20:00, Turgenev Library

The Genesis of the Israeli Language



Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s (1770-1831) – actually Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s (1762-1814) – dialectic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis is one the mechanisms for the development of ideas and even music.

From the point of view of development of ideas and history of linguistics, I would like to propose that whereas the traditional organic revival view (Israelis speak the language of Isaiah) is the Thesis, and the relexification view (Israelis speak Yiddish with Hebrew words) is the Antithesis, my own hybridization model (Israelis speak a Semito-European hybrid) is the Synthesis.

The case of Israeli demonstrates that the reality of linguistic genesis is far more complex than a simple Family Tree system allows. Revival languages are unlikely to have a single parent.

The Hebrew revivalists’ attempt to deny their European roots, negate diasporism and avoid hybridity (as, in fact, reflected in Yiddish itself, which most revivalists despised) failed. Thus, the study of Israeli offers a perspicacious insight into the dynamics between language and culture in general, and in particular into the role of language as a source of collective self-perception. I maintain that Israeli is a Eurasian (Semito-European) hybrid language: both Afro-Asiatic and Indo-European. Whatever we choose to call it, we should acknowledge its complexity. When one revives a language, one should expect to end up with a hybrid.

Israeli patterns have often been based on Yiddish, Russian, Polish, and sometimes ‘Standard Average European’. This is, obviously, not to say that the revivalists, had they paid attention to patterns, would have managed to neutralize the impact of their mother tongues, which was often subconscious. Astonishingly, even the anthem of the very language defendants regiment included a calque from Yiddish: veál kol mitnagdénu anákhnu metsaftsefím, lit. ‘and on all our opponents we are whistling’, i.e. ‘we do not give a damn about our opponents’, ‘we defy our opponents’. Whistling here is a calque of Yiddish פייפן fáyfn ‘whistle + not give a damn’.

Course schedule:

12 November 8pm Turgenev Library (6 Bobrov pereulok)
13 November 8pm Turgenev Library
14 November 8pm Turgenev Library

Entrance free, but online registration is required.

Professor Ghil‘ad Zuckermann (DPhil Oxford; PhD Cambridge, titular; MA Tel Aviv, summa cum laude) is Chair of Linguistics and Endangered Languages at the University of Adelaide. He is a chief investigator in a large research project assessing language revival and mental health, funded by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). He is the author of the seminal bestseller Israelit Safa Yafa (Israeli – A Beautiful Language; Am Oved, 2008), Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), three chapters of the Israeli Tingo (Keren, 2011), Engaging – A Guide to Interacting Respectfully and Reciprocally with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, and their Arts Practices and Intellectual Property (2015) and the first online Dictionary of the Barngarla Aboriginal Language (2016). He is the editor of Burning Issues in Afro-Asiatic Linguistics (2012), Jewish Language Contact (2014), a special issue of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language, and the co-editor of Endangered Words, Signs of Revival (2014). He is the founder of Revivalistics, a new trans-disciplinary field of enquiry surrounding language reclamation, revitalization and reinvigoration.

Israeli Language (1)

Powerpoint presentation for Ghilad Zuckermann's course

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