30th November 2006
Reuters has an article by Dan Williams (no relation) on maverick scholar Ghil’ad Zuckermann, entitled, “Hebrew or Israeli? Linguist stirs Zionist debate.” Zuckermann argues that modern Hebrew should be renamed “Israeli” and give up any claim to pure descent from the Hebrew of the Bible.
Here are some excerpts:
Israelis are brainwashed to believe they speak the same language as (the prophet) Isaiah, a purely Semitic language, but this is false,” Zuckermann told Reuters during a lecture tour to promote his soon-to-be-published polemic “Hebrew as Myth”.
“It’s time we acknowledge that Israeli is very different from the Hebrew of the past,” said Zuckermann, who points to the abiding influence of modern European dialects — especially Yiddish, Russian and Polish — imported by Israel’s founders.
Some critics throw Zuckermann in with revisionist academics who made their names questioning the justice of the 1948 war of Israel’s founding in what had been British Mandate Palestine.
Early Zionists were quick to assume Hebrew as part of an ancient birthright to land also claimed by Palestinian Arabs.
“His attitude toward modern Hebrew is less that of a professional linguist than of someone driven by the agenda of post- (if not anti-) Zionism,” wrote an Israeli contributor to the American newspaper Jewish Daily Forward.
Professor Moshe Bar-Asher, president of Israel’s Hebrew Language Academy, likened Zuckermann to Noam Chomsky, a renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist who in recent decades became a freewheeling critic of U.S. foreign policy.
“I think Zuckermann is a very good scholar, but he risks wasting his efforts by mixing up linguistics with politics,” Bar-Asher said. “He stirs up a lot of antagonism.”
There is continuity and discontinuity between Modern and Classical/Biblical Hebrew, so while I think differentiating between the two as scholars do is necessary, I’m not sure that calling “Modern Hebrew” “Israeli” is the best solution. Perhaps, akin to “Canadian English” or “American English”, “Israeli Hebrew” is a potential option.
Do my Jewish/Israeli readers have any opinions?