Has English grammar become part of Hebrew recently?

—such as I’m going to+verb, or more+<adverb/adjective> instead of <adverb/adjective>+more?

Answer: Actually, I would argue that modern Hebrew is fairly resistant to English grammatical forms—mainly because its grammar is much simpler (comprising the equivalent of past simple, present simple, and simple future), with no mechanisms for emulating tenses such as present perfect (e.g. I have gone) or present continuous (e.g. going) or conditional (would go).

As a result, the sample constructions that you suggest — e.g. going to <verb> and more <adjective> (instead of <adjective> more) are not only uncommon, but indicative of poor Hebrew usage.

The Hebrew verb for to go (ללכת), for example, does not have the generic sense that it has in English, as it is more closely linked to the specific action of walking. So the construction going to <verb> (הולך לעשות) comes across as ‘walking to…’—i.e., a little odd. The actual and proper grammatical form of indicating that one is about to do something is, ironically, עומד ל – (omed le-) which literally means ‘stand to…’—e.g. הוא עומד להתפטר (Hu omed lehitpater = ‘He is about to resign’).

As for the more <adjective> form, the entertainer Orna Banai uses the phrase yoter adif יותר עדיף (‘more preferable’) to illustrate the illiteracy of her famous character, ‘Limor’.

Where modern Hebrew is highly susceptible to English usage is in the adoption of terminology in an inappropriate or misunderstood manner. As it happens, I wrote about this recently in an essay titled השורשים האנגליים של עברית סתומה (‘The English roots of obtuse Hebrew’). Three examples should suffice to illustrate:

  • mitkatev (מתכתב): This literal translation of the English word correspondbegan cropping up in academic writing in the past ten or twenty years (especially in the arts) in the curious sense of ‘is a reference to’—clearly after someone saw the word in an English text that talked about how something corresponded to something else, and misunderstood as it as corresponded with—i.e. exchanged correspondence with. The practice spread, and is now so deeply entrenched that I doubt it can be uprooted. The historic and much more accurate wording — מתייחס ל —has, alas, been entirely forgotten.
  • muar (מואר): a misunderstanding of the English word highlight, used to indicate some mystic illumination, e.g.:
    מרחב אפשרי לערעור יחסי הכוחות המוטבעים בו, שבו המוזיאון מואר כמשכפל התבוננות ריבונית
    which literally reads: ‘A possible space for subverting the embedded power relations, in which the museum is illuminated as reproducing sovereign observation.’*
  • benetiv (בנתיב): A misunderstanding of the English expression in the course of, to mean ‘in the path of’—e.g.:
    האמן מבקש להזין את עצמו הזנה מחייה בנתיב הניסוי הקליני שהוא שותף לו
    which literally reads: ‘The artist seeks to feed himself a reviving nourishment in the path of the clinical experiment that he is part of

It is obtuse sentences of this sort that gives this type of academic writing a reputation of alienating pseudo-intellectual claptrap among the common Israeli public—who are consequently naturally inclined (to paraphrase Dorothy Parker) not only to toss it aside, but to throw it with great force.

Alas, as long as Israelis continue to misunderstand common English terms and idioms, this trend will likely continue.


*If you can understand that, you’re a better man than me, Gunga Din.

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