Hebrew Language Evolution

Hebrew language

The Hebrew language is the only language founded at the same time handwriting was, and yet, it still is widely spoken in the 21st century. The oldest evidence for pre-Hebrew letters was found in a region called ”Mesopotamia,” Currently an area spreading through Iran and Iraq.

Findings tell the Hebrew alphabet was evolved from the Sumerian script, 3,500 BC approximately. In Sumerian script- if you wanted to write something, all you needed to do is draw that thing you want to write down.

The next step of the Hebrew language evolvement happened in Canaan (currently Israel and a small region in northeast Egypt). Around 1,500 BC, it’s unknown by whom, but somebody decided to simplify the Egyptian painting-based script and shorten it to 22 letters only.

This simplicity amazed some of the populations around, especially the Phoenicians who were pirates trading and merchandising all around the area; they found such a simplicity very helpful to sell and trade their goods. So after the Phoenicians adjusted it, they spread it wherever they arrived.

Hebrew language alphabets

Evolution of Hebrew Language

Around 1,300 BC, the Hebrew alphabet was spread worldwide and adopted by it; every region added its changes and amendments. As a result, this version of Phoenician Hebrew evolved to a lot of letters we know nowadays.

Hebrew had ceased to be an everyday spoken language (don’t worry, it resurrects later) somewhere between 200 and 400 CE, declining since the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba revolt, as the elites and immigrants used Aramaic Greek. However, Hebrew still survived as Jewish liturgy, rabbinic literature, intra-Jewish commerce, and poetry during the medieval period.

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. After Israel, the United States has the second largest Hebrew-speaking population, with about 220,000 fluent speakers, mostly from Israel.

The Revival of the Hebrew Language

Hebrew was not a spoken language until a century back. Ashkenazi (Jews who lived in Europe) Jewish communities generally spoke Yiddish (a combination of Hebrew and German), while Sephardic Jews spoke Ladino (a combination of Hebrew and Spanish). Jewish communities spread across the world also spoke the native language of the countries they were living in.

Thanks to the personal mission of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who revived Hebrew as a spoken language. He believed it was important for the Jewish people to have their own language if they were to have their own land.

In order to have our own land and political life… we must have the Hebrew language in which we can conduct the business of life.

by Ben-Yehuda in 1880.

When his family moved to Palestina, they decided that only Hebrew would be spoken in their home – no small task, since Hebrew was an ancient language that lacked words for modern things like “coffee” or “newspaper.” So Ben-Yehuda set about creating hundreds of new words using the roots of biblical Hebrew words as a starting point.

Eventually, he published a modern Hebrew dictionary and is often referred to as the father of Modern Hebrew. Today Hebrew is the official spoken language of the State of Israel and a common language for Jews living outside of Israel. Normally Jewish children will attend Hebrew School until they are old enough to have their Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah.

Ben-Yehuda - Father of modern Hebrew language
When Ben-Yehuda arrived in Jerusalem, there were only about 25,000 Jews, mostly Orthodox, who themselves were fierce enemies of Ben Yehuda’s vision to make Hebrew a modern spoken language of the Jewish people. He and his wife had almost no friends, let alone allies.

Hebrew Speaking Countries

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. After Israel, the United States has the second largest Hebrew-speaking population, with about 220,000 fluent speakers, mostly from Israel.

It is still spoken in few parts of Europe. Though the official stats is not available, it is still one of the minority languages in many European states. For example, check out the minority languages of Poland.

6 Benefits of Learning Hebrew

Regardless of the fact that learning a new language increases cognitive thinking and improves or brain function, there are a few more reasons for learning Hebrew language.

  1. The number of Hebrew speakers is estimated at 10,000,000. Most of them are Jewish people from Israel; a big part of them are Jewish and non-Jewish people from the United States, and the rest are scattered around the world.
  2. Many “partially” Jewish people find it out only when they are adults; it has a lot to do with the fact that Jewish people were and still are living all over the world.
  3. The holy bible, which is holy and regarding Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, was originally written in Ancient Hebrew, but knowing Hebrew would be enough for you to way better understand it.
  4. The Museum of Israel in Jerusalem presents ancient Jewish tombs and graves in Hebrew. Jesus’ terms, dedications, and blessings are calligraphed in midterm Hebrew, but every good Hebrew speaker would understand what’s written.
  5. Jesus was a Hebrew speaker, and so was everyone close to him; imagine what a nice gesture it’d be for them to know you’ve learned their native language, which was highly valued by them (and if you truly believe in Jesus, you know he still does notice everything you do).
  6. The number of Hebrew speakers is relatively low compared to Chinese or English speakers, but there are Israeli firms and Israeli business people worldwide. If your job involves international interaction, you’d most likely meet or talk with Israeli people or people who work for an Israeli company; that might give you some extra credit.

Moreover, it makes it even more exclusive to know that you are one among a very small group of people who speak the holy and the longest surviving language.


FAQs – Hebrew Language

  • Is Hebrew the oldest language?

    Findings tell the Hebrew alphabet was evolved from the Sumerian script, 3,500 BC approximately.

  • Is Hebrew still spoken?

    According to Ethnologue, in 1998, Hebrew was the language of five million people worldwide. After Israel, the United States has the second largest Hebrew-speaking population, with about 220,000 fluent speakers, mostly from Israel.

  • Was Hebrew a dead language?

    Hebrew had ceased to be an everyday spoken language (don’t worry, it resurrects later) somewhere between 200 and 400 CE.
    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.

  • Did Jesus speak Hebrew?

    Jesus was a Hebrew speaker, and so was everyone close to him.

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