[NDNAIM] Activists . . . Endangered Languages

Bryan James Gordon linguista at gmail.com
Sun Jul 6 20:55:10 UTC 2008

In defence of the thesis that contemporary Hebrew is more Slavic than
Semitic, I would submit the following:

* The extensive calquing and evidence on new word formation patterns reflect
European, not Semitic, models. Taxonit, as described by Rosen, comes from an
inherited root meaning "camp for the night", and was originally absorbed
into Israeli Hebrew to translate French "se stationer". Since then it has
become a basic unit for translating any European cognate of "station"
including "radio station", "train station", etc. Compare the words for these
same concepts in the Arabic languages and Neo-Aramaic, and you will see that
there is nothing Semitic about Hebrew word formation.
* The sound structure of the standard variety has been thoroughly
Europeanised (although I have noted some initial examples of a Semitic-like
but not necessarily specifically Semitic lowering of vowels before khaf
where traditionally this is only supposed to happen before chet). The loss
of gemination has profoundly affected the morphosyntax in various areas.
* Even morphosyntax has been Europeanised where necessary to reproduce
European semantic paradigms. The three-tense system is an obvious example of
this - the present tense, derived from historical gerunds, no longer looks
morphosyntactically like a gerund construction, but is a fully functional
tense alongside past and future (which were historically something more akin
to concrete/potential). The promulgation of copulas in the spoken standard
variety where they are not allowed in the written standard variety (as
Willem notes, the written standard is more consciously Semitic) is another
example of Europeanised morphosyntax.

Getting away from linguistics and back to real life for a second, Bob is
absolutely right that there are many ideas of what constitutes success in
revival, and these ideas almost always differ from those of linguists
(except in the rare instances when a programme is being led by a
Western-trained indigenous linguist - problematic in its own right).

- Bryan

2008/7/6 <rwd0002 at unt.edu>:

> --- On Sun, 7/6/08, Rankin, Robert L <rankin at ku.edu> wrote:
>> From: Rankin, Robert L <rankin at ku.edu>
>> Subject: RE: [NDNAIM] Activists . . . Endangered Languages
>> To: siouan at lists.Colorado.EDU
>> Date: Sunday, July 6, 2008, 8:21 AM
>> I'd add a third way.  Modern Hebrew has been seriously reconfigured, some
>> would say creolized.  Paul Wexler at Tel Aviv Univ. goes so far as to call
>> it a
>> "Slavic language in search of a Semitic past."  His contention is that
>> it is relexified E. Slavic (he simply called it "Ukrainian" in a
>> lecture he gave at KU).  It was relexified with German vocabulary to form
>> Yiddish and with Hebrew vocabulary to form modern "Hebrew".  So
>> eastern European immigrants don't actually learn a Semitic language in
>> Israel -- just vocabulary.  To the extent that this may be true, it pretty
>> much
>> erases the only really convincing case of revival.  Wexler's website has
>> the
>> details if you're interested.
> (...)
>> Bob
> The Hebrew revival is indeed very different, we all agree on that. Hebrew
> never died out as a religious language nor as a written language.  However,
> I think it is a bit of an exaggeration to say that Modern Hebrew is a
> relexified Slavic language.  At least one morphological feature of Modern
> Hebrew, its typically Semitic nonconcatenative morphology, is not Slavic and
> is still productive.  That cannot be explained through relexification of a
> Slavic language.
> The Jewish activists who revived Hebrew were extremely conscious of the
> Semitic morphological features of Hebrew, (and heard Arabic, a related
> Semitic language, spoken around them), so they did all they could to make
> sure Hebrew retained, maybe not a fundamental, but at least an strong
> indexical, Semitic character.  Even Yiddish, certainly more clearly a Slavic
> language relexified with Germanic than Modern Hebrew is, retains some
> uncannily Semitic morphological features.
> To reconnect to Siouan, it is an interesting ideological issue, relevant to
> all people interested in reviving an extinct language.  Suppose we wanted to
> revive an extinct Siouan language, in addition to Siouan lexicon, what sorts
> of morphological features would we wanna insist on to convince ourselves
> this is a genuine Siouan language?  Split intransivity? instrumental
> prefixes?, locative prefixes?
> Willem
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