Hebrew is one of the world’s oldest languages still spoken today. It was similar in origin to ancient Phoenician and developed into an independent language in the twelfth century BCE. Hebrew was the spoken language of the Patriarchs during the Biblical period, and the Bible is written in Hebrew. While Aramaic, which utilizes the same alphabet, replaced Hebrew as the spoken language for centuries, Hebrew remained a language used for ritual, prayer, literature, and written communication. As a spoken language, Modern Hebrew began to emerge in the late nineteenth century and became, in 1913, the official language of instruction in Jewish schools in the region of Palestine. In 1948, Hebrew, along with Arabic, became the official language of the modern state of Israel.
Hebrew is written from right to left and consists of 22 consonants. A series of dots and dashes which represent vowel sounds were introduced in the eighth century in order to facilitate pronunciation. Students of Hebrew learn to read with the accompanying vowels, which are phased out once the grammatical structures of the language are mastered. Schoolbooks and prayer books include vowels while magazines, newspapers, and literature do not.
Hebrew is studied widely in universities and seminaries. Practically all vocabulary found in the Bible is utilized in Modern Hebrew, and examples of English words of Hebrew origin include: amen, hallelujah, Armageddon, cherub, seraph, behemoth, Sabbath, and shibboleth.