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DEIFYING Zionism and DEFYING Religion: DEFINING Ideological Secularization of Hebrew Terms within the Israeli Language

To be given by: Assoc. Prof. Ghil'ad Zuckermann, Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Fellow, The University of Queensland (Australia)

Thursday, 30th October, 2008
Room 9, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies


"The greatest virtue of a new word is that it is not new." (Yechiel Michal Pínes, 1893) - versus - "It is absolutely impossible to empty out words filled to bursting, unless one does so at the expense of language itself." (Gershom Scholem, 26 December 1926)

One of the problems facing those attempting to revive Hebrew as the national language of the emerging State of Israel was that of Hebrew lexical voids. The 'revivalists' attempted to use mainly internal sources of lexical enrichment but were faced with a paucity of roots. They changed the meanings of obsolete Hebrew terms to fit the modern world. This infusion often entailed the secularization of religious terms.

This lecture will explore the phenomenon of semantic secularization, as in the politically-neutral process visible in English cell 'monk's living place' > 'autonomous self-replicating unit from which tissues of the body are formed'. The main focus, however, is on secularizations involving ideological 'lexical engineering', as often exemplified by - either conscious or subconscious, either top-down or bottom-up - manipulative, subversive processes of extreme semantic shifting, pejoration, amelioration, trivialization, allusion and echoing.


Ghil'ad ZUCKERMANN, D.Phil. (Oxon.), M.A. (Tel Aviv) (summa cum laude), is Associate Professor and Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Fellow in Linguistics at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. He has been Gulbenkian Research Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge, has taught in Israel, Singapore, England and USA; and has held research posts in Bellagio (Italy), Austin (Texas), Melbourne and Tokyo. His publications - in English, Israeli, Italian, Yiddish, Spanish, German, Russian and Chinese - include the books Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) and Israelit Safa Yafa (Israeli, a Beautiful Language, Am Oved, 2008). He is currently working on two further books: (1) Language Genesis and Multiple Causation, and (2) Language, Religion and Identity. His website is

For more information, contact:

Prof. Geoffrey Khan
Professor of Semitic Philology
Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies