Hebrew’s revival, Turkey’s banned letters, Malaysia’s Allah crisis, and Q

Hebrew is the most successful attempt ever at language revival (though some argue that the evolution of Modern Hebrew is closer to language invention than revival).  Drawing on an ancient language has its drawbacks. The original had perhaps only a few thousand words, some of which — cherub, concubine — aren’t hugely useful these days.  And then there are the tens of thousands of words that didn’t exist in Biblical Hebrew. Not just technical words either. No word for icecream. Or skateboard. That’s where the Academy of Hebrew Language comes in. In last week’s podcast, Daniel Estrin reported on how the Academy helped come up with Hebrew names for  Uranus and Neptune.
Picture: Daniel Estrin

This week, Daniel tells us about how the Academy works, and what Israelis think of its work. The story was prompted by the Israeli cabinet’s decision to establish a Hebrew National Day on 21st of the Hebrew month of Tevet (in 2010, it was January 7). That’s the birth date of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the father of Modern Hebrew. (All this originally came to us via Tablet Magazine and its podcast Vox Tablet, where you can hear a slightly different version of Daniel’s report.)

Also, Malaysians have rioted and attacked churches after a court ruled that a Catholic newspaper can continue to use the word Allah. The government had banned its use, but an a court sided with the newspaper. Now the government is appealing to Malaysia’s highest court.

Then, two reports on letters in the Latin alphabet. In Sweden, parents have won the right to name their newborn Q. Just Q.  It’s not the most charming of names, but it’s not the least either. A previous controversy was over a baby girl named Metallica. Our second letter-related story comes from Turkey, where using the Kurdish-associated letters Q, W or X could land you in jail. There’s a nice Onion skit on the subject of letter additions to the English alphabet here.

Finally, a two-nations-divided-by-one-language examination of the word grit. These days, it’s the mot du jour in Britain because supplies are low. Not that Brits suddenly lack grit of the courageous determination variety. (That figurative take on the word is just about the only way it’s used here in the United States.) No, Brit grit is what Americans call salt, meaning that salt/dirt mix that is spread over icy roads. Britain, of course, is not  prepared for the kind of extreme wintry conditions that have been wreaking havoc on the nation this past month. So, there’s not enough grit.  Like in the British summertime when it doesn’t rain for a few weeks, there suddenly isn’t enough water.

Listen in iTunes or here.


Filed under audio, language, languages, pri, The World, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Hebrew’s revival, Turkey’s banned letters, Malaysia’s Allah crisis, and Q

  1. Grit is not British for salt, we call that salt. What they put on the roads is a mixture of the two, grit for grip and salt to keep the ice at bay by lowering the freezing temperature of water. Unfortunately I think it only lowers it to about -4º C ( 24º F) so hasn’t helped much in some of the temperatures we’ve been having recently…

  2. patricox

    My point was that here in the States, the mix of salt and dirt is usually referred to as just “salt.” People talk of “salting the roads.” My understanding from colleagues in the U.K. is that people similarly talk of “gritting the roads” — shorthand for depositing a mix of grit/dirt and salt.

  3. Your text about Hebrew was very interesting, and I agree with your point that there is a continuum in the “artificiality” of languages; that’s something I usually say when I discuss Esperanto.

    I would be interested in knowing how the revival of Hebrew has led to the decline of other jewish languages, like yiddish or Ladino, specially the last one. The last one is about to die, as far as I know, what is a pity.

  4. Aminhotep Presents

    I have encountered some interesting name choices here in Quebec when looking into the possibility of naming my daughter. There was the case of “Spatula” which was rejected because it was believed it ridiculed the child. Another example “C’est une ange” was eventually accepted when it was demonstrated that it had a cultural origin. I understand it was the name given to a character in a book.
    I received very little resistance when I put the name “3Jane” on my daughter’s birth certificate application. At first the the certificate was mailed to me with the name “Jane”. I then went in person to the registrar to have it corrected. They then corrected it with “Ejane”. When I returned a second time, they finally accepted it not without asking me if I was certain that was the name I wanted. It now appears as “3jane”, which I gracefully submitted to.
    It is, as far as I know, the first and only case of a number in a name in Quebec. I was prepared to fight any rejections that may have been issued based on its inappropriateness. It is the name of a character in my favourite sci-fi novel “Neuromancer” by William Gibson. Seeing as the authour happens to be Canadian as well as a contemporary, not to mention it is one of the most groundbreaking novels of our time, I believe my case was solid. My daughter now mostly goes by “Cyprus”, her other name. She may some day choose to go by 3jane, but it will be her own choice.

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