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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.
REFERENCESShapiro, 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.
A. B. DOLGOPOL’SKII