How the Hebrew Language Adds New Words

The ancient Hebrew language is not static. During the last 25 years, over 10,000 words have been added to the Hebrew language. This was required to meet the exigencies of modern life in conversational usage. William Chomsky’s “Hebrew: The Eternal Language” is full of examples.

Some words are borrowed from Indo-European (Latin) languages. A perfect example is the everyday word”TILPHEN” which is the verb “telephone”. Even during Mishnaic Hebrew, words were often borrowed from other languages such as Greek. An example is “HIT’AKHSEN” (received hospitality) from the Greek word “XENIA” meaning hospitality.

The Old New Land (or Altneuland in the original German) is a utopian novel published by Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, in 1902. What city could be named after this model? If you know that “TEL” means mound or ruin (thus symbolizing old) and Aviv is the month of Spring, representing “new”, then you can see the name of the city “TEL AVIV”.

Hebrew often adds prefixes and suffixes to words to slightly modify the meaning. For example, you can often add the suffix “-ut” to a word. SAMKHUT means “authority” from the root verb SEMEKH” meaning “support”. SIFRUT means “literature” from the noun SEFER meaning book.

Another pattern is for occupations. PASAL means “sculptor” from the familiar word “PESEL” which means “idol”. KANNAR means violinist from the noun “KINOR” meaning “violin”.

Sometimes, you can add the letter “MEM” as a prefix to form a noun. The occurs with Biblical words such as MIKDASH (temple) from KADASH (to sanctify/make holy) and MISHKAN (tabernacle) from SHAKAN (dwell). In Modern Hebrew, we can see such words as MABDED (insulator) from BADAD (insulate)

As in English, two words are combined to form a new word. For example, “goodbye” is a shortend version of “God be with you”. KOLNOA (movie theater or sound pictures) is a blend of KOL (sound) and NO’A (motion). Interestingly, TAPUZ is an orange, from the word TAPUACH (apple) and the first letter of ZAHAV (gold).

English, Yiddish, Russian have contributed to new Hebrew words. SHWITZ means sweat in Yiddish, which inspired the Hebrew word MASHWITZ – a pretneious person. From English, Hebrew has borrowed words such as sweater, garage, and tractor. From Russian, the suffix “Nik” is occassionaly used showing that a person belongs to a certain group, such as KIBBUTZNIK (a man belonging to a Kibutz).

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