Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Word Foreignness in Modern Hebrew

Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Word Foreignness in Modern Hebrew

Article excerpt


The German linguistic literature distinguishes between Lehnworter (loan words) as a historic phenomenon and Fremdworter (foreign words) as a contemporary and concurrent phenomenon. Lehnworter are old loan words that were entirely assimilated into the grammatical system of the absorbing language and are no longer regarded as foreign. Fremdworter, on the other hand, enter the language in their foreign form without being adjusted grammatically or phonologically to the absorbing language. (2) Although the distinction is important and holds in principle for Hebrew as well, there is no clear-cut difference between Lehnworter and Fremdworter, as will be shown here. Old loans can be linguistically identified as foreign in modern Hebrew, in spite of their past historic evolution and possible grammatical and phonological adjustments. Certain linguistic criteria contribute to their foreignness even at present.

There are many loan-words in Hebrew. Some of them were borrowed in earlier periods, while others are new. The following short lists demonstrate the Hebrew period during which the words were borrowed and their source language: (3)

(1) Biblical Hebrew: saq (sack), barzel (iron) [unknown source]; ma4oz (area), sefer (book), mehir (price) [Akkadian]; kisse (chair) 'ikkar (farmer), 'umman (artist) [Sumerian]; hotam (seal, signet-ring), gome (papyrus), suf (reed, bulrush) [Ancient Egyptian]; seren (captain, ruler [Philistine]); gizbar (treasurer), gnazim (treasures) [Persian], etc.

(2) Mishnaic Hebrew: sanegor (defense counsel), qategor (prosecutor), 'istadyon (stadium), sandal (sandal), 'istumxa (stomach) [Greek]; kursa (chair, armchair in modern Hebrew), 'aggav (by the way), 'uvda (fact), gmara (Gemara, Talmud), tresaryon (duodenum) [Aramaic]; pardes (fruit plantation, orchard) [Persian], (4) etc.

(3) Medieval Hebrew: (5) 'aqlim (climate), goter (diameter) [Greek, via Arabic]; handasa (geometry), merkaz (center) [Arabic], etc.

Modern Hebrew is replete with foreign words. Here are just a few examples: (6)

(4) From Arabic: balata (tile), frexa (bimbo), tsizbat (cock-and-bull story), fasfus (small)

(5) From Yiddish: pdkale (bundle, package), vi:lde xdye (wild animal, ill-mannered), beygale (bagel, pretzel)

(6) From English: blof (bluff), pantser (puncture), kitbeg (kitbag), proteksen (protection)

(7) From Russian: dzuk (cockroach), protekcya (protection, favor), bardak (mess), balagan (confusion, mess) [from Persian via Russian]

(8) From French: kilometraz (mileage), bagaz (car trunk), odekolon (perfume, eau de Cologne), butik (boutique), omlet (omlette)

(9) From Turkish and the Balkan languages: askedinya (laquat, medlar), tembel (idiot), ayde-hayde (challenging or encouraging call), baksis (tip, bribery)

(10) From Judeo-Spanish: spondza (mopping the floor), fasulya (beans), burekas (filled pastry), kalavasa (pumpkin, red-hair or bold person)

(11) From German: svung (oscillation, energy), izolirband (insulation band for electricity), pidzama (pajama) [from Persian via German]

(12) From Italian: finito (finished), banda (gang), pica (pizza), lingwini (linguini), etc.

The list shows how widespread the borrowing phenomenon is in Hebrew. In this paper I will concentrate on foreign words in Hebrew, although linguistic foreign influence is very extensive and can be demonstrated through loan translations and semantic shifts as well. Issues such as the source languages, the semantic shifts, the ways the words traveled through languages until they found their way into Hebrew, and the reasons for the borrowing, are beyond the scope of this paper, interesting as they may be. Neither will I concern myself here with the register issue, namely, which languages contribute words to the elevated, formal registers (7) and which languages are regarded as low and non-prestigious so that borrowing from them could contribute only to informal uses such as slang words and curses. …

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