non-Semitic prefixes and suffixes. I am not talking about loan words
because this is common to many languages (compare English). But on the whole
it can be covered by the term Hebrew.
Secondly, there were cases of death of languages, for example Dalmatian, the
last speaker
of which Antonio Undina died in 1898. The modern Assyrian (an Aramaic
dialect of Christian Syrians--aysors) is on the verge of extinction. There
were cases of restoration of literary languages like Provencal and
Hungarian. Most or all of the Provencal (Occitan) speakers are bi-lingual.
Most or all of Hungarians in generation of Sándor Petofi and several
generations after him remained bi-lingual. However restoration of Hebrew, on
my opinion, exceeds all previous cases, because it passed on all the levels,
succeeded beyond any imagination, and the masses of native (uneducated)
speakers born in Israel even don't realize this is a restored language. The
only knowledge of the linguistic self-identity that a sabra knows that his
or her parents spoke language X (sometimes even with a doubt, was it German,
Polish or Russian). It is through the school they know about works of
Eliezer Ben Yehudah.
Moreover both the Rabbinical and the Zionist tradition politically treated
all the periods of the language as an unbroken chain calling it "Lashon
ha-kodesh" (the holy tongue) as opposite to Jewish vernaculars. The work of
Frederic Mistral, Sándor Petofi and Hayim Nahman Bialik were essentially
different. However it is imaginable that if Mistral would take as a base not
some spoken dialects of Provencal (dialects or parlers of the southern Rhone
region), but the dead language of Provencal troubadours, it would be a good
parallel to Ben Yehudah and Bialik. To my sorrow, in linguistics, like in
history, "if would" questions are not permissible, and experiments are
rarely used.

Sorry, I do not have in my email sign of Umlaut that should be over o in
Petofi. S pronounced in Hungarian as English sh, for sound s they use sz. A
vowel marked with acute accent means long

Hayim Y. Sheynin
aka Jaime Vidal de la Ermoza.

Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2001 07:40
From: Ghil`ad ZUCKERMANN <gz208 @>
Subject: More on IVRIT versus HEBREW

Dear fellow scholars of Jewish languages,

Thank you very much for your lovely messages. With your permission, the
following are some very brief, friendly follow-ups:

> The existence of Modern Hebrew has no parallel that I am aware of.

You are right. This is exactly my point. Therefore, one should not compare
the proposed distinction between Ivrit and Hebrew to that between Modern
English and Old English.

> A language that once had no native speakers now has them. If I didn't
> know about the use of Israeli Hebrew, I would say it couldn't possibly
> have happened. Since it did happen, against all odds, we should
> celebrate its existence by calling it "Hebrew."

Alternatively, we might want to ask ourselves some additional questions:
"What exactly happened there?", "Is revival tout court really possible?"

> Ben Yehuda knew that Hebrew would have to be partially reinvented.
> Nevertheless, he chose Hebrew to be the basis for his new language, not
> French or German.

You are right. However, my question is whether Eliezer and his fellow
revivalists did (or could) actually succeed in ignoring their mother
tongue (Yiddish)?

> The phonology of spoken Hebrew is interesting as well, specially the
> adoption of simplified Sephardi pronunciation, which is all that is
> different from the phonetic base of Yiddish or Ashkenazi Hebrew.

It is true that the way in which the kamats (qåmaS) vowel (Hebrew [å]) is
pronounced ([a]) follows Sephardic traditions rather than Ashekanazic
Hebrew ([o]). Likewise, a non-geminate t is pronounced [t] rather than
[s] as in Ashkenazic Hebrew.

However, the consonant inventory and the vowel inventory of Ivrit totally
reflect Yiddish. Hence, I believe that the pronunciation of a Yemenite
speaking Ivrit is actually non-standard. In fact, such unique oriental
(mizrahi) pronunciation is gradually disappearing, one of the reasons
being that Ivrit was formed mostly by Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazic Jews and
its standards are thus different from the Semitic standards of Hebrew.

Furthermore, as indicated by sfirát yehudéy érets yisraél, a census
conducted in 1916-18 (cf. Bachi 1956: 67-9), the Ashkenazim were the ones
who were most receptive to the "language revival": 61.9% of Ashkenazic
children and 28.5% of Ashkenazic adults spoke Ivrit in 1916-18. The
percentage of Ivrit speakers among Sephardim (constituting most of the
veteran residents in Eretz Yisrael) and the other Oriental (i.e. mizrahi)
Jews (excluding the Yemenites) was very low: only 18.3% of Sephardic
children and 8.4% of Sephardic adults spoke Ivrit in 1916-18, whilst 18.1%
of Oriental children and 7.3% of Oriental adults spoke Ivrit (cf. 53.1%
among Yemenite children and 37.6% among Yemenite adults).

Finally, whilst the syllable structure of Biblical Hebrew was CVX(C), cf.
['eq.qaH], [qamt] and [si:r], the syllable structure of Ivrit is
(C)(C)(C)V(C)(C)(C), cf. zvuv, strep.tiz, ets, o, shrimps, sprint and
til.prent. Note that the syllable structure of Yiddish is identical:
(C)(C)(C)V(C)(C)(C) (and in some cases: CC, with a syllabic consonant).

> The term "Semitic" is meaningful only in the context of genetic-
> genealogical classification, not in any typological or social or ethnic
> sense.

I understand your point. However, I personally believe that in determining
the genetic affiliation of a language - as opposed to typological
characteristics - one should not overlook extra-linguistic factors such as
the history of the first native speakers, and whether there was a speaking
community when the language was introduced or "reinvented". The reason is
that such extra-linguistic factors could be highly linked to linguistic
ones (cf. Horvath and Wexler 1997). I have never said that Ivrit was not
Semitic. However, one should acknowledge that it might also -
simultaneously - be Indo-European. The term "fusion" might not be

> Renan felt that Akkadian was not "Semitic" enough to his taste,
> some might say that for them Amharic with its undisturbed continuity is
> not really "Semitic",

That is typology, not genetics. Genetically, as you obviously agree upon,
Akkadian and Amharic are Semitic. Incidentally, these examples strengthen
the link between genetic classification and the existence of a chain of
native speakers.

> Chaucer's English and our English are both English, although they are
> even more different from each other than Israeli Hebrew is from Biblical
> or Mishnaic Hebrew.

Ullendorff (pc), may he live a long healthy life, repeats his claim that
the biblical Isaiah could understand the Ivrit spoken by Israelis. I am
not convinced that this is the case. Furthermore, I believe that the real
reason Israelis understand Isaiah - however badly - is that they study the
Old Testament at school for eleven years - from the second grade until the
twelfth grade, i.e. between the ages of 7 and 18.

Yet, Israeli children are brainwashed to believe that the Old Testament
was written in their mother tongue. In other words, in Israeli elementary
schools, Hebrew and Ivrit are ab initio, axiomatically, the very same
language. Therefore, one cannot possibly expect Israelis to agree with the
presented point of view. I urge you, obiter dictum, to try to imagine how
frustrated (young) Israelis are when they do not actually understand their
"mother tongue" without the aid of extensive commentaries and glossaries.

Having said that, mutual intelligibility is not a crucial criterion in
determining the genetic affiliation of a language. Some English speakers
might understand English-based creoles (whose grammar etc. is not
English). Would you regard those languages as a "form of English"?

With very best wishes to you and to Israel,