Media Comment: Hebrew Now

After being revived to life, Hebrew is now once again threatened by a careless media and the general trend is an increasing use of English.

hebrew (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Samuel Johnson, who devoted himself to improving the English language, wrote in the preface to his dictionary that he did so in order that “its purity may be preserved, its use ascertained, and its duration lengthened.”
Over 50 countries exercise an official language regulation framework, tasked with the responsibility of maintaining standard usages, vocabulary and grammar. For example, the esteemed L’Académie Française, founded in 1635, publishes a dictionary of the French language which is regarded as official in France. Its main involvement in contemporary cultural affairs revolves around its attempts to prevent the Anglicization of the language. Taking their cue from the Academy, other languages so supervised and protected include Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish and Russian.
The revival of Hebrew as a spoken language is considered one of the greatest achievements of the Zionist movement. Many doubted that a “dead” language could be brought out of the books and into the mouths of young sabras. Theodor Nöldeke, a wellknown Semitic studies scholar, wrote in 1911 that: “The dream of some Zionists, that Hebrew… will again become a living, popular language in Palestine, has still less prospect of realization than their vision of a restored Jewish empire in the Holy Land.”
In Israel, the Academy of the Hebrew Language prescribes standards for modern Hebrew, and by law is charged “to direct the development of Hebrew in light of its nature, requirements and potential, its daily and academic needs, by setting its lexicon, grammar, characters, orthography and transliteration.”
The Israel Broadcasting Authority has a language maven, Dr. Ruth Almagor-Ramon and a “Moment of Hebrew” corner. Dr. Avshalom Kor broadcasts a popular Hebrew-language slot on IDF Radio.
Today, however, Hebrew, as an agent of national identity is under threat. The special status of Hebrew is being undermined by those who should be preserving its uniqueness.
Arguably the worst offender is the advertising industry. The ad agencies believe that English sells better than Hebrew. Otherwise, how can one explain the plethora of businesses using Americanized names such as “Yes” and “Hot”! English is used too frequently in radio and television ads. Some egregious examples include: a bank which provides a “second opinion”; companies advertising “sales” or “campaigns”; Israel’s national lottery – Mifal Hapayis –uses “overweight”; the word “happening” describing a sales campaign or a social event; a price which is “attractive”; and much more.
One of the responsibilities of the Israel Broadcasting Authority is to preserve the Hebrew language. But as Ecclesiastes has it, at the IBA “money gives everything.” The repetitive ads, especially on the nationally broadcast Reshet Beth radio of Kol Yisrael, have contributed significantly to the decay of the Hebrew language, not to mention, that the English used is too often less than “perfect.” The IBA’s Dr. Almagor does not have the power to confront the NIS 150 million per year stranglehold that advertisers have on the IBA’s budget. Previous efforts by the president of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, Professor Moshe Bar-Asher and the former chairman of the IBA, Moseh Gavish, to stem the tide have not succeeded. The present leadership of the IBA has publicly stated that it will deal with the problem. Miki Miro, Director of Radio at the IBA, is taking steps which would prevent English advertising, but the results are not yet evident.
The ongoing deterioration of the Hebrew language is not limited to ads. Many of our broadcasters, editors and writers either do not know Hebrew well enough, or have very little respect for the language, or perhaps believe Hebrew is somewhat outdated and Americanese is to be preferred. How else can one understand the pervasiveness of English in their reports, conversations and articles? Examples abound. The use of the misnomer “shemona esreh” is ubiquitous, it should either be the feminine “shemoneh esreh” or the masculine “shemona asar.”
What is the Hebrew for “primaries”, “campaign” or “playoff” – and are there adequate Hebrew terms for those words? Are our media people displaying a cultural inferiority complex? Mr. Yaron Dekel of Reshet Bet radio, in one sentence, has used the words ‘negative’, ‘positive’, ‘effective’ and ‘campaign’, stating in Americanized Hebrew that a negative campaign is more effective than a positive campaign. Why must Ayala Hasson of Channel One TV talk about “noman’s land”: when surely she knows the Hebrew terminology: shetach hefker? Mr. Yoav Limor, also of the IBA, uses the expression “to prove their point,” and so on.
Israel’s newspapers are not obliged to uphold the Hebrew language. Some of them are post-Zionist, so the language is of little interest to them. Yet some of them, such as Makor Rishon and Yisrael Hayom, pride themselves that they are Zionist. Israel’s Media Watch once checked a single weekend edition of Makor Rishon, and found over 300 Anglicized words such as “fair play,” “freak,” “deadline” and “due diligence.” A letter to the editor, Mr. Shlomo Ben-Zvi, was not even honored with an answer. Yisrael Hayom was found to have over 150 English words in one weekday issue. The editor Mr. Amos Regev responded positively, but in fact nothing much has changed.
On the bright side, the guidelines of the Second Authority for Television and Radio state that the usage of foreign-language expressions should be minimized. If they must be used, they should be simultaneously translated to Hebrew and shown on screen. This is implemented, especially in advertising clips.
Yet the general trend is an increasing use of English. The shops and stores reflect what is heard and read in the media. Our society is dominated by an urge to respect all that is in English and belittle the importance of Hebrew. There is a need for restoring the language Zionism all but sanctified.
Are the post-Zionists among us celebrating?
Eli Pollak and Yisrael Medad are, respectively, Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (
Correction – Last’s week mention of Ms. Haimovitz was erroneous, the Channel 2 TV anchor presenting the Glen Beck item was Ms. Yonit Levi.