Q: Is there a rule for determining the vowels in Hebrew conjugation (present, past, future and passive)?

Yes, there is: it’s determined by the binyan (construction) of the verb.
There are seven binyanim, each with its characteristic pattern of vowels. Their names reflect the vowel pattern in the past tense (3rd person singular, masculine)—thus:

1181105_binyanim_table4

The appropriate binyan of a verb is determined by whether it is a simple verb, or one that refers to an action to or on something else; or a manipulation of an object or a person; or a continuous or repeating operation—or the passive corollary of any the above. (For more information on that, see my post on How do I know if a verb in hebrew is pa’al type, pi’el type, or other?)

Advertisements

Q: Is it true that quotation marks in Modern Hebrew must always be ‘straight’ (“”) and never ‘curly’/‘smart’ (“”)?

That is correct: curly quotes look too much like the Hebrew letter yod (י), so they are avoided, lest people confuse the two.

Read More…

Q: Why is the original Hebrew called “the Holy Tongue”?

Prior to the First Exile of the Judean aristocracy to Babylon in 586 BCE, Israelites referred to themselves as ‘Hebrews’ (ivrim – עברים)—e.g.:

  • And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew [Gen. 14:13]
  • And there was there with us a young man, an Hebrew [Gen. 41:23]

    when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew [Exodus 2:7]

  • And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee [Deut. 15:12]
  • That every man should let his manservant, and every man his maidservant, being an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free [Jer. 34:9]
  • And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land [Jonah 1:9]

It stands to reason, therefore, that their language was known as ivrit (Hebrew)—although, in the century and a half after the fall of the Israel (northern) kingdom, since Judea was the sole remaining sovereign Israelite entity, the notion of a ‘Hebrew’ nationality lost its meaning, and its inhabitants began to refer to themselves as yehudim (Judeans), and their language as yehudit (Judean):

  • Speak, I pray thee, to thy servants in Assyrian—for we understand it— and talk not with us in Judean in the ears of the people that are on the wall [II Kings 18:26]

After two or three generations in Babylon, the exiled Judeans naturally acquired Aramaic as their native language, and Hebrew might have been forgotten entirely, were it not so critical to preserving their cherished history and traditions.

It was clear that Hebrew would the language in which the written record of the oral traditions—which we now know as the Hebrew Bible—would be recorded. However, the notion of a Hebrew nationality had long been lost, and referring to the language as yehudit suggested that, as good Judeans, they should speak it as their native tongue—which they were loathe to do, because by this time, they felt more at home in Aramaic, which was also a more prestigious language, since it was the lingua franca of the region.

So to reflect Hebrew’s new special status, and to ‘compensate’ it for losing its status as the native everyday language, it was now referred to as leshon haqodesh (‘the holy tongue’). This state of affairs continued until the arrival of the first Zionists in Palestine in the late nineteenth century, who—as avowedly secular Jews intent on resurrecting the notion of a Jewish nationality, rather than religion—revived the concept of Hebrew as a nationality and as a language.

This mindset continued throughout the first half of the twentieth century: the Zionist Jewish community in Palestine referred to itself, its autonomous institutions and enterprises, and even the future independent state, as ‘Hebrew’.

In his declaration of independence of the newborn State of Israel in 1948, however, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion inadvertently referred to the new country as a medinah yehudit (‘Jewish state’). Although he meant it in the nationalist/Zionist sense of a ‘state of the Jews’, religious political parties were quick to seize upon this expression to mean a ‘Jewish state’ in the religious sense—whose agenda, therefore, was therefore implicitly theirs to dictate.

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.

Continue reading

Is there any difference between the pre-exile Biblical Hebrew and post-Exile Biblical Hebrew?

Hugely, yes.

Post-Exile (First Exile, that is—in Babylon), Hebrew was flooded with Aramaic words and expressions, as the returning Judeans sought to introduce the sophistication of the prestigious and cosmopolitan Babylon, where they had lived for over three generations, into the provincial backwater of their ancestral land, where only poor and barely literate Judeans (“none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land”—II Kings 24:14) had remained after the Babylonian conquest some 75 years before.

Continue reading