Jewish Languages -- Middle Eastern
By William Brinner
- Early (pre-Biblical) Hebrew
- Judean (Biblical and Mishnaic) Hebrew
- Scholarly (Rabbinic and Medieval) Hebrew
- Israeli (Modern Literary and Spoken) Hebrew; Revival
- The influence of Hebrew on Jewish Languages
Hebrew is. without question, the Jewish language -- the source of
all the 'Jewish' vocabulary of the other Jewish languages. Close behind it in
significance is Aramaic.
Examples of this are the borrowing of the alephbeit from Aramaic, books of Ezra
and Daniel; Talmud;
Kaddish -- other parts of the prayer books;
All of us have heard of Yiddish, some have heard of Ladino. Are there other Jewish
Are there other "religious languages"? Islamic languages: Arabic (plays the
role Hebrew does in Jewish languages), Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Swahili.
Christian languages: (no comparable central language) Greek, Latin, Armenian, Syriac, Coptic,
Ge'ez, Church Slavonic.
What do we mean by Jewish languages?
Yiddish and Judezmo are independent traditional languages of the Ashkenazic
and the eastern Sephardic subculture groups of the Jewish people with Judaism
as their focal
point. They are products of the group-forming factor of religion
They contain an element of Hebrew and Aramaic
They are (were, in the case of Judezmo) written in the Hebrew alephbeit
Talmudic orthography is the origin of their respective spelling systems
Jewish languages are NOT
a) dialects -- A Jewish languages structure whose center is Judaism cannot be
dialect of a language which has as its focal point Christian or
b) jargons -- A jargon is the restricted vocabulary used by
those engaged in a particular trade or occupation, but does not form the
general vehicle of communication among members of a whole community.
c) mixed languages -- Jewish languages are no more mixed
then many other languages ranging from English and German to Persian and Turkish,
which are not so designated.
d)corrupted languages -- They are not corruptions because
they obviously fulfill their function -- when a linguistic structure does so, it is
e) Creolized languages -- There is less justification for calling them
Creolized languages than for classifying Spanish or French as
f) Finally, calling them Judeo- would be admissible if linguists spoke of
Gallo-Latin for French, or Normano-Anglo-Saxon for English, or
Arabo-Perso-Turkish for Turkish.
Stages of Hebrew: modern Hebrew was not created by Eliezer ben Yehudah, he
tried to systematize it and determine 'proper' sources for word borrowing and
creation: first -- Biblical Hebrew, then
Mishnah, then medieval poetry and translations, then Aramaic, then Arabic, only then
European languages. Hebrew is now a living language with over 5 million speakers
Here is an example of a
a poem by Abraham Abulafia who lived in the
13th century Spain.
- The rise and spread of a lingua franca - Jewish and
non-Jewish Aramaic, Syriac
- Eastern and Western Aramaic
- Aramaic in the
Siddur, later use
- Modern Aramaic (Swedaya, Jabali) -- Present status
Aramaic: pagan, Christian (Syriac) and Jewish -- Syriac developed it own form of scripts --
probably source of Arabic script. Few speakers left of Western Aramaic (Ma'lula --
near Damascus), possibly half a million speakers of Eastern Aramaic -- mostly in
Kurdistan (Kurdish Jews in Israel still speak their Aramaic).
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Reproduction of cover of S. Toulmin's
Copyright © 1996-today Ovid C. Jacob and William Brinner