Hebrew language

Hebrew (Hebrew alphabet: עִבְרִית, ʿĪvrīt , IPA: [ivˈʁit] or [ʕivˈɾit]; Samaritan script: ࠏࠁࠓࠉࠕ; Paleo-Hebrew script: 𐤏𐤁𐤓‫𐤉𐤕) is a Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-surviving descendants: the Judeans and Samaritans. It was largely preserved throughout history as the main liturgical language of Judaism (since the Second Temple period) and Samaritanism. Hebrew is the only Canaanite language still spoken today, and serves as the only truly successful example of a dead language that has been revived. It is also one of only two Northwest Semitic languages still in use, with the other being Aramaic.[10][11]

Hebrew
עִבְרִית, Ivrit
Portion of the Temple Scroll, one of the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran
PronunciationModern: [ivˈʁit]
Tiberian: [ʕivˈriθ][1]
Biblical: [ʕibˈrit]
Native toIsrael
RegionLand of Israel
EthnicityIsraelites; Jews and Samaritans
ExtinctMishnaic Hebrew extinct as a spoken language by the 5th century CE, surviving as a liturgical language along with Biblical Hebrew for Judaism[2][3][4]
RevivalRevived in the late 19th century CE. 9 million speakers of Modern Hebrew of which 5 million are native speakers (2017)[5]
Early forms
Standard forms
Hebrew alphabet
Hebrew Braille
Paleo-Hebrew alphabet (Archaic Biblical Hebrew)
Imperial Aramaic script (Late Biblical Hebrew)
Samaritan script (Samaritan Biblical Hebrew)
Signed Hebrew (oral Hebrew accompanied by sign)[6]
Official status
Official language in
Israel (as Modern Hebrew)[7]
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated byAcademy of the Hebrew Language
האקדמיה ללשון העברית (ha-akademyah la-lashon ha-ʿivrit)
Language codes
ISO 639-1he
ISO 639-2heb
ISO 639-3Variously:
heb  Modern Hebrew
hbo  Classical Hebrew (liturgical)
smp  Samaritan Hebrew (liturgical)
obm  Moabite (extinct)
xdm  Edomite (extinct)
Glottologhebr1246
Linguasphere12-AAB-a
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The word HEBREW written in modern Hebrew language (top) and in Paleo-Hebrew alphabet (bottom)

The earliest examples of written Paleo-Hebrew date back to the 10th century BCE.[12] Nearly all of the Hebrew Bible is written in Biblical Hebrew, with much of its present form in the dialect that scholars believe flourished around the 6th century BCE, during the time of the Babylonian captivity. For this reason, Hebrew has been referred to by Jews as Lashon Hakodesh (לָשׁוֹן הַקֹּדֶשׁ‎, lit.'the holy tongue' or 'the tongue [of] holiness') since ancient times. The language was not referred to by the name Hebrew in the Bible, but as Yehudit (transl.'the language of Judah') or Səpaṯ Kəna'an (transl.'the language of Canaan').[2][note 1] Mishnah Gittin 9:8 refers to the language as Ivrit, meaning Hebrew; however, Mishnah Megillah refers to the language as Ashurit, meaning Assyrian, which is derived from the name of the alphabet used, in contrast to Ivrit, meaning the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet.[13]

Hebrew ceased to be a regular spoken language sometime between 200 and 400 CE, declining in the aftermath of the unsuccessful Bar Kokhba revolt that was carried out against the Roman Empire by the Jews of Judaea.[14][15][note 2] Aramaic and, to a lesser extent, Greek were already in use as international languages, especially among societal elites and immigrants.[17] Hebrew survived into the medieval period as the language of Jewish liturgy, rabbinic literature, intra-Jewish commerce and Jewish poetic literature. With the rise of Zionism in the 19th century, the Hebrew language experienced a full-scale revival as a spoken and literary language, after which it became the main language of the Yishuv in Palestine and subsequently the lingua franca of the State of Israel with official status. According to Ethnologue, Hebrew was spoken by five million people worldwide in 1998;[5] in 2013, it was spoken by over nine million people worldwide.[18] After Israel, the United States has the second-largest Hebrew-speaking population, with approximately 220,000 fluent speakers (see Israeli Americans and Jewish Americans).[19]

Modern Hebrew is the official language of the State of Israel, while pre-revival forms of Hebrew are used for prayer or study in Jewish and Samaritan communities around the world today; the latter group utilizes the Samaritan dialect as their liturgical tongue. As a non-first language, it is studied mostly by non-Israeli Jews and students in Israel, by archaeologists and linguists specializing in the Middle East and its civilizations, and by theologians in Christian seminaries.


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