Grammar

From its early days Modern Hebrew has drawn on linguistic forms from the various strata of the Hebrew language, and into the linguistic mélange have come in recent times additional forms that have evolved in the living language. The Academy of the Hebrew Language sees its primary role in the field of grammar as adjudicating in cases of conflict, be it among forms inherited from different periods of Hebrew or between a new form that has arisen in the living language and those extant in earlier Hebrew strata.

The Academy’s approach in matters of grammar is to seek the middle road between blanket adoption of current usage and rigid adherence to the language of the sources. The decision-making process begins with the Grammar Committee, which discusses the issues in depth and makes recommendations. These recommendations are then presented to the plenum for approval by vote. Because the Academy is a governmental body, the plenum’s decisions about the Hebrew language carry the weight of law.

The basis for all Hebrew grammar — and especially morphology — is the Bible and its vocalization. In some cases, however, the Bible provides no testimony and the Academy must rule independently of it. Sometimes the Academy bases its decisions upon the evidence from post-Biblical Hebrew, including oral traditions. Increasingly Academy decisions give weight to currently accepted practice.

The Academy strives as much as possible to promote a simple and orderly grammatical system. The Academy’s determination to simplify Hebrew grammar is manifest in its rulings on cases involving a multiplicity of forms in the sources: The Academy sometimes rejects Biblical or other classical attested forms in the interest of making the grammar more orderly and consistent. For instance, in its rulings on compensatory lengthening, the Academy rejected all of the exceptional Biblical forms such as nehalta “you led” and ehar“he delayed”, as well as the form mi’us “abomination” that is widely used. The Academy’s commitment to consistency underlies other decisions as well, such as the ruling that a consonant followed by shewa be pointed with dagesh forte where the word-pattern demands it, even if the Bible omits the daghesh (as in kisse’ot “chairs” and yiqqehu “they will take”, versus Biblical kis’ot, yiqhu) and the ruling accepting the construct forms halav-“milk of” and ken– “nest of” (alongside the Biblical forms halev and kan-).

The five chapters that comprise the Academy’s collected grammatical rulings include both methodical, comprehensive chapters and individual rulings on a variety of questions that required a decision. The five chapters are:

Noun Inflection – this chapter is the most comprehensive of the five. The discussions on this subject began in 1941 during the era of the Language Committee, the precursor to the Academy.

Nouns: Patterns and Forms – this chapter complements the preceding one. It contains rulings regarding the form of nouns in certain patterns and of nouns with suffixes; the form of dozens of words; the gender, plural form, spelling, and inflection of groups of words and of individual words; matters of vocalization.

Verb-Conjugation Rules – the rules are arranged by root-type. In some of the root-types there are systematic rules, while in others rules were formulated only where a decision was necessary.

Standard Hebrew – this chapter contains Academy decisions on proper usage, phrases and syntax, and numbers. The Academy renders relatively few rulings on these issues, regarding them as matters of style and personal preference. 

Foreign Words – Modern Hebrew is constantly absorbing words from other languages.The rules in this chapter address issues of spelling, pronunciation, and pointing of the foreign words in Hebrew.