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2016 - Language Contact and the Genesis of Mishnaic Hebrew

Annual Ullendorff Lecture in Semitic Philology - 2016

Language Contact and the Genesis of Mishnaic Hebrew

Professor Edward Cook

Catholic University, Washington DC

5pm, Thursday, 19th May, 2016
Rooms 8 & 9, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (Sidgwick Site) 


Abstract: The origin of Mishnaic Hebrew and its differences from Biblical Hebrew have been explained in different ways, e.g., in terms of chronological development (MH is later), register (MH is colloquial), or geographic (MH originated elsewhere than in Judea). None of these accounts explain, however, just why MH is different in the way that it is different, especially in the pronounced and drastic simplification of its verbal system vis-a-vis BH.

Recent advances in contact linguistics suggest that MH originated out of a very specific kind of contact with Aramaic, namely, the fairly rapid adult acquisition of Hebrew as a second language by Aramaic speakers, which left the language permanently changed. The most likely historical framework for this contact situation is the expansion of the Jewish state under the Hasmoneans in the second and first centuries BCE.

For further information, contact:

Prof. Geoffrey Khan
Regius Professor of Hebrew
Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies