Fed up with repeated mispronunciation of Arabic names and words in Western media, I offer this simple primer of ten things that every Westerner (esp. broadcasters) should know about Arabic names and terms:
Interesting question. The good news is that the Hebrew of King David’s time is actually closer to modern Hebrew than that of the Second Temple period (with its considerable Aramaic influences). This is partly due to the deliberate efforts of the Zionist leadership to hark back to the nation’s heroic past, and partly because, in the revival of Hebrew in the modern era, the narratives of the Hebrew Bible provided far more source material than the Second Temple period, when the Talmudic Sages (who were virtually the only ones putting things down in writing) tended to slip into Aramaic all the time.
As a result, the glimpses of dialogue that we see in David’s time sound remarkably contemporary. Two examples, out of many:
Well, if you take the biblical account literally, Ishmael—the forefathers of all Arabs—moved with his mother, Hagar, southeast into the Arabian peninsula, where over the next two thousand years or so, it evolved into something different, which is known as Arabic.
Join me on Sunday, February 19, 2017 2:30 pm, at Congregation Emanu-El synagogue, Victoria, B.C., for the second talk in its series Sketches of Israel and the Middle East, when I address the topic Arabic Hebrew: An Introduction to How Modern Israelis Really Speak.
(Can’t make it that day? State your interest in attending the talk on another occasion (and preferred day and time) in our online poll.
Hebrew in Arabic—in principle, yes: Arabic has a direct equivalent of every Hebrew letter, plus six more. However, there are four caveats to this:
- The Hebrew gimmel, by default, is a hard g sound—whereas in Arabic, the equivalent letter (ج – jim) is like a soft g (, like the English j. However, it could be decided that it is pronounced like a hard g, as in Egyptian Arabic.
- The Hebrew vav sounds like /v/, but its equivalent Arabic letter, waw (و) is pronounced like the English w. However, it could be decided that it is pronounced /v/, since Hebrew has no /w/ sound.
- The Arabic script has no hard /p/ letter—however, the Persian script (which is a near-identical derivative) does (پ)—so that could be used.
- The Hebrew tzadi is pronounced /ts/, but its Arabic equivalent, ṣād (ص) sounds like /s/—so one would have to decide that it is pronounced /ts/.
From the time of the Canaanite enslavement in Egypt in the 1900s BCE the end of the First Temple—a period of 1400 years—Hebrew was written in the Canaanite script that was common to all Canaanite peoples. During their three generations of exile in Babylon, the Judean upper classes were exposed to the Assyrian/Aramaic script, which was inspired by the Canaanite script but had evolved, under centuries of Mesopotamian scribes, into a more disciplined set of forms designed around a squarish template (rather like that of the original calculator displays).
A recurring trope in Hollywood films and American TV is that when Jews meet or part with each other, they say “Shalom!”. This is an amusing fallacy, based on the premise that all Jews are Hebrew-speaking Israelis—which is not the case.
In fact, even native Israelis rarely greet each other that way.
In my talk about Arabic Hebrew: How Israelis Really Speak, I point out that this myth is similar to how, in American film and TV productions in the 1950s and ‘60s, native Americans (or “Indians”, as they were called back then) would always greet each other (and white men, in particular) with the word “How!”
In reality, there are only three situations when Hebrew speakers greet each other with the word Shalom!:
It depends whether you’re talking about script or vocabulary.