Hebrew and Arabic are languages which originate from the Middle East, classifying them as Semitic languages. While watching the TV show “Fauda”, I found myself continuously analysing and comparing both Hebrew and Arabic, and wondering how similar are these languages?
Classical Arabic was primarily used for religious purposes, to record text in the Quran. Similarly, Biblical Hebrew was spoken by the ancient Israelites and was primarily used to record Jewish texts (Doron, 2016). When ancient Israel was ruled by the Babylonians, the lingua franca (the everyday spoken language) became Aramaic and there was a decline of the Hebrew language, eventually leading to its extinction. In the 19th century, a man named Eliezer Ben Yehuda revived, modernized, and re-structured the Hebrew language. A “new” language was created by combining roots of words in Biblical Hebrew, with the phonology (speech sounds) from Ashkenazi Hebrew (European dialect) and Sephardic Hebrew (Oriental dialect). Due to the modernizations which occurred between the 6th century and the 19th century, many new words had to be added into the Modern Hebrew vocabulary.
Speakers of Arabic cannot necessarily understand speakers of Hebrew and (vice-versa) without a basic understanding of the spoken language. Though, when the syntax (grammatical structure) and morphology (word formation) of both languages are compared, there is a commonality between both languages. Semitic languages are unique for their non-concatenative morphology, where most root words are formed with (typically) three consonantal sounds, and contain morphemes (additional letters added to the root word) which indicate inflectional features and gender.
For example, nouns, verbs, and adjectives can be derived from the root k.t.v. “write” (Tsarfaty, 2014). From this root, nouns such as: mktb mixtav “a letter” and kitav “script”. Verbs can also be derived, such as lktwb likhtov “to write” and lhtktb lehitkatev “to correspond”. Moreover the adjective ktwb katuv “written” can be derived as well. Both Hebrew and Arabic follow this structure, where the roots (which are often shared between languages) form words.
Due to the modernization of Hebrew, many new words and speech sounds were created, potentially making Hebrew and Arabic more distinct languages. Though, as previously mentioned above, there is a link between the root words of both languages. Below are some examples:
Hebrew: “bat”, Arabic: “bent”, English: “girl”
Hebrew: “shalom”, Arabic: “salaam”, English: “peace”
Hebrew: “yom”, Arabic: “yom”, English: “day”
Just as French, Spanish and Italian are cousins as they are in the Romance language family, Hebrew and Arabic are cousins as they are both in the Semitic language family. Just as there are similarities between Spanish and Italian, there are evident similarities between the root words of Arabic and Hebrew words. If you’ve ever seen the show “Fauda”, or heard Arabic and Hebrew, it is evident that both languages sound distinct. With different writing codes, speech sounds and linguistic history, it is clear that Arabic and Hebrew are different. Though, so much of their verb system is exactly the same. Language is fascinating.
Doron, E. (2016). Introduction (pp. 1–4). Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Leiden: Brill.
Tsarfaty, R. (2014). Natural language processing of Semitic Languages (pp. 67–122). In Zitouni, I. Syntax and Parsing of Semitic Languages. Berlin: Springer Publishing. Print.
Zitouni, I. (2014). Syntax and Parsing of Semitic Languages. Reut Tsarfaty, Natural language processing of Semitic Languages. (pp. 67–122). Retrieved from http://books1.scholarsportal.info/viewdoc.html?id=/ebooks/ebooks3/springer/2014-07-09/1/9783642453588