Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hebrew: Why Netanyahu Wants Israelis to Send a 'Misron,' Not a Text

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hebrew: Why Netanyahu Wants Israelis to Send a 'Misron,' Not a Text

Article excerpt

The Academy of the Hebrew Language is on a mission to keep one of the world's oldest living languages pure - and, in the halls of parliament, at least - proper.

Tucked into a leafy corner of a campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Academy of the Hebrew Language has the challenging job of trying to preserve and promote one of the world's oldest living languages.

In an effort to counter the influx of foreign words, the institution develops and distributes some 2,000 new Hebrew words each year; the most recent batch includes words for biosphere, sustainable development, hacker, and blog.

For jetlag, it came up with ayefet - a newfangled Hebrew word created from the root for "tired" and rendered in such a way that it resembles words for various other infirmities.

"In the academy, we try to fight word by word. Instead of just making an exact translation from English, we try to find an original Hebrew word that captures the meaning," says Moshe Bar-Asher, the academy's president.

The linguaphiles under his direction are not only interested in hearing Israelis talk about sending someone a quick misron instead of a text or an SMS, however, but also in stopping the general deterioration of the quality of Hebrew, especially in public life.

"You hear people, kids especially, using the same 10 to 15 verbs," laments Mr. Bar-Asher. "We don't want the language of the school, or of the Knesset [Israel's parliament] to be the same as the language of the street. Any society should distinguish between the two."

National Hebrew Day

France has its venerable L'Academie francaise, and there are institutes and committees around the world dedicated to the preservation of at least 90 other languages.

Many of these have been ribbed at some point for their linguistic chauvinism, or for isolationist, reactionary, and ultimately wishful thinking that would keep foreign words out. But defenders of the Hebrew language - which was revived as a spoken tongue only about 150 years ago, after some 1,750 years in which it was almost exclusively a language of biblical and other religious texts - have their own unique challenges to face.

The man credited with single-handedly taking Hebrew out of the holy books and into the modern era is Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, though others of course played a key role in the overall project as part of the early Zionists' nation-building.

Marking 152 years since Ben-Yehuda's birth, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet held a special session earlier this month on the state of the Hebrew language, and voted that Ben- Yehuda's birthday [Jan. 7] would from now on be marked as National Hebrew Day.

The cabinet agreed that the academy would provide lessons to improve Knesset members' Hebrew and would form a committee to formulate ideas of how to strengthen the lingua franca in public life, all under Bar-Asher's direction. …

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