Transnational Hebrew- Language Limbo

David Crystal’s three stages of endangered languages, while broad is also constraining. The first stage is the imposed language stage in which, for top down or bottom up reasons, a group becomes pressured into using the new dominant language. [1] While in stage two, argued as the best chance for progress and language preservation to be made, an emerging bilingualism takes place. [2] The new language is used efficiently, while the old language is used competently [3]— ideally coexisting and complementing each other without confrontation.[4] The third stage consists of a newer generation identifying with the new language and the emergence of family dialects.[5]

This, however, fails to mention or go into greater detail that in the same way a dominated language can be influenced by a dominant language; a dominated language can influence a dominant language. In the case of Israel, Hebrew and Arabic are both considered their official languages, conversely, Arabic is arguably a victim of “language murder” [6][7] as some employers ban Arabic from being used by their staff,[8] a college has banned the use of Arabic[9] and the use of Arabic in public can lead to accosting by the police or receiving other forms of verbal and physical violence, as well. [10]This being a rather top down occurrence with bottom up qualities,[11] as Palestinian youth in Israel do use Hebrew to “show off”[12], but Modern Israeli Hebrew exhibits more of a bottom up system as certain Arabic phraseology and terms become increasingly adopted into Hebrew. Modern Hebrew is a reflection of various ethnic communities contributing to its formation.

While Arabic is by no means an endangered language, it is used significantly less in official settings. Crystal’s third stage hardly seems relevant to the question of Israel or Modern Israeli Hebrew, as the Palestinian population living in Israel has not exhibited the third stage of Crystal’s model, en masse, but they have undergone the first and second stages. Nevertheless, Palestinians living in Israel have adopted quite a bit of Hebrew phraseology in their day-to-day speech, in the same way Hebrew has adopted Arabic terminology into their language. If the dominated language, Arabic, has filtered through and is being used to an extent by the dominant language, Hebrew, then the dominated language, Arabic, has found a new form of existing.  It cannot be considered language death if even the smallest of phrases is still used, nor would it be considered a living language, but rather a language in limbo.

Modern Israeli Hebrew is not only deeply affected by Arabic, but also by Yiddish, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Amharic, Tagalog, Thai and others, all spoken by significant immigrant populations in Israel. Adapting these languages into Modern Israeli Hebrew does not make Hebrew any less Hebrew, nor does it threaten national unity.[13] Oppositely, the assimilation of all these languages into Hebrew creates a new language, specific to the needs that suit the Israeli-transnational identity, in which one can pick and choose how the Hebrew language reflects the ever-evolving social and political needs of the population.

[1] David Crystal, Language Death, p. 78-79

[2] David Crystal, Language Death, p. 80

[3] David Crystal, Language Death, p. 78-89

[4] David Crystal, Language Death, p. 81

[5] David Crystal, Language Death, p. 78-89

[6] David Crystal, Language Death, p.86

[7] Ali Jabareen, Language Policy and the Status of Arabic in Israel, p. 34,–ali%20jabareen.pdf

[8] Conal Urquhart, McDonald’s bans Arabic, The Guardian, 11 March 2004,

[9] Or Kashti, Private Israeli college forbids teachers from speaking Arabic to students, 24 July 2013,

[10] Isabel Kershner, Young Israelis Held in Attack on Arabs, The New York Times, 20 August 2012,

[11] David Crystal, Language Death, p. 78

[12] Ali Jabareen, Language Policy and the Status of Arabic in Israel, p. 32,–ali%20jabareen.pdf

[13] David Crystal, Language Death, p. 83