Tag Archives: National Hebrew Day

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.

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