Ben Yehuda Press 

Quandary for Hebrew: How Would Isaiah Text?

January 28, 2009

The New York Times discovers the continuing crisis of the Hebrew language:

Hebrew was never actually dead. It was more like an unborn child, according to Ariel Hirschfeld, a Hebrew literature lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, slowly developing over the centuries as the language of Jewish letters and prayer. Educated Jews would read the weekly Torah portion in Hebrew, while sages from Prague to Baghdad would correspond on religious questions in their only common tongue.

But the linguistic reincarnation came with the birth of modern Zionism and was largely driven by one man, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who was born in a Lithuanian village 150 years ago and immigrated to Palestine in 1881.

The classical Scriptures provided words for concepts like justice, mercy, love and hate, but not for more mundane things like “office” or “socks.” So Mr. Ben-Yehuda started inventing new words, mostly drawn from ancient biblical patterns and roots....

Now the academy continues the quest for new words, trying, with partial success, to introduce authentic Hebrew equivalents for foreign terms before they stick. In the country that invented instant messaging, that can often mean a race against time. So a text message is now officially called a “misron,” from “meser,” the word for message. The proper Hebrew for talk-back, commonly pronounced “tokbek,” is “tguvit,” a diminutive of “tguva,” response.

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