Languages of Judaism
Hebrew, Aramaic, Ladino,
Yiddish, and Yinglish
Sacred Languages: Languages of
Sacred Scriptures
Sanskrit (Vedas)
Hebrew (Tanakh)
Christianity: Greek (New Testament)
Arabic (Qur’an)
Map of Semitic Heartland
Chart of Semitic languages
Map: Akkad, Assyria, Babylonia
Map: Hittites, Mitanni, Egypt
Map: Afro Asiatic Family
Core features of Hebrew and
other Semitic languages
• Pharyngeal consonants (absent from
modern Hebrew)
• Triliterate roots
• Noun morphology: 3 cases (now
• Verb morphology:
– complex derivation from simple roots
– Gender inflection in 2nd and 3rd persons
Four phases of Hebrew
• Biblical (Classical) Hebrew, till 3rd c. BCE.
– Aramaic replaced it as the spoken language
• Mishnaic (Rabbinic) Hebrew: written in 200
– Never the spoken language of the people
• Medieval Hebrew: 6th to 13th century.
– Borrowings from Greek, Arabic, Spanish
• Modern Hebrew
Medieval Hebrew
• Poetry (piyuttim)
• Creation of thousands of new terms using
Hebrew roots.
The phonology of Hebrew
• When no longer a spoken language, people
pronounced (or mispronounced) it on the basis of
Diaspora languages
• Two possible sources of phonological influence:
Yiddish and Arabic.
• Ashkenazic Hebrew based on Yiddish phonology.
• Sephardic Hebrew based on Arabic phonology
Israeli Hebrew: a phonological mishmash
• The State of Israel tried to adopt the
Sephardic pronunciation.
• But there was phonological interference
from European languages
– Couldn’t pronounce pharyngeal sounds (‘ayin
and Het)
– Used the Yiddish uvular “r”.
• Elite mispronunciations became the norm.
Examples of problem words
• Ani rotse lagur b’erets israel (I want to live
in the land of Israel)
• Arba>im (forty)
• Qaniti lachem leHem. (I bought bread for
• Machar (he sold) and maHar (tomorrow)
The mispronunciation of the Ashkenazim has
now become “higher class” Hebrew.
Hebrew alphabet
• Sounds, not idiographs
• Only consonants. Vowels not represented
until later. (Masoretic vowel points).
• Written from right to left
• Some letters have a different form if they
are word-final
Semitic alphabets
Semitic alphabets, cont’d
“In the beginning…”as in the
Torah scroll
“In the beginning…”with vowels and cantillation

Languages of Judaism - College of Liberal Arts