Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


Word Choice

How Hebrew was (and continues to be) transformed into a modern language

Print Email

Sixty years ago this week, the modern state of Israel was born. Since then, thousands, and ultimately millions, of Jews have adopted Hebrew as their primary language, despite the fact that their ancestors stopped speaking it nearly two thousand years earlier. Linguists say it is the most successful instance yet of a “dead” language’s revival.

So how did Hebrew make the leap from ancient language to modern one? Who coined the terms that allow Israelis to speak about ice cream and skateboards? To answer these questions, Daniel Estrin visits the Academy of the Hebrew Language in Jerusalem, the official arbiter of the language and its evolution. He meets with Keren Dubnov, charged with fielding all queries to the Academy’s Hebrew language hotline, and Gabriel Birnbaum, a senior researcher. With their help, he takes us back to modern Hebrew’s first, best advocate, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, and forward to a time when, if the Academy has its way, Israelis will refer to their cellphone ringtone as “neimon.”

Note: If you’ve got Hebrew language questions, or want to coin a Hebrew word, you can email the Academy of the Hebrew Language. [end of story]

photos from the Academy of the Hebrew Language
Left: Gabriel Birnbaum, senior researcher at the Academy of the Hebrew Language. Right: Keren Dubnov, who replies to queries sent to the hotline at the Academy of the Hebrew Language.

Photos: Daniel Estrin.

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Word Choice

How Hebrew was (and continues to be) transformed into a modern language

More on Tablet:

A Grandfather’s Hidden Love Letters From Nazi Germany Reveal a Buried Past

By Vox Tablet — Reporter Sarah Wildman’s grandfather escaped Vienna in 1938. Long after he died, she discovered the life—and lover—he left behind.