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Related to Hebrew: Hebrew alphabet, Hebrew people


1. the ancient language of the Hebrews, revived as the official language of Israel. It belongs to the Canaanitic branch of the Semitic subfamily of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages
2. a member of an ancient Semitic people claiming descent from Abraham; an Israelite



a Semitic language of the Canaanite subgroup, the official language of Israel.

Hebrew is spoken by about 2.5 million people, according to 1972 estimates. The Hebrews of Palestine spoke ancient Hebrew in the second and first millennia B.C. The most important work in ancient Hebrew is the Old Testament. The oldest part of the Old Testament, the Song of Deborah, was written in the 13th or 12th century B.C.; the rest of the text, between the ninth and the second century B.C.; and the various legends, beginning in the ninth century B.C. The phonetics, grammar, and lexicon of ancient Hebrew are typically Semitic. The proto-Semitic consonant-ism has basically been retained, but the vocalism has become much more complex, through different developments of the vowels in various syllablic and accentual conditions. The Semitic morphology, except for the cases, has been almost entirely retained. Grammatical meanings are rendered through the alternation of vowels, the gemination of stem consonants, and the use of suffixes and prefixes.

At the beginning of the Common Era, Hebrew was replaced by Aramaic in everyday speech, remaining only a language of culture and religion. During the Middle Ages (and in modern times), Hebrew became the language of artistic, philosophical, scholarly, and religious literature.

Hebrew again became a spoken language in Palestine around the turn of the 20th century. Modern Hebrew retains a number of the ancient morphological forms, roots, and words, but its semantics and syntax have undergone strong substratal and superstratal influences of Yiddish, other Germanic languages, and Slavic languages. There are several traditional pronunciations of Hebrew, including the Ashkenazic, among the Jews of Eastern Europe; the Sephardic, in the Balkans and among those Jews who had come from Spain; the pronunciation of the Jews of the Arabic countries; and the pronunciation of the Georgian Jews. The basis of modern Hebrew is Sephardic. In modern Hebrew, vowels and consonants are no longer distinguished through gemination, and several specifically Semitic consonants, such as the emphatics and most of the laryngeals, have been lost. The lexicon is being modernized and supplemented mainly from Semitic roots and models of word formation.


Shapiro, F. L. Ivrit-russkii slovar’, s prilozheniem kratkogo grammati-cheskogo ocherka iazyka ivrit. Compiled by B. M. Grande. Moscow, 1963.
Steuernagel, C. Hebäische Grammatik, 12th ed. Leipzig, 1961.
Rosen, H. B. A Textbook of Israeli Hebrew. Chicago, 1966.
Even-Shoshan, A. Milon khadash, 5th ed., vols. 1–5. Jerusalem, 1956–57.


References in classic literature ?
There went two, who at a little distance might have been taken for the Hebrew spies, on their return to Moses with the goodly bunch of grape.
Grant now arose and commenced his service with the sublime declaration of the Hebrew prophet: “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.
In this case I found her biography sandwiched in between that of a Hebrew rabbi and that of a staff-commander who had written a monograph upon the deep-sea fishes.
They have got the "Grotto" of the Annunciation here; and just as convenient to it as one's throat is to his mouth, they have also the Virgin's Kitchen, and even her sitting-room, where she and Joseph watched the infant Saviour play with Hebrew toys eighteen hundred years ago.
The piety of the Hebrew prophets purges their grossness.
To teach the Negro to read, whether English, or Greek, or Hebrew, butters no parsnips.
The French alphabet, written out with the same numerical values as the Hebrew, in which the first nine letters denote units and the others tens, will have the following significance:
The really delightful marriage must be that where your husband was a sort of father, and could teach you even Hebrew, if you wished it.
She could hardly have been further away from really understanding Moody if he had spoken in Hebrew.
If I had spoken to him in Greek or Hebrew, I could hardly have puzzled him more effectually.
All our Law and Story strewed With hymns, our Psalms with artful terms inscribed, Our Hebrew songs and harps, in Babylon That pleased so well our victor's ear, declare That rather Greece from us these arts derived-- Ill imitated while they loudest sing The vices of their deities, and their own, In fable, hymn, or song, so personating Their gods ridiculous, and themselves past shame.
In which scroll were written in ancient Hebrew, and in ancient Greek, and in good Latin of the School, and in Spanish, these words: 'Land ye not, none of you.