[lg policy] Israel: American weatherman's Hebrew accent speaks to immigrants

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 9 15:56:58 UTC 2013

 Israel: American weatherman's Hebrew accent speaks to immigrants

In Israel, popular weatherman Robert Olinsky – an American immigrant from
New Jersey – had an accent that put him at odds with Hebrew purists.

By Daniel Estrin, Contributor / December 10, 2009

Robert Orlinsky left Trenton, N.J., for Israel in 1970. He brought his

PETAH TIKVAH, ISRAEL – Skies were clear on the September morning when one
of Israel’s most popular meteorologists, Robert Olinsky, delivered his
final forecast on national radio before retiring from his 39-year career on
the air.

What was even clearer: Mr. Olinsky’s round American “R’s” piercing his
speech. It’s the way this former US Air Force weather forecaster has spoken
Hebrew since he moved from Trenton, N.J., to Israel in 1970.

“I can’t stand my accent,” says Olinsky, with a shrug and wide grin, as he
sits in his home near Israel’s meteorological headquarters.

But his signature speech pattern set him apart from other radio
personalities, and Israelis got a kick out of listening to him. It wasn’t
just his funny Hebrew that made his forecasts memorable, but also his
folksy style.

“In Israel, weather is almost the same one day after another,” said Avi
Etgar, an anchor on Israel Radio. “He managed to make a weather forecast
into something you wanted to listen to.”

Olinsky was an anomaly on Israeli airwaves. When the country was
established in 1948, Israel Radio required anchors to speak with impeccable
accents and diction, to help immigrants learn Hebrew. It almost cost
Olinsky his job: In the ’70s, a radio representative wanted him and his
Jersey inflections off the air.

But a government spokesman who oversaw the weather service defended
Olinsky, arguing that his accent represented what Israel is: a nation of
immigrants. Olinsky remained on the airwaves, and indeed, in the past 15
years, Israeli radio and television has become more inclusive, hiring
reporters with Russian- and Arabic-inflected Hebrew.

“Today there is a trend to make the language of the broadcast closer to the
language of the public,” said Ruth Almagor-Ramon, language adviser for the
Israel Broadcasting Authority.

But 40 years ago, the government spokesman had to assure radio staff that
the American weatherman’s accent would improve. Nearly four decades later,
Olinsky chuckles: “His forecast was wrong.”



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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