The Academy of the Hebrew Language is on a mission to keep one of the world's oldest living languages pure – and, in the halls of parliament, at least – proper.
Tucked into a leafy corner of a campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Academy of the Hebrew Language has the challenging job of trying to preserve and promote one of the world’s oldest living languages.
In an effort to counter the influx of foreign words, the institution develops and distributes some 2,000 new Hebrew words each year; the most recent batch includes words for biosphere, sustainable development, hacker, and blog.
For jetlag, it came up with ayefet – a newfangled Hebrew word created from the root for "tired" and rendered in such a way that it resembles words for various other infirmities.
“In the academy, we try to fight word by word. Instead of just making an exact translation from English, we try to find an original Hebrew word that captures the meaning,” says Moshe Bar-Asher, the academy’s president.
The linguaphiles under his direction are not only interested in hearing Israelis talk about sending someone a quick misron instead of a text or an SMS, however, but also in stopping the general deterioration of the quality of Hebrew, especially in public life.
“You hear people, kids especially, using the same 10 to 15 verbs,” laments Mr. Bar-Asher. “We don’t want the language of the school, or of the Knesset [Israel’s parliament] to be the same as the language of the street. Any society should distinguish between the two.”
France has its venerable L’Académie française, and there are institutes and committees around the world dedicated to the preservation of at least 90 other languages.