Jewish languages

Linguistics: Jewish languages

Didier BERTIN - 18/08/2019

I- Hebrew

A very detailed and very interesting study was made by "Linguisticae" (France) to which we would like to make some clarifications and first of all insist that the study of a language in a linguistic target is very limited if it is considered separately from the ethnic group that created it, especially as an identity component. "Linguisticae" also works in this direction by generally calling on specialists from various backgrounds to complete their studies.

Hebrew is therefore is thus not only a language but an identity link with a land and a History. Hebrew has been preserved in the Diaspora as a strong identity component of Judaism and of the Jewish ethnic group who took care to preserve its use even reduced to a religious utilization. It was the same for the safeguarding of the Greek maintained in the sole field tolerated by the Ottoman invaders.

In spite of various hypotheses, the very pronunciation of Hebrew has been preserved despite the absence of vowels by consonants indicative of vowels and then by the Nekudots guaranteeing a more complete pronunciation. These were created by a masoretic group who maintained a permanent presence in Galilee (Tzfat) despite the incitement to exile. The Ashkenazim have a distorted pronunciation of Hebrew and Eliezer Ben Yehuda who took Hebrew out of its religious framework to convert it into a common language, made a rational choice by choosing a pronunciation consistent with that of other Semitic languages ​​duly respected by Sephardim and Eastern Jews.

The study of "Linguisticae" amplifies the contribution of Eliezer Ben Yehuda too much as if he had created a much renovated language by going as far as grammatically borrowing from Indo-European languages. Eliezer Ben Yehuda has taken over the language of existing texts and so Modern Hebrew easily permits to understand ancient religious texts. Arab people can also easily learn Modern Hebrew because of their close ties to their own language. Modern Hebrew also makes possible to understand but more difficultly religious texts written in Aramaic thanks to the generic importance of the roots of words in Semitic languages. We are thus very far from a language that would have been grammatically influenced by borrowing from the Indo-European languages ​​and Modern Hebrew is clearly part of the family of Semitic languages. It is important to emphasize this to cut the grass under the feet of those who are looking for political arguments.

While some Israelis prefer to use simplified forms such as the expression of the possessive, others prefer to decline it as in the Bible and keep sophisticated forms. The level of use of the language is like everywhere a socio-cultural marker.

Eliezer Ben Yehuda has made lexical borrowings to Indo-European languages ​​only with regard to words that designate ideas or objects that did not exist in antiquity. There is however an effort to abandon these words by replacing them whenever possible by creating words whose root is drawn from Hebrew.

Many Modern languages ​​take "definitively" quantities of words from other languages ​​without affecting their clear link to an ethnic and linguistic group.

Eliezer Ben Yehuda was above all a courageous philologist who had to oppose the ultra-religious Jews who did not want the Hebrew language to become a language of everyday life or the unconditional supporters of Yiddish as this is rightly indicated in the study of "Linguisticae".

Eliezer Ben Yehuda Ben Yehuda thought that one could not build a nation or a compatible whole without a common language as illustrated by the metaphor of the Tower of Babel and the progressive domination of English in a globalized world.

II- Other Jewish languages

The contribution of Eliezer Ben Yehuda was linked with the coming back of the Jewish People in their ancestral land. Before that, Jews used to speak the language of the countries they lived in the same way as everyone else, but at the same time developed language forms of their own. Yiddish was even more stable than the borders of the Eastern countries which led to the displacement of populations from one country to another by staying on the same place. "Linguisticae" analyzes the languages ​​spoken by Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, all of whom migrated to the West (North and South). Their presentation of Yiddish is relatively complete given their specialization in the Germanic languages ​​which make up about 80% of Yiddish without clearly stating that it was written in Hebrew letters which was before Eliezer Ben Yehuda work, an application of Hebrew outside the religious sphere.

Their presentation of the Sephardic languages ​​is less exhaustive. The origin of the language of the Sephardic Jews is brought to light by the Sephardic term referring to the Iberian Peninsula.

After the Spanish Inquisition followed by that of Portugal, the Sephardim expelled from Spain and Portugal mainly emigrated to North Africa, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Egypt and the Netherlands after they were freed from Spanish rule in 1648 after a war of 80 years. There is still a Sephardic synagogue in Amsterdam called "Portuguese Synagogue". Few Sephardic Dutch immigrated to Sweden and there is still few Swedish Jews of Sephardic origin.

"Linguisticae" makes a difference between Judesmo and Ladino that is generally not taken into account and the Judeo-Spanish language is commonly called Ladino.

The Ladino has been well preserved in Greece, Bulgaria Turkey and Egypt but the Holocaust in Greece and the expulsion of the Jews from Egypt have stopped the development of the ladino culture.

In North Africa (especially in Morocco) Hispanic Jews spoke Spanish and not Ladino probably because of the geographical proximity of Spain then materialized by his Presidios in North Africa while the Jews of Greece and Turkey were far from Spain. The presidios are Melilla and Ceuta in Morocco and in the past Oran in Algeria, conquered by the Spaniards and then very briefly left to the Turks before the French conquest. However, the Jaketia of Tetouan (Morocco) which was a mixture of Arabic, Spanish and Hebrew is a Judeo-Spanish language who seems far from the Ladino of Thessaloniki which is a strong reference as far as Ladino is concerned, and fell into disuse due to lack of speakers.

The other Sephardic or Oriental Jews in North Africa who lived mainly outside the cities or among the Berber populations from which they were partly derived spoke Judeo-Arabic popularly called "the Jew" and also Arabic.

"Linguisticae" surprisingly indicates that apart from Modern Hebrew, the language of the Jews today is largely English by referring to those who live in the United States and secondarily Russian by referring to Russian Jews living in Israel. American Jews speak English to communicate with the rest of the population, so do Poles, Greeks, Italians and Armenians in the United States, whose identity language is not English utilized for communication purpose. One can be surprised by this type of consideration that does not distinguish between the language utilized for practical purpose and the reference language linked to ethnicity and identity. Russian emigrants who came to Israel from the 1980s spoke Russian more easily than Hebrew, but the younger generations speak Hebrew even if they keep the knowledge of Russian. Thus the Israeli Political Party previously designated as the party of the Russian speaking people has become an Israeli party integrated into the political life whose main feature is the struggling for secularism that is to say the total suppression of religious rules in civil life. Indeed the voting system in Israel involves the formation of coalitions of government in which minority parties such as religious parties obtain disproportionate privileges.