13 Oct: Reviving Hebrew

On October 13th, 1881, the linguist and grammarian Eliezer Ben-Yehuda held what is thought to have been the first modern conversation in Hebrew with two friends at a Paris café.

The conversation would have had some serious stumbling blocks, given that the language was still missing numerous modern words including bicycle, towel, and – crucially for being in a cafe – a word for coffee.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly discuss the connection between Hebrew’s revival and growing Jewish nationalism; look at the personal lengths Ben-Yehuda was willing to go to make the language take off, including speaking to his son exclusively in Hebrew; and explain why, in the early days, conversing in an ancient language must have been like speaking exclusively in David Bowie song lyrics…

Further Reading:

• ‘Revival of the Hebrew language’ (The Jerusalem Post, 2010): https://www.jpost.com/jewish-world/jewish-news/this-week-in-history-revival-of-the-hebrew-language 

• ‘How to revive an ancient language, according to 19th-century Hebrew and Persian revivalists’ (University of Washington, 2018): https://jewishstudies.washington.edu/israel-hebrew/reviving-hebrew-persian-ancient-languages-eliezer-ben-yehuda-manekji-limji-hataria/ 

• ‘Hebrew wasn’t spoken for 2,000 years. Here’s how it was revived’ (National Geographic, 2023): https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/hebrew-wasnt-spoken-for-2000-years-heres-how-it-was-revived 

• ‘The History & Revival of the Hebrew Language’ (Unpacked, 2019):