It had to be Yoo?

The English names given to the country's real-estate projects say a lot about the modern State of Israel.

Even if it's all talk, at least it's in Hebrew. TheHoly Tongue finally seems to be fighting back. First, there was thedecision last month by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar to start the dayin elementary and junior high schools with five minutes dedicated tocorrecting common Hebrew mistakes - and that means common in bothsenses of the word - and then there was the cabinet decision last weekdeclaring 21 Tevet, the birthday of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, as NationalHebrew Day and establishing a committee to come up with recommendationson how to strengthen the language in day-to-day usage.

The ministers will also look into creating an NIS70,000 annual prize in Ben-Yehuda's name for those working on thedevelopment of the language, as well as asking local authorities toname streets and public areas after those who, like Ben-Yehuda, havecontributed to the revival of Hebrew. The panel will be chaired byMoshe Bar-Asher, chairman of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, whowas later interviewed on Israel Radio praising the efforts as "creatinga good climate."

But if the committee is to have any real effect, it shouldstart looking even closer to home. The street names don't say it all -the real estate projects are talking. And Ben-Yehuda would find it hardto understand them.

According to a survey carried out by the Eldar Company, whichmarkets real estate throughout the country, some 50 percent of housingprojects now have non-Hebrew names. The survey was carried out in 2008and first reported by Ofer Petersburg in Yediot Aharonot'sMamon financial supplement. I tried in vain to contact Eldar to get anupdate on the figures, but judging by the fact that its Web site andrecorded phone message both carry the slogan - in English - "Beyond thenumbers, beyond the sale," I have to conclude that the trend to opt forEnglish has not changed.

Possibly the project most associated with luxuryhousing here is Tel Aviv's YOO Towers, upmarket in every sense. Sincethe name is more of a concept than a trade mark - much the same waythat the Ritz symbolizes luxury hotels - I was prepared to forgive themthe fact that it does not come naturally to native Hebrew-speakers.That was until I decided to find out what the initials actually stoodfor. The company's helpful staff in London informed me: "It largelycame about as the product is all about YOU (the purchaser) not US. Weset out and try to inject a higher level of customer service throughthe product. [Designer] Philippe Starck preferred YOO to YOU and alsohe likes names which have no meaning."

YOO can say that again. Well, I leave it to defenders of theEnglish language to judge how well poetic license mixes with businesslicense, but it seems a pity to me that if luxury projects are going tocarry English names, the names aren't at least in good English.

Other high-rises built on the same marketingprinciples as noted in the Eldar survey are LIFE & HEIGHTS inModi'in (which also sports LIFE & GREEN), YOUNG in Be'er Ya'acov,ONE in Bat Yam, VIEW in Ness Ziona and Y in Rishon Lezion - whichleaves me wondering why (or Y) indeed?

For other examples, readers in Israel need only look around.With the heightened sense of awareness that came from preparing thiscolumn, I came across ads ostensibly in Hebrew advertising places withnames including the words "valley" and "tower" (which can't even bespelled easily in Hebrew). There are also several royals, which alwaysbrings to mind that old joke about the (definitely luxurious) RoyalBeach Hotel, pronounced in Hebrew as "bitch." Feel free to choose yourfavorite version regarding after whom it was named.

And this is only part of the phenomenon. There is also asimilar fad of giving stores English names, written in English -sometimes correctly - and massive marketing in a language that thequeen might just recognize but would be beyond the understanding ofeven the greatest of prophets. If there's a sign of the times, it's theEnglish shop names in malls called Center something or other.

Sa'ar might do better to boost English lessons at this rate.Predictably, his suggestion focusing on the misuse of the language wasdiscussed at length in the Hebrew media, with those in favor feeling itwas a small step in the right direction and those against claiming itwas stifling the natural development of the language. Prof. Ghil'adZuckermann, author of Yisraelit Safa Yafa (Israeli, a beautiful language), who is making a name for himself as a maverick linguist, went as far as to claim in a Channel 1 television interview and a Yediotop-ed, "Just as the Jerusalem artichoke is neither an artichoke norJerusalemite, so the language being termed incorrect Hebrew is neitherHebrew nor incorrect. It is grammatical Israeli."

Yaron London, the veteran journalist who put EliezerBen-Yehuda's life, work and story into a well known song, is aself-proclaimed Hebrew-language loving dinosaur. In his recent Channel10 TV series London, Corner of Ben-Yehuda he took to the streets to examine what has happened to Hebrew.

In a fascinating episode on the Americanization of Israel,London discovered that marketing is the name of the game. Not only domost companies think that English sells better, apparently the Israeliconsumer also happily swallows the English sound bites.

It is not just English that has made inroads in Israel. Whilethere are more native Hebrew speakers than ever before, the language isa victim of globalizatzia with kids growing up onSpanish-language telenovellas dropping words like "muy" into theirspeech, very often. The pre-state era when the order of the day was "Ivri, daber Ivrit"(Hebrew [man], speak Hebrew) sounds not only politically incorrect, itis sooo obviously dated to the days before the Net was cast worldwide.

Even the term to emigrate to Israel, la'alot has taken on the English form and become la'asot aliya.But the immigrants are not responsible for the change. It is the globalworld of business, media and the Net. There are some who believe thatit's not so much a language that is in danger of dying out, but a setof values.

The discussion is not new, of course. Periodically,various personalities in Tel Aviv pronounce the need to clamp down andenforce the bylaws declaring that store names should appear in Hebrew.But it needs more than lip service. Wouldn't Paris, for example, losesome of its chic if they didn't say it in French? Why should Tel Aviv,known as the First Hebrew City, not show some similar national pride?And doesn't Jerusalem lose some of its special holy feel with everyextra English name that tries to trip off the tongue?

Nonetheless, there are some bright spots. Israel Radio's Rega shel Ivrit(A minute of Hebrew) is still so popular it has starting broadcastingthree times a day. And Yaron London's show might have been aired oncommercial television sandwiched between ads that must have made himcringe, but at least it provided food for thought on a channel bestknown for its diet of tochniot realiti (reality shows).

Even before the cabinet's decision last week, Yediot'sPetersburg noted the trend of municipalities calling squares, streetsand even whole neighborhoods after Israeli entertainers and artists. IrHayamim in Netanya, for example, now boasts streets signs bearing thenames of songwriter Ehud Manor, entertainer Dudu Dotan and singer ArikLavie - music to our ears. So many signs, and so many wonders.