Standard Average European (SAE) is a Sprachbund centred around German and French and extending to almost all European languages. Haspelmath has examined Maltese for SAE features, but he did not examine Modern Hebrew (Ivrit). Since Modern Hebrew is not only a Semitic language, but is also heavily influenced by native speakers of SAE languages (like German, Yiddish, and Ladino) I am interested in the question whether some SAE features were adopted by Modern Hebrew.

P.S. Related Questions: How Standard Average European is Esperanto, Can Modern Hebrew be considered as a Indo-European language?

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    For this to make sense you must also establish some sort of prior expectation for East Med Semitic, because it has been in contact with multiple branches of IE for a few thousand years. May 4, 2018 at 14:51
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    Concretely, does modern Hebrew have more or different SAE features than Aramaic, Coptic, Levantine Arabic or ancient Hebrew? (As far as I can tell with my limited knowledge, it does not.) May 4, 2018 at 14:55
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    @A.M.Bittlingmayer My question is actually meant much simpler than you seem to understand it, it boils down to How many of the 12 defining features of SAE (or of the 9 used in the map for the Sprachbund) are present in Ivrit? without asking for historical causes or developments. May 4, 2018 at 15:18
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    @jknappen: Your comment doesn't quite agree with your question; your question asks "whether some SAE features were adopted by Modern Hebrew" (emphasis mine), whereas your question specifies "without asking for historical causes or developments".
    – ruakh
    May 5, 2018 at 0:27
  • Sorry for being not clear enough. I wanted to add some motivation why this question is interesting. May 7, 2018 at 8:58

2 Answers 2


Modern Hebrew is not SAE by any stretch. Going through Haspelmath's criteria:

  1. Definite and indefinite articles: Modern Hebrew (MH) has only a definite article (-ה), which is inherited from Biblical Hebrew (BH)

  2. Relative clauses formed by a relative pronoun: MH's relative clauses are formed by the particle ש- and not by a pronoun (inherited from BH)

  3. "Have"-perfect: MH has no have perfect, nor does it have a way of distinguishing perfect from preterite (past-future tense is inherited from BH's perfect-imperfect aspect)

  4. Nominative experiencer: In some cases MH is like SAE (such as אני שמח "I am happy"), in other cases not (such as the dative subject in חם לי "I am hot"); note that while this is not SAE, these two ways exist in some European languages which are nevertheless considered SAE, and Haspelmath uses the arbitrary division of a ratio of < 0.8 to define SAE. (Following Amir Zeldes' analysis from Aharon M. Vertmont's answer, MH does have a tendency towards the nominative experiencer, but that the same is true for BH.)

  5. Participial passive: Passive construction is a separate conjugation, inherited from BH

  6. Anticausative prominence: Since Haspelmath's article measures this by percentage of lexicon I can't judge this one, but Hebrew has a separate conjugation for causative verbs which suggests it might meet this criterion. (Following Amir Zeldes' analysis from Aharon M. Vertmont's answer once more, MH is in fact anticausative, and this is likely the same as BH.)

  7. Dative external possessors: This does exist in MH (e.g. לקח לי "he took from me") and is not inherited from BH

  8. Negative pronouns and lack of verbal negation: MH has the non-SAE NV + NI type described in the article (e.g. אף אחד לא בא "no one comes," but literally "no one doesn't come")

  9. Particles in comparative constructions: The comparative is מ- which means "from," inherited from BH

  10. Relative-based equative constructions: This doesn't exist in MH, which uses "X like Y" instead of the SAE "as X as Y" and is inherited from BH

  11. Subject person affixes as strict agreement markers: This true in MH only in the present tense, whereas the past and future tenses are (like BH) pro-drop

  12. Intensifier-reflexive differentiation: Reflexive pronouns such as עצמי "myself" (inherited from Mishnaic Hebrew) are not differentiated from intensifier pronouns

In nearly all of these cases Modern Hebrew is unambiguously not SAE. If we follow the numerical analyses from Zelde's article, only features #4, #6 and #7 are SAE, for a total of only 3 SAE features. More importantly, the SAE features in #4 and #6 are also present in Biblical Hebrew, leaving only one feature, #7 as the product of SAE influence.

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    (4) German also has dative e.g. mir ist heiß. More or less agreed for the rest. Also, to my knowledge, the ש of (2) might well be ultimately from BH אֲשֶׁר but even that is un-pronounlike (there are sentences like "The road אֲשֶׁר [such that?] they had come by it"), so still good on that one. For (6) it seems reasonable to say that the causative conjugation isn't used for all verbs, if that helps (but then non-causative conjugations aren't either!). May 4, 2018 at 18:18
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    @LukeSawczak Regarding (2) ש- is also BH (though rarer than אשר), but is not a pronoun in any case. Regarding 4 and 6 I will update the answer with more details
    – b a
    May 5, 2018 at 18:35

In his article "Is Modern Hebrew Standard Average European? The View from European" (in "Linguistic Typology", Volume 17; 2013) Amir Zeldes lists 13 typological features defining SAE. Modern Hebrew (similarly to Biblical Hebrew) exhibits 3 of them. The article is available here.


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