Another Semitic Language: Hebrew

Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family.
The oldest Hebrew alphabet comes from the Phoenicians and the modern alphabet from another known as proto-Hebrew.

Hebrew has always been the language of the Jewish people, and during the mid 19th century many efforts were made to get Hebrew to become the everyday language and not just for religious purposes. One person who went to great lengths to accomplish this task was Eliezer Ben Yehuda.

Today it is the official language of Israel, and is also spoken in many other nations such as Germany, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Palestine, Gaza, Panama, the UK and the USA.

Some features of Hebrew:

* Writing System: abjad. There are only symbols for the consonant phonemes, sometimes called so consonantary or consonantal alphabet.

* Writing Orientation: right to left, horizontally.

* Number of letters: 22 consonants, plus final letters and diacritics.

* Means of communication for Hebrew, Ladin, Yiddish and other Jewish languages.

* Some letters (kaf, mem, nun, faith, tzadi) have a final form (sofit) used when they appear at the end of a word.

* Numbers are expressed as they are used in the West (1, 2, 3, etc.).

* Long vowels are indicated by the letters alef, vav, yod. The short vowels, usually not marked in writing, except the Bible, poetry and books for children or students.

* In Hebrew, all words that share the same root are related.

* Hebrew is a language based on verbs. While there are 3 verb tenses, the system is based on what Jews call םינינב (binyanim), which means “construction”, “buildings”, and carries a notion of levels.

* The verb ‘have’ does not exist in Hebrew. For this purpose, there exist expressions for “there is” יש (yesh) “there is no” אין (ein). For example, there is a pencil here יש פו עיפרון (yesh po iparón). There is no pencil here אין פו עיפרון (ein po iparón).

* The article is not used.

* “To have” in the past and future declines with the verb היה (to be).

* The past is formed by adding to the root a suffix that indicates the person. So you do not have to write the personal pronoun.

* The future is formed by adding prefixes to the root, plus suffixes to distinguish the plural in the second and third persons.

* Third person plural is written the same way for females and males.

* The conjugation of the verb is the sum of suffixes and prefixes to the root of the verb.

* The plural is formed by adding a suffix. The plural suffix for males is ים (-im-).

* The feminine plural suffix is ות (-ot-).

* The definite article is used as a prefix and can never be independent.

Car – מחנית (mijonit)
The car – המחנית (haMijonit)

* There is no indefinite article.

* There are two types of genre. Male זכר (zachor) and female נקבה (neqabá).

– Names ending in ת (-t) and ה (-a-).
– The names of members of the body that appear in pairs.
– The names of cities and countries other than the Vatican.
– Other nouns are masculine, with, of course, some exceptions.
– There are also names that are male and female.
– To form the feminine when both nouns have two genders, a suffix is added that can be ה or  ת.
– Boy- ילד (yeled)

– Girl- -ילדה (yaldá)

There are many differences with Western languages, but Hebrew is quite similar to other languages in the same linguistic group, such as Arabic.

Here is an example of how these differences manifest themselves in translating a text:

A client needs to translate these terms to Hebrew. We do not have much context, only that they are terms used to describe some fragrances:

Hot and Spicy
Earthly and Woody

Then, the translator explains:
1. In Hebrew it would be better to say “warm and spicy fragrance.”
2. If these statements describe a perfume, in that case they should be male, regardless of whether it is for men or women.
3. If these words describe the person wearing the perfume, another choice of words would be more appropriate…

This demonstrates how a simple text can generate several questions when choosing the correct translation.

For information on Semitic languages, you can send your inquiry to “Translation Services“.

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