EMODHEBREW: The Emergence of Modern Hebrew

The Emergence of Modern Hebrew (EMODHEBREW) is an ERC-funded research project that documents the development of the grammar of Modern Hebrew, in particular its syntax. Hebrew presents a unique phenomenon of a language which for generations was only used for literary purposes (mostly liturgical, scholarly, and legal literature) becoming a language spoken again for everyday use. Though the dramatic historical circumstances of this revival have been described, the linguistic process itself is not yet understood. The present project is an attempt to systematically study the linguistic aspect of the process. We construct a linguistic data-base for the documentation of the novel syntactic constructions of Modern Hebrew, their sources in previous stages of Hebrew and in the languages with which Modern Hebrew was in contact at the time of the revival, and the development of these constructions since the beginning of the revival until present time. The data-base is made available on this website for other linguists to use and to contribute to.

Our aim is to construct a model of the linguistic factors which have shaped the revival of Hebrew. We expect this model to provide clues for the understanding of the process of language revival in general. For a language to be revived, a new grammar must be created by its speakers. The principal objective of the proposed project is to trace the syntactic trajectory of Modern Hebrew during its early years. The study aims to contribute to the understanding of, first, the language-internal vs. language-contact origins of the syntactic properties of Modern Hebrew at the stage where it only had L2 speakers (L2 stage), and second, the changes that these properties underwent when Modern Hebrew acquired native speakers (L1 stage). The second issue has practically not been addressed before. And although the first issue has been hotly debated, the debate has often been based on isolated examples, mostly illustrating lexicological, phonological, and morphological characteristics of Modern Hebrew. Only few of the syntactic traits of MH have so far been studied from a historical perspective. The present research aims at studying parameters not previously discussed in the literature whose value setting at the L1 stage could explain the clustering of the innovation of particular syntactic constructions. Such findings would point to a theory of change different from the view found in the literature whereby the first generation of L1 Modern Hebrew speakers were consciously taught the historical values of the Hebrew parameters at school, or made use of general cognitive mechanisms such as analogy and back-formation to simplify the L2 grammar.