Re: Hebrew and Greek as languages

From: CWestf5155 (
Date: Fri Apr 10 1998 - 15:16:37 EDT

Dear Eric,

In a message dated 98-04-10 11:12:02 EDT, you write:

> Hebrew is
> one of the most calcified and "fixed" languages this planet has ever
> seen. Hebrews thought of
> words as being "holy" and not to be tampered with flippantly. Thus,
> creative "shifts" were
> rare and everyone knew what every word (with its limited vocabulary,
> this was not so hard)
> meant.

This neither fits the evidence we have of the development of the Hebrew
language, nor does it fit the nature of language in general.

No language is static, and with the best will on earth, no culture could keep
it static. For instance, I find my children are constantly coining and using
both new words and new word associations. Some of these changes become a part
of the traditional lexis over time (I'm amazed at how long 'cool' has
lasted--I think that it has almost made it out of the slang category). I
suppose that it is possible that a culture could exist that punished the
natural evolution of language, but that is a subject for a fiction writer.

As far as Hebrew is concerned, one would look for the impact of other
languages that conquered or controlled parts of Isreal or the Isrealites--for
instance one would expect to find Egyptian, Assyrian and Canaanite influence
in the language development over time, as well as Babylonian.

I understand that the alphabet itself changed so that there are very old
sources of the 10 commandments that are written in a significantly different
script, and that sections or all of the pentateuch had to be 'translated' from
a proto-language and script, something like our translation of Chaucer--but
I'm kind of vague on where I read it, so perhaps someone else can fill in

Hellenistic Greek was more of a 'scavenger language' because it was more of an
empire. There was cross-fertilization between Greek and the languages of the
nations were conquered.

Cindy Westfall
PhD Student, Roehampton

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