Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why Not Write Hebrew with Arabic Script?

I follow the news from Israel on the internet, usually with some dismay. Today, however I had a surprise. Moshe Arens, one of the more stubborn right-wing commentators, had an article in Haaretz where he supported the retention of Arabic as an official language in Israel. It’s hard to believe that there is a move afoot to downgrade the status of Arabic, but it’s even more of a surprise to find Arens speaking out against such a move.

For a long time, I have been advocating that Israel and Israelis should be more proactive in identifying themselves as belonging to the Middle East rather than as a European outpost. This means showing more interest and respect towards Arabic culture. One of the most conspicuous aspects of that culture is their incredibly beautiful written script, recognized instantly wordlwide. I therefore came up with the idea that we should adopt the Arabic script for use in Hebrew.

Of course I am not talking about replacing the holy letters of the Torah. These cannot in any circumstances be tampered with. It’s our second alphabet I’m talking about, our written script. What do we need it for? It’s totally replaceable.

The beauty of my proposal is that since Hebrew and Arabic are so closely related, many words would become instantly recognizable to speakers of both languages, just as English and French words are mutually recognizable in print even when they are pronounced differently.

More importantly it would be a huge gesture towards the Arab world that we respect their culture and with to be a part of the Middle East. Such a gesture is long overdue on our part. Sadly, my proposal has been ignored since I first raised it five years ago. With this posting, maybe I can give it a small bump.


jsolberg said...

I'd say it needs more than a small bump. Both Hebrew and Arabic scripts are plagued with every flaw in the book: poor readability from a distance. Similarity of letters, absences and duplicates, the moronic use of soffits (I'm waiting for a gimel-soffit; no one ever knows which 'G' in Gog (roof) is the final one), oh and the pathetic lack of vowels. I wouldn't wish arabic or hebrew on my worst enemy.
There, I feel better now. But I forgot about 'No capital letters'. Duh. First-graders in English already know their importance. Oof, now I'm mad again(!)
I do agree with your plea for sending a signal of belonging to the Middle East, for all the good it might do. And cancelling Arabic as an official language is a monstrously idiotic suggestion. Unbelievable. We have a 16% Arabic-speaking minority. Bad enough most of our cousins had to learn Hebrew.

Marty said...

It's true that Hebrew and Arabic script are both insane: but that's no reason we shouldn't dump our Hebrew and learn their Arabic. We ought to be learning their Arabic anyhow just to communicate with them in their own language, so adopting their script for our Hebrew doesn't mean we have to learn an extra script...it means we DON'T have to learn our own insane script. And neither do the Arabs have to learn our script. It's a huge efficiency gain all around.

The absense of vowels is a sore point for North Americans, but in the Middle East it makes a lot more sense based on the nature of the Semitic languages, so I don't accept that as a flaw. And finally, you're ignoring a huge point in favor of Arabic script: it's incredibly beautiful and something to be proud of. We should make it ours.

Perele said...

I've tried to learn the Arabic alphabet, not very systematically however, and it looks way too difficult, especially since I am not terribly motivated, only slightly, but now that I have DSL, I can look at youtube clips. I also have the Pimsleur arabic audiotapes and I can say the car is blue, the car is red, the car is white. What was fun for me was that I found out that the Syrian (Jewish) surnames in the 'hood are colors in Arabic, or the Arabic equivalent of "Klein and "Gross" "Schwartz" and "Weiss" (Kassir and Tawil, Sued and Beyda)

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly support this idea - allowing Arabic to be used with the Hebrew language. I am the leader of a synagogue, and I am doing this very thing! Arabic is not hard to learn how to read, it is a beautiful script (able to do things Hebrew cannot), and the Hebrew letters have perfectly matching Arabic counterparts.
The Hebrew script has been used to write Yiddish (German) and Ladino (Spanish), so why should Arabic be refused for Hebrew?

adilkahir said...

I would like to point out that the Hebrew script is at least as Middle Eastern as Arabic so I have no idea why Hebrew should be written in Arabic letters. This is before even going into the fact that the Hebrew script is older than the Arabic script. And to conclude let me point out that many Jews would under your system have to learn the Hebrew alphabet anyway in order to read from the Torah, and for no perceptible gain. Arabic is also significantly more confusing as an alphabet than Hebrew and I have studied both.

Marty Green said...

The Jews already have to learn two alphabets, the block letters and the script. I am just saying they should substitute the Arabic script for the second one. And no matter how confusing you think the Arabic is, it is unrealistic for the Jews to live in the Middle East without being able to read the dominant alphabet of the region.

Robby said...

Hebrew in the Arabic letters:

Bereshit 1:1
(Genesis 1:1)

ﺑﺮﺍﺷﻴﺖ ﺑﺮﺍ ﺍﻟﻬﻴﻢ ﺍﺕ ﻫﺸﻤﻴﻢ ﻭﺍﺕ ﻫﺄﺭﺹ

"Bereshit bara ELOHIM et hashamayim we et haaretsh"

Marty Green said...

Thank you Robby. I think that's gorgeous.

Robby said...

Hebrew in the Arabic letters:

שלום עליכם
شلوم عليكم

כתבי הקודש
كتبي هقودش

אלה, אלוה, אלהים
اله, الوه, الهيم

ברוך שם יהוה
بروك شم يهوه

Robby said...

:) thanks..