Hebrew language

Hebrew
עברית, Ivrit
Temple Scroll.png
Portion of the Temple Scroll, one of the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran
PronunciationModern: [ivˈʁit] – Ancient: [ʕib'rit][1]
Native toIsrael
RegionLand of Israel
EthnicityIsraelites; Jews and Samaritans
ExtinctMishnaic Hebrew extinct as a spoken language by the 5th century CE, surviving as a liturgical language along with Biblical Hebrew for Judaism[2][3][4]
RevivalRevived in the late 19th century CE. 9 million speakers of Modern Hebrew of which 5 million are native speakers (2017)[5]
Early forms
Standard forms
Hebrew alphabet
Hebrew Braille
Paleo-Hebrew alphabet (Archaic Biblical Hebrew)
Imperial Aramaic script (Late Biblical Hebrew)
Signed Hebrew (oral Hebrew accompanied by sign)[6]
Official status
Official language in
 Israel (as Modern Hebrew)
Regulated byAcademy of the Hebrew Language
האקדמיה ללשון העברית (HaAkademia LaLashon HaʿIvrit)
Language codes
he
heb
ISO 639-3Variously:
heb – Modern Hebrew
hbo – Classical Hebrew (liturgical)
smp – Samaritan Hebrew (liturgical)
obm – Moabite (extinct)
xdm – Edomite (extinct)
hebr1246[7]
Linguasphere12-AAB-a
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
The word HEBREW written in modern Hebrew language (top), and in Paleo-Hebrew alphabet (bottom)

Hebrew (/; עִבְרִית‎, Ivrit Hebrew pronunciation: [ivˈʁit] or [ʕivˈɾit] (About this soundlisten)) is a Northwest Semitic language native to Israel, the modern version of which is spoken by over nine million people worldwide.[8] Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites and their ancestors, although the language was not referred to by the name "Hebrew" in the Tanakh itself.[note 1] The earliest examples of written Paleo-Hebrew date from the 10th century BCE.[9] Hebrew belongs to the West Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Hebrew is the only Canaanite language still spoken, and the only truly successful example of a revived dead language.[10][11]

Hebrew had ceased to be an everyday spoken language somewhere between 200 and 400 CE, declining since the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba revolt.[2][12][note 2] Aramaic and, to a lesser extent, Greek were already in use as international languages, especially among elites and immigrants.[14] Hebrew survived into the medieval period as the language of Jewish liturgy, rabbinic literature, intra-Jewish commerce and poetry. With the rise of Zionism in the 19th century, it was revived as a spoken and literary language, becoming the main language of the Yishuv, and subsequently of the State of Israel. According to Ethnologue, in 1998, Hebrew was the language of five million people worldwide.[5] After Israel, the United States has the second-largest Hebrew-speaking population, with about 220,000 fluent speakers,[15] mostly from Israel.

Modern Hebrew is the official language of the State of Israel, while premodern Hebrew is used for prayer or study in Jewish communities around the world today. The Samaritan dialect is also the liturgical tongue of the Samaritans, while modern Hebrew or Arabic is their vernacular. As a foreign language, it is studied mostly by Jews and students of Judaism and Israel, and by archaeologists and linguists specializing in the Middle East and its civilizations, as well as by theologians in Christian seminaries.

The first five books of the Torah, and most of the rest of the Hebrew Bible, is written in Biblical Hebrew, with much of its present form in the dialect that scholars believe flourished around the 6th century BCE, around the time of the Babylonian captivity. For this reason, Hebrew has been referred to by Jews as Lashon Hakodesh (לשון הקודש), "the Holy Language", since ancient times.

Etymology

The modern English word "Hebrew" is derived from Old French Ebrau, via Latin from the Greek Ἑβραῖος (Hebraîos) and Aramaic 'ibrāy, all ultimately derived from Biblical Hebrew Ibri (עברי), one of several names for the Israelite (Jewish and Samaritan) people (Hebrews). It is traditionally understood to be an adjective based on the name of Abraham's ancestor, Genesis 10:21. The name is believed to be based on the Semitic root ʕ-b-r (עבר) meaning "beyond", "other side", "across";[16] interpretations of the term "Hebrew" generally render its meaning as roughly "from the other side [of the river/desert]"—i.e., an exonym for the inhabitants of the land of Israel/Judah, perhaps from the perspective of Mesopotamia, Phoenicia or the Transjordan (with the river referenced perhaps the Euphrates, Jordan or Litani; or maybe the northern Arabian Desert between Babylonia and Canaan).[17] Compare cognate Assyrian ebru, of identical meaning.[18]

One of the earliest references to the language's name as "Hebrew" is found in the prologue to the Book of Ben Sira,[a] from the 2nd century BCE.[19] The Hebrew Bible does not use the term "Hebrew" in reference to the language of the Hebrew people.[20]