Speaking Monday to the assembly of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decried the poor standard of Hebrew in Israel today.
Members of the academy presented Olmert with the academy's historical dictionary project, whose on-line version was launched during the event, and spoke about the academy's various functions in regulating the use of Hebrew, studying the history of the language and coining new words. Also present at the event was Ophir Paz-Pines, minister of science, technology, culture and sport.
Olmert praised the academy's work, and what he called its "creative effort to coin and encourage the use of new linguistic terms, which are the basis for the creation of a national culture." He also recalled David Ben-Gurion's insistence that government officials adopt Hebrew names, and said it was unfortunate that "so many couples today give their children meaningless foreign names."
"I am sorry to say this, but the Israeli street does not respect the Hebrew language," Olmert said. "It has become filled with expressions that grate on the ear, and worships foreign words and changing trends." Billboards and shopping centers were some of the places, according to Olmert, where the devaluation of Hebrew could be seen on a daily basis.
Olmert specifically noted the negative effect that the language of commercials has on Hebrew, and the lack of insistence on proper Hebrew in the media.
"Everyday speech and the language of entertainment are suffused with foreign impurities," Olmert said.
He added that "this affliction has even reached those who once guarded the Hebrew language: Many radio and television broadcasters no longer take care to speak proper Hebrew. We are headed down a slippery slope."
Olmert also mentioned former prime minster Ariel Sharon's criticism of Israel's cable television networks, which have adopted foreign names such as "Hot" and "Yes."
Olmert himself acknowledged that his own Hebrew was not faultless. Indeed, just two days before election day last March, he appeared in a Kadima election commercial in which he spoke of running 12 kilometers a day, while using a grammatically incorrect form of the number 12 - a common mistake constantly made by many Israelis.
Nevertheless, he made a case for encouraging children and adolescents to read Israeli literature and to speak correctly, and for instilling in them a sense of pride in their language and heritage.
Olmert also said that Hebrew was too dear an asset to be given up, and called upon Israelis to work against the erosion of correct speech. He encouraged parents, teachers and the education system, as well as the media, to serve as an example of correct speech, because of their great influence on the everyday language.