Hebrew (עִבְרִית, Ivrit, Hebrew pronunciation (help·info)) is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Culturally, it is considered the Jewish language. Hebrew in its modern form is spoken by most of the seven million people in Israel while Classical Hebrew has been used for prayer or study in Jewish communities around the world for over two thousand years. It is one of the official languages of Israel, along with Arabic. Ancient Hebrew is also the liturgical tongue of the Samaritans, while modern Hebrew or Palestinian Arabic is their vernacular, though today about 700 Samaritans remain. As a foreign language it is studied mostly by Jews and students of Judaism and Israel, archaeologists and linguists specializing in the Middle East and its civilizations, by theologians, and in Christian seminaries.
The core of the Torah (the Hebrew Bible) is written in Classical Hebrew, and much of its present form is specifically the dialect of Biblical Hebrew that scholars believe flourished around the 6th century BCE, around the time of the Babylonian exile. For this reason, Hebrew has been referred to by Jews as Leshon HaKodesh (לשון הקודש), "The Holy Language", since ancient times.
The modern word "Hebrew" is derived from the word "ivri" (plural "ivrim") one of several names for the Jewish people. It is traditionally understood to be an adjective based on the name of Abraham's ancestor, Eber mentioned in Genesis 10:21. This name is possibly based upon the root "`avar" (עבר) meaning "to cross over" and homiletical interpretations of the term "ivrim" link it to this verb. In the Bible "Hebrew" is called Yehudith (יהודית) because Judah (Yehuda) was the surviving kingdom at the time of the quotation, late 8th century BCE (Is 36, 2 Kings 18). In Isaiah 19:18, it is also called the "Language of Canaan" (שְׂפַת כְּנַעַן)
Modern Hebrew is written from right to left using the Hebrew alphabet, which is an abjad, or consonant-only script of 22 letters. The ancient paleo-Hebrew alphabet is similar to those used for Canaanite and Phoenician. Modern scripts are based on the "square" letter form, known as Ashurit (Assyrian), which was developed from the Aramaic script. A cursive Hebrew script is used in handwriting: the letters tend to be more circular in form when written in cursive, and sometimes vary markedly from their printed equivalents. The medieval version of the cursive script forms the basis of another style, known as Rashi script. When necessary, vowels are indicated by diacritic marks above or below the letter representing the syllabic onset, or by use of matres lectionis, which are consonantal letters used as vowels. Further diacritics are used to indicate variations in the pronunciation of the consonants (e.g. bet/vet, shin/sin); and, in some contexts, to indicate the punctuation, accentuation and musical rendition of Biblical texts (see Cantillation).
As a language, Hebrew belongs to the Canaanite group of languages. In turn the Canaanite languages are a branch of the Northwest Semitic family of languages. Hebrew (Israel) and Moabite (Jordan) are Southern Canaanite while Phoenician (Lebanon) is Northern Canaanite. Canaanite is closely related to Aramaic and to a lesser extent South-Central Arabic. Whereas other Canaanite languages became extinct, Hebrew flourished as a spoken language in Israel from an uncertain date before the 10th century BCE, Scholars debate the degree to which Hebrew was a spoken vernacular in ancient times following the Babylonian exile.
Around the 6th century BCE, the Neo-Babylonian Empire conquered the ancient Kingdom of Judah, destroying much of Jerusalem and exiling its population far to the East in Babylon. During the Babylonian captivity, many Israelites were enslaved within the Babylonian Empire and learned the closely related Semitic language of their captors, Aramaic. The Babylonians had taken mainly the governing classes of Israel while leaving behind in Israel presumably more-compliant farmers and laborers to work the land. Thus for a significant period, the Jewish elite became influenced by Aramaic. (see below, Aramaic spoken among Israelites).
After Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, he released the Jewish people from captivity. The King of Kings or Great King of Persia, later gave the Israelites permission to return. As a result, a local version of Aramaic came to be spoken in Israel alongside Hebrew. By the beginning of the Common Era, Aramaic was the primary colloquial language of Samaria and Galilee, but a form of so-called Rabbinic Hebrew continued to be used as a vernacular in Judaea until it was displaced by Aramaic, probably in the 3rd century CE. (other opinions on the exact date range from the 4th-century BCE to the end of the Roman period). Nevertheless, Hebrew was always regarded as the language of Israel's religion, history and national pride, and after it faded as a spoken language, it continued to be used as a lingua franca among scholars and Jews traveling in foreign countries throughout history. It was revived as a spoken language in the early 20th century. After the 2nd century CE when the Roman Empire exiled most of the Jewish population of Jerusalem following the Bar Kokhba revolt, the Israelites adapted to the societies in which they found themselves, yet letters, contracts, commerce, science, philosophy, medicine, poetry, and laws continued to be written mostly in Hebrew, which adapted by borrowing and inventing terms.
Hebrew persevered along the ages as the main language for written purposes by all Jewish communities around the world for a large range of uses - not only liturgy, but also poetry, philosophy, science and medicine, commerce, daily correspondence and contracts. There have been, of course, many deviations from this generalization such as Bar Kokhba's letters to his lieutenants, which were mostly in Aramaic, and Maimonides' writings, which were mostly in Arabic; but overall, Hebrew did not cease to be used for such purposes. This meant not only that well-educated Jews in all parts of the world could correspond in a mutually intelligible language, and that books and legal documents published or written in any part of the world could be read by Jews in all other parts, but that an educated Jew  could travel and converse with Jews in distant places, just as priests and other educated Christians could once converse in Latin. It has been 'revived' several times as a literary language, and most significantly by the Haskalah (Enlightenment) movement of early and mid-19th century. Near the end of that century the Jewish activist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, owing to the ideology of the national revival (Hibbat Tziyon, later Zionism), began reviving Hebrew as a modern spoken language. Eventually, as a result of the local movement he created, but more significantly as a result of the new groups of immigrants known under the name of the Second Aliyah, it replaced a score of languages spoken by Jews at that time. Those languages were Jewish dialects such as the Judeo-Spanish language (also called Judezmo or Ladino), Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, and Bukharian language, or local languages spoken in the Jewish diaspora such as Russian, Persian, and Arabic.
The major result of the literary work of the Hebrew intellectuals along the 19th century was a lexical modernization of Hebrew. New words and expressions were adapted as neologisms from the large corpus of Hebrew writings since the Hebrew Bible, or borrowed from Arabic (mainly by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda) and Aramaic. Many new words were either borrowed from or coined after European languages, especially English, Russian, German, and French. Modern Hebrew became an official language in British-ruled Palestine in 1921 (along with English and Arabic), and then in 1948 became an official language of the newly declared State of Israel. Hebrew is the most widely spoken language in Israel today.
Hebrew is a Semitic language and as such a member of the larger Afro-Asiatic phylum.
Within Semitic, the Northwest Semitic languages formed around the 3rd millennium BCE, grouped along with the Arabic languages as Central Semitic. The Canaanite languages are a group within Northwest Semitic, emerging in the 2nd millennium BCE in the Levant, gradually separating from Aramaic and Ugaritic.
Within the Canaanite group, Hebrew belongs to the sub-group also containing Edomite, Ammonite and Moabite. Another Canaanite sub-group contains Phoenician and its descendant Punic.
he earliest Hebrew writing yet discovered was found at Khirbet Qeiyafa in July 2008 by Israeli archaeologist Yossi Garfinkel. A 3,000-year-old pottery shard bearing five lines of faded characters were found in the ruins of an ancient town south of Jerusalem. Garfinkel noted that the find suggests Biblical accounts of the ancient Israelite kingdom of David could have been based on written texts.
The Gezer calendar also dates back to the 10th century BCE at the beginning of the Monarchic Period, the traditional time of the reign of David and Solomon. Classified as Archaic Biblical Hebrew, the calendar presents a list of seasons and related agricultural activities. The Gezer calendar (named after the city in whose proximity it was found) is written in an old Semitic script, akin to the Phoenician one that through the Greeks and Etruscans later became the Roman script. The Gezer calendar is written without any vowels, and it does not use consonants to imply vowels even in the places where later Hebrew spelling requires it.
The Shebna lintel, from the tomb of a royal steward found in Siloam, dates to the 7th century BCE.
Numerous older tablets have been found in the region with similar scripts written in other Semitic languages, for example Protosinaitic. It is believed that the original shapes of the script go back to Egyptian hieroglyphs, though the phonetic values are instead inspired by the acrophonic principle. The common ancestor of Hebrew and Phoenician is called Canaanite, and was the first to use a Semitic alphabet distinct from Egyptian. One ancient document is the famous Moabite Stone written in the Moabite dialect; the Siloam Inscription, found near Jerusalem, is an early example of Hebrew. Less ancient samples of Archaic Hebrew include the ostraka found near Lachish which describe events preceding the final capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian captivity of 586 BCE.
In its widest sense, Classical Hebrew means the spoken language of ancient Israel flourishing between the 10th century BCE and the turn of the 4th century CE. It comprises several evolving and overlapping dialects. The phases of Classical Hebrew are often named after important literary works associated with them.
Archaic Biblical Hebrew from the 10th to the 6th century BCE, corresponding to the Monarchic Period until the Babylonian Exile and represented by certain texts in the Hebrew Bible (Tanach), notably the Song of Moses (Exodus 15) and the Song of Deborah (Judges 5). Also called Old Hebrew or Paleo-Hebrew. It was written in a form of the Canaanite script. (A script descended from this is still used by the Samaritans, see Samaritan Hebrew language.)
Biblical Hebrew around the 6th century BCE, corresponding to the Babylonian Exile and represented by the bulk of the Hebrew Bible that attains much of its present form around this time. Also called Classical Biblical Hebrew (or Classical Hebrew in the narrowest sense).
Late Biblical Hebrew, from the 6th to the 4th century BCE, that corresponds to the Persian Period and is represented by certain texts in the Hebrew Bible, notably the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Basically similar to Classical Biblical Hebrew, apart from a few foreign words adopted for mainly governmental terms, and some syntactical innovations such as the use of the particle shel (of, belonging to). It adopted the Imperial Aramaic script.
Israelian Hebrew is a proposed northern dialect of biblical Hebrew, attested in all eras of the language, in some cases competing with late biblical Hebrew as an explanation for non-standard linguistic features of biblical texts.
Dead Sea Scroll Hebrew from the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century CE, corresponding to the Hellenistic and Roman Periods before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and represented by the Qumran Scrolls that form most (but not all) of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Commonly abbreviated as DSS Hebrew, also called Qumran Hebrew. The Imperial Aramaic script of the earlier scrolls in the 3rd century BCE evolved into the Hebrew square script of the later scrolls in the 1st century CE, also known as ketav Ashuri (Assyrian script), still in use today.
Mishnaic Hebrew from the 1st to the 3rd or 4th century CE, corresponding to the Roman Period after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and represented by the bulk of the Mishnah and Tosefta within the Talmud and by the Dead Sea Scrolls, notably the Bar Kokhba Letters and the Copper Scroll. Also called Tannaitic Hebrew or Early Rabbinic Hebrew.
Sometimes the above phases of spoken Classical Hebrew are simplified into "Biblical Hebrew" (including several dialects from the tenth century BCE to 2nd century BCE and extant in certain Dead Sea Scrolls) and "Mishnaic Hebrew" (including several dialects from the 3rd century BCE to the 3rd century CE and extant in certain other Dead Sea Scrolls). However, today, most Hebrew linguists classify Dead Sea Scroll Hebrew as a set of dialects evolving out of Late Biblical Hebrew and into Mishnaic Hebrew, thus including elements from both but remaining distinct from either. By the start of the Byzantine Period in the 4th century CE, Classical Hebrew ceases as a regularly spoken language, roughly a century after the publication of the Mishnah, apparently declining since the aftermath of the catastrophic Bar Kokhba War around 135 CE.
While there is no doubt that at a certain point, Hebrew was displaced as the everyday spoken language of most Jews, and that its chief successor in the Middle East was the closely related Aramaic language, scholarly opinions on the exact dating of that shift have changed very much. In the early half of the 20th century, most scholars followed Geiger and Dalman in thinking that Aramaic became a spoken language in the land of Israel as early as by the start of Israel's Hellenistic Period in the 4th century BCE, and that as a corollary Hebrew ceased to function as a spoken language around the same time. Segal, Klausner, and Ben Yehuda are notable exceptions to this view. During the latter half of the 20th century, accumulating archaeological evidence and especially linguistic analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls has disproven that view. The Dead Sea Scrolls, uncovered in 1946-1948 near Qumran revealed ancient Jewish texts overwhelmingly in Hebrew, not Aramaic. The Qumran scrolls indicate that Hebrew texts were readily understandable to the average Israelite, and that the language had evolved since Biblical times as spoken languages do. Recent scholarship recognizes that reports of Jews speaking in Aramaic indicates a multi-lingual society, not necessarily the primary language spoken. Alongside Aramaic, Hebrew co-existed within Israel as a spoken language. Most scholars now date the demise of Hebrew as a spoken language to the end of the Roman Period, or about 200 CE. It continued on as a literary language down through Byzantine Period from the 4th century CE. Many Hebrew linguists even postulate the survival of Hebrew as a spoken language until the Byzantine Period[who?], but some historians do not accept this.[who?]
The exact roles of Aramaic and Hebrew remain hotly debated. A trilingual scenario has been proposed for the land of Israel. Hebrew functioned as the local mother tongue with powerful ties to Israel's history, origins, and golden age and as the language of Israel's religion; Aramaic functioned as the international language with the rest of the Mideast; and eventually Greek functioned as another international language with the eastern areas of the Roman Empire. Communities of Jews (and non-Jews) are known, who immigrated to Judea from these other lands and continued to speak Aramaic or Greek. According to another summary, Greek was the language of government, Hebrew the language of prayer, study and religious texts, and Aramaic was the language of legal contracts and trade. There was also geographic pattern: by the beginning of the Common Era, "Judeo-Aramaic was mainly used in Galilee in the north, Greek was concentrated in the former colonies and around governmental centres, and Hebrew monolingualism continued mainly in the southern villages of Judea." In other words, "in terms of dialect geography, at the time of the tannaim Palestine could be divided into the Aramaic-speaking regions of Galilee and Samaria and a smaller area, Judaea, in which Rabbinic Hebrew was used among the descendants of returning exiles." In addition, it has been surmised that Koine Greek was the primary vehicle of communication in coastal cities and among the upper class of Jerusalem, and Aramaic was prevalent in the lower class of Jerusalem, but not in the surrounding countryside. After the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt, Judaeans were forced to disperse and many relocated to Galilee, so most remaining native speakers of Hebrew at that last stage would have been found in the north.
The Christian New Testament contains some clearly Aramaic place names and quotes. Although the language of such Semitic glosses (and in general the language spoken by Jews in scenes from the New Testament) is usually referred to as "Hebrew"/"Jewish" in the text, this term often seems to refer to Aramaic instead and is rendered accordingly in recent translations. Nonetheless, many glosses can be interpreted as Hebrew as well; and it has been argued that Hebrew, rather than Aramaic, lay behind the composition of the Gospel of Matthew. See Aramaic of Jesus for more details on Hebrew and Aramaic in the gospels.
Mishnah and Talmud
The term generally refers to the Hebrew dialects found in the Talmud תלמוד, excepting quotations from the Hebrew Bible. The dialects organize into Mishnaic Hebrew (also called Tannaitic Hebrew, Early Rabbinic Hebrew, or Mishnaic Hebrew I), which was a spoken language, and Amoraic Hebrew (also called Late Rabbinic Hebrew or Mishnaic Hebrew II), which was a literary language.
The earlier section of the Talmud is the Mishnah משנה that was published around 200 CE and was written in the earlier Mishnaic dialect. The dialect is also found in certain Dead Sea Scrolls. Mishnaic Hebrew is considered to be one of the dialects of Classical Hebrew that functioned as a living language in the land of Israel.
A transitional form of the language occurs in the other works of Tannaitic literature dating from the century beginning with the completion of the Mishnah. These include the halachic Midrashim (Sifra, Sifre, Mechilta etc.) and the expanded collection of Mishnah-related material known as the Tosefta תוספתא. The Talmud contains excerpts from these works, as well as further Tannaitic material not attested elsewhere; the generic term for these passages is Baraitot. The dialect of all these works is very similar to Mishnaic Hebrew.
About a century after the publication of the Mishnah, Mishnaic Hebrew fell into disuse as a spoken language. The later section of the Talmud, the Gemara גמרא, generally comments on the Mishnah and Baraitot in Aramaic. Nevertheless, Hebrew survived as a liturgical and literary language in the form of later Amoraic Hebrew, which sometimes occurs in the text of the Gemara.
After the Talmud, various regional literary dialects of Medieval Hebrew evolved. The most important is Tiberian Hebrew or Masoretic Hebrew, a local dialect of Tiberias in Galilee that became the standard for vocalizing the Hebrew Bible and thus still influences all other regional dialects of Hebrew. This Tiberian Hebrew from the 7th to 10th century CE is sometimes called "Biblical Hebrew" because it is used to pronounce the Hebrew Bible; however properly it should be distinguished from the historical Biblical Hebrew of the 6th century BCE, whose original pronunciation must be reconstructed.
Tiberian Hebrew incorporates the remarkable scholarship of the Masoretes (from masoret meaning "tradition"), who added vowel points and grammar points to the Hebrew letters to preserve much earlier features of Hebrew, for use in chanting the Hebrew Bible. The Masoretes inherited a biblical text whose letters were considered too sacred to be altered, so their markings were in the form of pointing in and around the letters. The Syriac script, precursor to the Arabic script, also developed vowel pointing systems around this time. The Aleppo Codex, a Hebrew Bible with the Masoretic pointing, was written in the 10th century likely in Tiberias and survives to this day. It is perhaps the most important Hebrew manuscript in existence.
In the Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain important work was done by grammarians in explaining the grammar and vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew; much of this was based on the work of the grammarians of Classical Arabic. Important Hebrew grammarians were Judah ben David Hayyuj, Jonah ibn Janah and later (in Provence) David Kimhi. A great deal of poetry was written, by poets such as Dunash ben Labrat, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Judah ha-Levi and the two Ibn Ezras, in a "purified" Hebrew based on the work of these grammarians, and in Arabic quantitative or strophic metres. This literary Hebrew was later used by Italian Jewish poets.
The Humanist, Philosopher and member of the Platonic Academy in Florence, Pico della Mirandola, (1463-1494) already proficient in Latin and Greek,studied Hebrew and Arabic in Padua with Elia del Medigo, a Jewish Averroist, and read Aramaic manuscripts with him as well. Del Medigo also translated Judaic manuscripts from Hebrew into Latin for Pico, as he would continue to do for a number of years.
The need to express scientific and philosophical concepts from Classical Greek and Medieval Arabic motivated Medieval Hebrew to borrow terminology and grammar from these other languages, or to coin equivalent terms from existing Hebrew roots, giving rise to a distinct style of philosophical Hebrew. This is used in the translations made by the Ibn Tibbon family. (Original Jewish philosophical works were usually written in Arabic.)
Another important influence was Maimonides, who developed a simple style based on Mishnaic Hebrew for use in his law code, the Mishneh Torah. Subsequent rabbinic literature is written in a blend between this style and the Aramaized Rabbinic Hebrew of the Talmud.
In the Modern Period, from the 19th century onward, the literary Hebrew tradition as pronounced in Jerusalem revived as the spoken language of modern Israel, called variously Israeli Hebrew, Modern Israeli Hebrew, Modern Hebrew, New Hebrew, Israeli Standard Hebrew, Standard Hebrew, and so on. Israeli Hebrew exhibits many features of Sephardic Hebrew from its local Jerusalemite tradition but adapts it with numerous neologisms, borrowed terms (often technical) from European languages and adopted terms (often colloquial) from Arabic.
The literary and narrative use of Hebrew was revived beginning with the Haskalah (Enlightenment) movement. The first secular periodical in Hebrew, Hameassef (The Gatherer), was published by Maskilim literati in Königsberg (today's Kaliningrad) from 1783 onwards. In the mid-19th century, publications of several Eastern European Hebrew-language newspapers (e.g. HaMagid, founded in Lyck, Prussia, in 1856) multiplied. Prominent poets were Chaim Nachman Bialik and Shaul Tchernichovsky; there were also novels written in the language.
The revival of the Hebrew language as a mother tongue was initiated in the late 19th century by the efforts of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. He joined the Jewish national movement and in 1881 immigrated to Palestine, then a part of the Ottoman Empire. Motivated by the surrounding ideals of renovation and rejection of the diaspora "shtetl" lifestyle, Ben-Yehuda set out to develop tools for making the literary and liturgical language into everyday spoken language.
However, his brand of Hebrew followed norms that had been replaced in Eastern Europe by different grammar and style, in the writings of people like Achad Ha-Am and others. His organizational efforts and involvement with the establishment of schools and the writing of textbooks pushed the vernacularization activity into a gradually accepted movement. It was not, however, until the 1904-1914 Second Aliyah that Hebrew had caught real momentum in Ottoman Palestine with the more highly organized enterprises set forth by the new group of immigrants. When the British Mandate of Palestine recognized Hebrew as one of the country's three official languages (English, Arabic, and Hebrew, in 1922), its new formal status contributed to its diffusion. A constructed modern language with a truly Semitic vocabulary and written appearance, although often European in phonology, was to take its place among the current languages of the nations.
While many saw his work as fanciful or even blasphemous (because Hebrew was the holy language of the Torah and therefore some thought that it should not be used to discuss everyday matters), many soon understood the need for a common language amongst Jews of the Palestine Mandate who at the turn of the 20th century were arriving in large numbers from diverse countries and speaking different languages. A Committee of the Hebrew Language was established. Later it became the Academy of the Hebrew Language, an organization that still exists today. The results of his and the Committee's work were published in a dictionary (The Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew). The seeds of Ben-Yehuda's work fell on fertile ground, and by the beginning of the 20th century, Hebrew was well on its way to becoming the main language of the Jewish population of both Ottoman and British Palestine. At the time, members of the Old Yishuv and a very few Hasidic sects, most notably those under the auspices of Satmar, refused to speak Hebrew and only spoke Yiddish. However, while this ideological stance persists in certain quarters, almost all members of these groups have learned modern Hebrew in order to interact with outsiders.
The vast majority of scholars see Modern Hebrew as a direct continuation of Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew, though they concede that it has acquired some European vocabulary and syntactical features, in much the same way as Modern Standard Arabic (or even more so, dialects such as Moroccan Arabic). There are two minor dissenting views, which have not been accepted by most scholars, and are in fact subject to much criticism. They are:
Paul Wexler claims that modern Hebrew is not a Semitic language at all, but a dialect of "Judaeo-Sorbian". He argues that the underlying structure of the language is Slavic, but "re-lexified" to absorb much of the vocabulary and inflexional system of Hebrew in much the same way as a creole. This view forms part of a larger complex of theories, such as that Ashkenazi Jews are predominantly descended from Slavic and Turkic tribes rather than from the ancient Israelites, none of which are accepted by mainstream scholarship.
Ghil'ad Zuckermann compromises between Wexler and the majority view: according to him, "Israeli" (his term for Israeli Hebrew) is a Semito-European hybrid language, which is the continuation not only of literary Hebrew but also of Yiddish, as well as Polish, Russian, German, English, Ladino, Arabic and other languages spoken by Hebrew revivalists. Thus, "Yiddish is a primary contributor to Israeli Hebrew because it was the mother tongue of the vast majority of revivalists and first pioneers in Eretz Yisrael at the crucial period of the beginning of Israeli Hebrew". According to Zuckermann, although the revivalists wished to speak Hebrew, with Semitic grammar and pronunciation, they could not avoid the Ashkenazi mindset arising from their European background. He argues that their attempt to deny their European roots, negate diasporism and avoid hybridity (as reflected in Yiddish) failed. "Had the revivalists been Arabic-speaking or Berber-speaking Jews (e.g. from Morocco), Israeli Hebrew would have been a totally different language – both genetically and typologically, much more Semitic. The impact of the founder population on Israeli Hebrew is incomparable with that of later immigrants."
So far, neither view has gained significant acceptance among mainstream linguists, and both have been criticized by some as being based less on linguistic evidence than post- or anti-Zionist political motivations. However, some linguists, for example American Yiddish scholar Dovid Katz, have employed Zuckermann's glottonym "Israeli" and accept his notion of hybridity. Few would dispute that Hebrew has acquired some European features as a result of having been learned by immigrants as a second language at a crucial formative stage. The identity of the European substrate/adstrate has varied: in the time of the Mandate and the early State, the principal contributor was Yiddish, while today it is American English. There has also been some influence, on vocabulary rather than structure, from Arabic, both in the form of Palestinian Arabic and, during the large scale immigrations of Mizrahi Jews during the 1950-60s, the Yemenite and North African dialects. Some Russian influence may also be observed, both during the founding period and as a result of the wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union following its collapse in 1991.
Hebrew has two dialects; a Jewish one and a Samaritan one. In the beginning of the 20th century, the Samaritan dialect nearly became extinct, along with the Samaritan population itself. It is now generally used only for Samaritan religion purposes.
According to the Academy of the Hebrew Language, in 1880s (the time of the beginning of the Zionist movement and the Hebrew revival) there were mainly three groups of Hebrew regional accents: The Ashkenazi (German), The Sephardi (Hispanic/Mediterranean) and that of Jewish communities who had little influence from those two groups of Jews, mostly in Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen. Ben-Yehuda decided that the standard accent would be the Sephardi one, but eventually, the standard accent became something in between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi one.
In the 2010s most Hebrew speakers have that standard accent. Most of the other Hebrew speakers have an accent with more Sephardi/Iraqi/Yemenite influence since they try to keep on with non-Ashkenazi tradition, and since they try to avoid the ambiguity that the standard accent forces by making various consonants sound alike. This accent can be called Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) accent. A third group has an accent with more Ashkenazi influence. It includes mostly a minority group within the Hasidic Ashkenazi Jews.
Phonologically, standard Hebrew accent may most accurately be described as an amalgam of pronunciations preserving Sephardic vowel sounds and some Ashkenazic consonant sounds with Yiddish-style influence, its recurring feature being simplification of differences among a wide array of pronunciations. This simplifying tendency also accounts for the collapse of the Ashkenazic [t] and [s] allophones of ת (/t/) into the single phone [t]. Most Sephardic and Mizrahi accents share this feature, though some (such as those of Iraq and Yemen) differentiate between these two pronunciations as /t/ and /θ/. Within Israel, however, the pronunciation of Hebrew more often reflects the diasporic origin of the individual speaker, rather than the specific recommendations of the Academy. For this reason, over half the population pronounces ר as [ʀ] (a uvular trill, as in Yiddish) or as [ʁ] (a voiced uvular fricative, as in Standard German and French), rather than as [r], an alveolar trill, as in Spanish and Italian.
There are mixed views on the status of the two accents. On the one hand, prominent Israelis of Sephardic or Oriental origin are admired for the purity of their speech and Yemenite Jews are often employed as newsreaders. On the other hand, the speech of middle-class Ashkenazim is regarded as having a certain Central European sophistication, and many speakers of Mizrahi origin have moved nearer to this version of Standard Hebrew, in some cases even adopting the uvular resh.
Main differences between the accents
Yiddish influence on the consonants In Ashkenazi and standard accents:
The צ is [ts] instead of its original Semitic sound /sˤ/.
ר is pronounced as the Yiddish-German-like R /ʁ/ instead of an Italian-Spanish-Scottish-like R /r/.
disappearance of the Semitic sound ק
, that in Standard and Ashkenazi Hebrew sounds just like the כּ with a dot inside [k].
In the Ashkenazi accent, and by many of the speakers of Israeli Hebrew: the ח <ħ> sounds just like כ /x/, and the ע <ʕ> like the א <ʔ> merging into [ʔ] or becoming silent. These changes are not part of standard Hebrew and occur in the speech of many speakers, but not all.In Yemenite accent, when the ו is a consonant, it is pronounced as a [w] and not as a [v].
sounds:In the Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and standard accents the ט /tˤ/ and the תּ with a dot inside /t/ had lost their original difference and merged into [t].In Ashkenazi accent the תwithout a dot inside (th) <θ> sounds like [s] while in all the others it sounds like the a regular [t].Stress: in the Ashkenazi accent many more words are pronounced with a stress on the beginning of the word.Vowels:In the Ashkenazi and Yemenite accents many more ָ (Kamats) are pronounced /o/ instead of /a/.In the Ashkenazi accent many more ֵ (Tsere) are pronounced like in the English word “ate” /eɪ/ instead of /e(ː)/.