Hebrew is my native language, and I grew up and spent most of my life in Israel.

Unlike English, in Hebrew we don't have a variety of accents. In fact, generally all of the people in Israel have the same accent, perhaps with the sole exception of some people of Yemeni descent that have a distinctive pronunciation of ח (het).

I used to think it must have to do with the size of the country, since Israel is tiny.

However, in 2014 I moved to New York, and realized that the amount of accents there is uncountable. Even just in Brooklyn, there are near infinite accents that can place mark you to a specific neighborhood or ethnicity.

So I figured, the lack of accents issue can't be a size thing.

I then though maybe it has to do with the fact that New York is a melting pot of many cultures and each coming with their own accents generated this variety. Alas, Israel is as well, a melting pot of cultures. The country has ethnicities from all-over Europe and North Africa. In fact, since the country only came to be in 1948, the vast majority of the first generation Israelis did not speak Hebrew as their native language (my grandparents on both sides sure didn't). So Israel of 1948 didn't have a uniform "tone", but also didn't have a variety of Hebrew accents, rather it was a collection people speaking Hebrew with their native language accents. In fact, when listening to speeches of early Israel politicians, it's really easy to pinpoint the country of origin of each, because one would have a clear Polish accent, and another would sound very Hungarian. None of those accents left a distinctive remnant and are all gone today.

I then thought it has to be a phonological issue. Perhaps the way vowels and consonants are voiced in Hebrew is so well-defined, that there was room for any variation. This theory fell-apart easily when I realized that even Italian which is regarded is a very phonetic language, has a difference in accent in different regions.

What other than size, cultural background, and phonological property could account for the lack of variety in Hebrew accents in Israel?

Or alternatively, if there are, in fact, a variety of Hebrew accents and I just don't pick up on them, how could it be that I can easily pick up on them in English, but not in my native language?

This is keeping me up at night!

All of your creative thoughts are much appreciated!

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    Is the variant taught at school very standardised and uniform in pronunciation? Is there a sort of government-decreed standard of correctness? Those can help a lot with uniformity. China does that with Mandarin over a vast area, and while pronunciation does vary somewhat with Mandarin, it is also a much larger area and the majority of Mandarin speakers speak a different language as their first, so there’s more interference. Similarly, a standardised national language is largely responsible for the ongoing disappearance of dialects in places like Denmark, even France. Apr 13, 2020 at 8:18
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    @JanusBahsJacquet, no there's no time spent in school on pronunciation at all. Everybody already speaks a certain way. Apr 13, 2020 at 10:41
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    @curiousdannii Yes, I acknowledged the Yemeni pronunciation as well. Note that even in Wikipedia they refer to "old" speakers. These accents are very rare, and disappearing very rapidly. Apr 13, 2020 at 10:41
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    @MichaelSeltenreich I didn’t necessarily mean that a specific pronunciation was actively taught as such; but if the media and educators all speak and therefore teach and reinforce a specific, standardised variant, it only takes one or two generations for minor dialectal differences to die out as children learn more and more standardised variants from their environment. As you say, there weren’t really major dialects to begin with, just a hotchpotch of second-language accents, which do not tend to survive long (children of immigrants rarely have their parents’ foreign accents). Apr 13, 2020 at 10:45

5 Answers 5


English has been spoken in New York for hundreds of years while Hebrew was only revitalized in the late 19th century. The British Isles are said to have more varieties of English than the rest of the world combined, while English spoken in Australia, for instance, is only beginning to develop geographical variation. What is evident from this is that age contributes to variation in a significant way. So expect Modern Hebrew to develop regional accents in the coming years, but you may have to live until, say, the end of this century to see a palpable effect.

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    Also look at London - people have been speaking English in London for hundreds of years before they did in New York, and there is arguably even more diversity. On the other hand, Australia and New Zealand accents have less diversity than American ones, as Aus and NZ were settled with English speakers later (US accents started diverging in the early 1600's, while Aus didn't really see much settlement until 150-200 years later). Apr 13, 2020 at 14:10
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    @MichaelSeltenreich - It's not about the age of the language, but it's about for how long the community of speakers of that variety of language has been living in that area. For example, in Germany people have been living in their own towns for centuries, for dozens of generation, which results in mutual intelligibility issues when 2 persons from 2 towns 200 km apart talk each using his own town's varieties of German.
    – Yellow Sky
    Apr 13, 2020 at 16:31
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    According to at least one history of Israel that I have read, Hebrew largely wasn’t spoken (outside of mostly-rote-memorized ritual usage) when the country became independent. The choice of Hebrew as national language was seen as “fair” because everyone (almost) would forced be to learn a new language, rather than picking a language spoken by the plurality and forcing a majority-but-not-everyone to learn a new language. So even “late 19th century” might be too early to start counting things for Israeli Hebrew.
    – KRyan
    Apr 13, 2020 at 17:41
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    @KRyan: I think you must be misremembering that. The adoption of Hebrew as the national language dates back to the 1910s or so, not to independence in 1948. (The Technion was founded in 1912, Hebrew U in 1918, Haaretz in 1919; all used Hebrew from day one.) And while it's probably true that "everyone (almost) would forced be to learn a new language", I'm very skeptical of the suggestion that that was a major motivation in the choice.
    – ruakh
    Apr 13, 2020 at 20:49
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    @MichaelSeltenreich: You can kind of see the phenomena of regional dialects developing the longer areas have been settled in the US, with more differentiation in New England than in western areas: robertspage.com/dialects.html
    – Soulis
    Apr 13, 2020 at 21:38

You’re right that there is very little regional variation in Modern Hebrew accents (though there are a few street market and schoolyard slang differences). Israel is a small, well-connected country with fairly homogeneous media consumption, so this is perhaps not that surprising.

That said, there are certainly ethnolect and sociolect accents. The big distinction is obviously between Oriental (Mizrahi) and European (Ashkenazi) ethnolects, with their different realisations of the pharyngeals and rhotics. Among younger speakers, the Mizrahi accent has to a large extent given way to a ‘socially inferior’ sociolect (‘frekhi’), with a distinct accent. As with similar sociolects, there is some level of switching in public versus private.

Other notable Israeli Hebrew ethnolects include Palestinian and Russian Hebrew, while a significant sociolect is 'religious Hebrew', spoken by Haredi Jews, many of whom speak Yiddish at home. The latter certainly has distinct vocabulary, but I'm not sure how different the accent is. Either way, most of these groups are not native speakers (though they do form a large part of the population).

Reference (paywalled): Modern Hebrew Sociophonetics by Roey J. Gafter

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    Ghilad Zuckermann has a wonderful anecdote in his book Revivalistics: the late linguist Haim Blanc took his young daughter to see an Israeli production of My Fair Lady. In this version, Professor Henry Higgins teaches Eliza Doolittle how to pronounce /r/ “properly” (as the Hebrew alveolar trill, characteristic of socially disadvantaged Sephardim), rather than as the Israeli lax uvular approximant. At the end of the performance, Blanc’s daughter asked “Abba, why was Professor Higgins trying to teach Eliza to speak like our cleaning lady?
    – Aant
    Apr 14, 2020 at 20:32
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    @Aant Reminds me of the film “O Brother Where Art Thou”, which was translated literally as "אחי איפה אתה", except that sounds more like a taxi driver shouting "bro, where you at".
    – Uri Granta
    Apr 15, 2020 at 5:27

Also note that most of the growth of Israely Hebrew follows the invention of the radio and telephone. Radio and television are believed to be major harminizors of accents.


There is noticeable geographical mobility/a lot of mixing of Israelis from around the country? Also a sense of national identity overwhelming any regional identity. And differences in Israeli society are being based on levels of religious observance, much more than which country someone's parents or grandparents immigrated from. The differences between Ashkenazim (East European Jews) and Mizrahim (Middle Eastern Jews) and attendant pronounciation and accents being marked 50 years ago, but now much less so as many younger Israelis have ancestry from both.

Israelis from all over Israel mix with each other for three years' military service. Israelis will also move around for work within Israel, knowing that they are seldom more than four hours' away from their town or origin should they need to go home to see their parents at short notice.

There is very little history of Israelis living in one town or another for hundreds of years to develop a certain accent....the main re-immigration to Israel only began in large numbers in the 1880's.


The Geographic differences in Tone accent is quit evident and hat will be evident in the coming Years.

North South East and West Israel have clusters of accents so do Jewish Population in London Paris and Berlin.

Shalom Shabbat Seder definetry sounds very peculiar depending on where you live.

  • Yeah CNN BBC and other English News Outlets are influencing lots of younger people out there. Apr 15, 2020 at 18:53
  • The best counter influence is to Allow more TV stations of Community Value and language. Apr 15, 2020 at 18:54
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    What are you basing this on? I don't know anyone who can point to geographical accent differences in Israel. Apr 15, 2020 at 18:56

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