A very interesting article in the New York Times describes a common problem in many languages: the fast paced modern life, along with increased external influences, pushes changes into the language while at same time slowly eroding the original vocabulary.

However, in the case of Hebrew, this has other meanings: there, more than anywhere else, language *is* national identity.

Two centuries after it was written, Jewish history became one of dispersal and exile, and Hebrew ceased to be widely spoken for the next 1,700 years. Its revival is often hailed as one of the greatest feats of the Zionist enterprise; today Hebrew is the first language of millions of Israelis, a loquacious and literary nation that is said to publish an average of 5,500 books a year.
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In a country suffused with religious and historical symbolism, the linguistic link to the past has always evoked feelings of national identity, vindication and pride. Any erosion is bound to stir unease.

Language as identification is as old as the Old Testament: in Judges, there is a passage where people crossing a river are asked to say “shibollet” (a water stream). Fugitives of Ephraim, hiding among others, could only pronounce “sibollet”, were identified and slaughtered. More recently, in 1282, Sicilians routed the french occupiers in a revolt where they identified whey they had to say “cecciri” (peas).

It goes without saying that other languages also suffer from (or enjoy) the same process of fluidity evolution, borrowing and adapting foreign words while endogenously creating new ones. In languages, the only thing that is constant is change. While simply criticized in most places, this kind of change gets a new meaning and poses tougher challenges for Israel and its unique language history.

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