Modern Hebrew in the Light of Language Planning Terminology, History, and Periodization

By Shur, Shimon A. | Hebrew Studies Journal, Annual 1996 | Go to article overview
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Modern Hebrew in the Light of Language Planning Terminology, History, and Periodization

Shur, Shimon A., Hebrew Studies Journal


This article may be considered an attempt at an analytical description of the first sixty years in the process of "Full Return to Hebrew" (1856-1916) in terms of an updated "language planning" taxonomy. (1) "Language Planning," defined as national decision making in matters of language, comprises three types of planning:

(a) "Status Planning" includes decision making concerning the political, legal, and/or cultural standing of the chosen language, usually by authorized institutions of a nationalistic movement or nation-state; in the case of modem Hebrew, this means the World Zionist Organization and later the state of Israel.

(b) "Corpus Planning" involves the making of decisions concerning the "body" (corpus) of the language itself--its vocabulary, grammar, syntax, spelling, etc.--by "lay planners" or "proto-planners" as, for instance, the legendary Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his circle (Safah B'rurah) in late nineteenth century Jerusalem, by authorized linguistic institutions such as the "Language Committee" (Va'ad Halashon), and later on The Academy of the Hebrew Language installed by "The Law of the Supreme Institution of the Hebrew Language," which was enacted by the Knesset of the State of Israel in 1953.

(c) "Prestige Planning" involves making decisions able to shape the attitudes and behavior of the "language planners" and their audience in favor of the whole language planning enterprise. A good example might be the decision of the first conference of the Heixlutz movement, obligating every "aliyah making" member to acquire the knowledge of Hebrew before his or her aliyah. One component of the prestigious "pioneer image" (dimuy hehalutz) was the command of Hebrew. (2)

If status planning and prestige planning are usually performed by authorized national bodies and institutions, corpus planning may be an individual initiative. C. M. Eastman, for instance, reminds us of the phenomenon of "lay planners," prior to the advent of official language planning, in African sociolinguistic contexts. After examining the "relative merits and demerits" of twelve definitions of language planning and adding a thirteenth one (emphasizing the "deliberate" efforts to influence the behavior of others with respect to the acquisition, structure, or functional allocation of their language codes), R. Cooper notes that his definition does not rule out individual planners such as Eliezer Ben-Yehuda in the case of modern Hebrew or Ludovit Stur in the case of literary Slovak. (3)

However, even if language planning may be initiated at any level of the social hierarchy, it is unlikely to succeed "unless it is embraced and promoted by elites or by counter elites." (4) In other words, effective language planning necessitates a certain degree of authoritativeness on the national level. Lay planners may succeed if they receive national "backing." The huge efforts of Ben-Yehuda and his small circle in Jerusalem to promote Hebrew speaking in Jewish families ended after twenty-five years in a very modest "harvest" of four or five families. (5) The "Language Committee" (Va'ad Halashon) founded by Ben-Yehuda and his circle existed and functioned for only a few months. It was renewed in 1904 when it merged with the language committee of the Agudat Hamorim (The Hebrew Teachers' Association) in a "united" Language Committee. (6) Only in 1909 did the Sixth Assembly of The Teachers' Association decide that the decisions of the (united) Language Committee were obligatory for the members of The Hebrew Teachers' Association. (7) Even Ben-Yehuda's greatest contribution to the "Full Return to Hebrew," his Great Dictionary (Hamilon Hagadol), gained momentum only after this monumental individual enterprise had been acknowledged and sponsored by the World Zionist Organization. (8)

The experience that authoritativeness makes a difference in language planning leads this author to consider the usefulness of distinguishing between "language proto-planning" and language planning.

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Modern Hebrew in the Light of Language Planning Terminology, History, and Periodization


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