Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Thursday, 3 February 2011

Keep it Pure

One of my pet peeves is how English aggressively asserts itself into other languages.  For some reason I don't so much mind when foreign woirds find their way into English but it bugs me when I hear foreigners speaking their language and inserting English into it.  It doesn't seem to matter which language it is either.  It could be my father speaking Yiddish and using an English word or two or an Israeli doing the same but I just get a feeling of annoyance and want to say "You have a word for that!  Use it!"
It seems like I'm not the only one.  Years ago I went to Israel to do an elective in cardiology and the secretary of the department told me she was happy I spoke Hebrew because her English wasn't so good for explaining how the routine would work.  Most importantly, she assured me "Anachnu rotzim she'yehiyeh lecha goodtime".  "Goodtime"?  Really?  They can't just say "z'man tov" or something like that?
Then there's the way there's words in Hebrew for "maximum" and "minimum" but what do Israelis say?  "Maximum" and "minimum".   I also hate hearing people say that something in "eleganti" or "normali".  Or the kid who's whinging "Zeh lo fair!"  Then there was this cinema outside the old central bus station in Tel Aviv with all English words on its sign, just transliterated into English.  Come on, you have words for that, dammit!
This article describes the problems that hebrew is facing after presenting an excellent history on the development of modern Hebrew.  B'kitzur, Hebrew as a modern language has been playing a catch-up job since its inception but like every other language it has the ability to bring in and assimilate words appropriately.  Eliezer Ben Yehuda's dictionary is an example of how terms in Latin or Greek can be modified or adapted to an existing Hebrew root.  How many people know that there are specific Hebrew words for "radio" and "television" based on the roots for listening and watching?  But everyone says "radio" and "televiziah".
As the article notes, the more Hebrew drifts away from its roots by directly incorporating foreign words the weaker its historical connection to ancient Hebrew and our ancestors.  Jewish history in Israel is not unattached to what happened 2000 or 3000 years ago.  The language of David HaMelech, a"h, and Ezra HaSofer, a"h, is our language.  I wish more people cared about making the effort to ensure that we are loyal to their heritage and not killing the connection for the sake of convenience.

11 comments:

SJ said...

Even though it's the norm for languages to borrow their scientific vocabulary from English I find it kind of disappointing that to have such proficiency in Hebrew, one would be repeating English all over again, but then again it's not the biggest issue around since every language generally does it.

Jennifer in MamaLand said...

Then you'd probably be appalled by the bastardized "Heblish" spoken by sabra children of perfectly articulate dovrei Anglit. It's truly awful in EITHER language and a sometimes (side-splittingly funny) insult to both. :-)))

SJ said...

I never thought it made sense for American yeshiva students to show off with a random Hebrew word here and there when noone knew the whole language. Either speak educatedly in English or in Hebrew.

Anyways, it seems to me that for American yeshivot to disregard spoken Hebrew for reason of too pure to be spoken was an absolute disaster for Jewish community.

Dr Mike said...

I can understand the occasional Hebrew word being used in English in yeshiva. It's no different than lawyers taking about habeus corpus. Sometimes the foreign language term captures a definition that the English equivalent just misses. It's the folks that throw in mispronounced Hebrew words to pretend how religiou sthey are that annoys me.

Shades of Grey said...

Re: Jennifer in MamaLand - I was once having a conversation with my 8 year old Israeli cousin, and caught him telling me something that wasn't true. So I replied (in my utterly inaccurate Hebrew) "Shakran, shakran, michnasayim al ha-esh!" - Which I thought meant, liar, liar pants on fire.

He burst out laughing. "Barbeque pants!? What's barbeque pants!?!"

Mark said...

Oh, that's been going on for years. Many years.

Reminds me of a funny story. Father of a friend of mine told me a story long ago about a garage in Israel in the 70's. He owned an old car and had an issue with his front wheels and turning and the mechanic was investigating the problem. The diagnosis was that the "beck exel kidmi"* needed some sort of work. He laughed and related that story a number of times to us kids as we learned Hebrew. And we laughed every time

Now that's not the funny part. The funny part is me almost getting thrown into jail while in the army. So fast forward to the 90's while I'm serving. Our mefaked splits us up into groups of 3 to go do guard duty on the Jordanian border, 2 grunts (like me) and a driver. Our driver signs out a jeep, and a bit later we drive off to do a patrol. The jeep seems to be acting up along the way and is pulling badly to one side. So we somehow manage a slow patrol and return to base to drop the jeep off. Our driver mentions the problem to the mechanic on duty and he doesn't allow us to sign the jeep back in until he's examined it properly. So he begins to check it. Meanwhile our mefaked comes by to find out why we are being delayed. So the mefaked starts arguing with the mechanic that we must sign the jeep in and be on our way. The mechanic tells him (and us) that the "beck exel kidmi" is dafook (messed up) and the jeep needs repairs. At that point, I pretty much lost it and began laughing so hard that my stomach hurt, I could hardly breathe, and sort of fell to the ground. My mefaked was pissed at my behavior and might have sent me to jail for a few days. Luckily I regained my composure and explained the whole thing to him, he even cracked a brief smile before sending us on our way.


* "beck exel kidmi" means front back axle. What they really mean to say is front axle, but axle seems to have been translated as "beck exel" long ago (probably by an Israeli army mechanic training under a US army mechanic who once said "back axle").

S. said...

Sounds more like you don't like the sound of botched English than mongrel Hebrew.

Anonymous said...

I cannot vouch for this but I was told that due to the British influence headlights were reffered to as sealbim (Sealbeam) One headlight was silb

SJ said...

btw Garnel how do you like my latest blog post? XD the rational and the irrational.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

I share your sentiments in this post. מאד. But surely you notice that Ivrit evolves through the length of the Tanach. And the Ivrit of the Mishnah contains clear foreign contributions and influences. Rabi Yehudah Hanasi was no De Gaulle in that regard. Even Rav Kook uses the word 'medicine' to draw a distinction between that act of healing (refuah) and the science/profession (medicine). See the beginning of Chapt. 1 of אורות התשובה.

There is a great importance to לשון הקודש; but I've yet to see a convincing argument that it can't/won't evolve with time and history. As for Hebrew words that get supplanted by Hebraizations of a foreign term (not just English) - the sages point out that 'even a sefer Torah needs mazal'.

Y. Ben-David said...

I think Israel hit bottom at the ceremony for granting the so-called Nobel "Peace" Prize which Arafat, Peres and Rabin received. The custom is that each recipient give his acceptance speech in his native language. Agnon, when he received his prize in Literature, gave his speech in Hebrew. Arafat gave his in Arabic, but Rabin and Peres gave theirs in English, which I think really shows deep down that those two don't consider themselves to be either Jews or Israeli, which they view to be an embarrassment. Like many Israel far Leftists, they prefer to be viewed as "cosmopolitan citizens-of-the-world". Recall that Peres, at his grotesque, Stalinistic 80th birthday party which the entire world was invited to (largely at Israelis taxpayer's expense) had chosen his themesong as John Lennon's "Imagine", which Bill Clinton lead a mixed Israeli-Palestinian youth choir in singing. The song dreams about a world "without nations or religions and nothing to fight for". No wonder Israel is in the mess it is in, with leaders like that. That is why the fight for the Hebrew language is so vital!