Why is Ivrit, the modern version of Hebrew, not considered an artificial language like for example Interlingua? From the history it looks like the language was dead except in clerical circles and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda "revived" it.

Now, I'm only just beginning to learn the language but I was wondering why it isn't considered artificial as such, because from what I read a lot of the things virtually not present in at least two millennia have been given words that were literally invented.

In Interlingua and Esperanto a lot of words are also rooted in Romance languages, yet they are considered artificial and Ivrit is apparently not. Why?

  • How do you know it's not an artificial language? (not challenging you, just want to clarify your premise)
    – yitznewton
    Jul 2, 2013 at 15:16
  • @yitznewton: I don't, but other languages are considered artificial and have comparable "traits". Jul 2, 2013 at 15:29
  • 5
    This comment is directed at other Linguistics.SE users, not the OP: would it make sense to remove the "why" question and change it into a factual question: Is Modern Hebrew considered an artificial language?
    – Seth J
    Jul 2, 2013 at 16:21
  • It can be argued that it falls on a continuum. As for the the 'why' that gets into sociology and prestige and boosterism and antisemitism. "From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages" by Michael Adams discusses this and other revived languages and also pushes the envelope about what counts as a "created language", even including James Joyce. Jul 3, 2013 at 17:19
  • 2
    I asked questions on a similar topic some years ago on another forum and was assured that Modern Hebrew speakers can still read ancient Hebrew texts such as the Old Testament just fine, which speakers of Modern English cannot claim for reading Old English texts - in fact I have significant trouble reading Early Modern English like Shakespeare and I'm far from alone. Also I added the lexicon tag since your question seemed to be mainly concerned with "making up new words" rather than grammar, syntax, phonology, etc. Jul 4, 2013 at 11:50

3 Answers 3


While this is a fair question, I think there are several factors which argue against Modern Hebrew being considered an artificial language:

  • The degree of mutual intelligibility between the modern language and the ancient language tends to argue that these two are in fact the same language.
  • The fact that the language, as "constructed", was specifically designed upon the existing language so that it would act as a faithful representation of the ancient language in the modern world. If a word was needed for which the Ancient Hebrew word was not known, great care was taken to scour literature for the word or to incorporate a word that was at least potentially an Ancient Hebrew word using related languages.
  • The language is not spoken strictly as "designed", with many words and phrases deviating from the original intent. We can then, at least when feeling pedantic, claim that even if Modern Hebrew were a constructed language, that what is currently spoken in Israel is no longer artificial.

Now, this certainly isn't "proof", and I do not think this may not be the kind of issue that can be settled because everyone will have their own definition of the word "artificial". For example, someone could come along and claim that there is no such thing as an artificial language, or that one language could never be more artificial than another. (Stranger conversations have taken place)

  • "Stranger conversations have taken place" <- lol! +1, thanks for taking the time to respond. All fair points. Jul 2, 2013 at 20:39

I know practically nothing about Hebrew. My answer is based on your claim, "a lot of the things virtually not present in at least two millennia have been given words that were literally invented".

There are two classes of words, open class and closed class.

Open classes accept the addition of new morphemes (words), through such processes as compounding, derivation, inflection, coining, and borrowing. A closed class is a word class to which no new items can normally be added, and that usually contains a relatively small number of items. Typical closed classes found in many languages are adpositions (prepositions and postpositions), determiners, conjunctions, and pronouns.

This applies to any language. People can create new nouns and verbs, when necessary or when convenient. For example, recent additions, to English, of verb forms of google and tweet, do not make English any less natural for it. Now, if some committee modifies Hebrew grammar significantly, I'd say there is good reason to start classifying the modified Hebrew as a constructed language, as opposed to natural language.


I know this question is old, and this is unlikely to be read by the OP, but a significant factor is that, whilst Hebrew was not anyone's day-to-day language, it was far from dead outside clerical circles. Any observant Jew would have a passing familiarity with the language (even if their vocabulary was a little skewed) as Jewish worships requires the reading and recitation of various passages and prayers in Hebrew. Likewise, whilst Ashkenazim usually used Yiddish when talking to each other (even when writing to people a long distance away), and Sephardim/Mizrahim tended to use Ladino and/or Judaeo-Arabic, when communicating between different groups of the diaspora (i.e. an Ashkenazi writing to a Sephardi), Hebrew would be the only shared language and was definitely used for such prior to ben Yehuda's revitalisation efforts began

So the premise of the question is false. Hebrew was not dead outside clerical circles but neither was it fully alive. To my knowledge there is no other language that has experienced a properly analogous circumstance

  • Thanks for the answer. Yes, the OP did read your answer ;) Apr 24, 2020 at 21:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.