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Lodz Papers in Pragmatics

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Editor-in-Chief: Chilton, Paul / Kopytowska, Monika


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1898-4436
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Hebrew and Arabic in Asymmetric Contact in Israel

Roni Henkin-Roitfarb
Published Online: 2011-10-04 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/v10016-011-0004-7

Hebrew and Arabic in Asymmetric Contact in Israel

Israeli Hebrew (IH) and Palestinian Arabic (PA)1 have existed side by side for well over a century in extremely close contact, accompanied by social and ideological tension, often conflict, between two communities: PA speakers, who turned from a majority to a minority following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and IH speakers, the contemporary majority, representing the dominant culture. The Hebrew-speaking Jewish group is heterogeneous in terms of lands of origin and includes a large community of Judeo-Arabic speakers. In this paper I discuss the ‘when,’ ‘where,’ how,' and especially ‘why’ of mutual borrowing2 between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel since the 1880s.

I stress that the contact is asymmetric. The majority of Hebrew speakers today do not speak Arabic. They do, however, have access to borrowed lexicon in the domain of slang and vernacular speech that both enriches these registers and provides the speakers with a feeling of being ‘indigenous’ and ‘belonging’ to the social and cultural milieu of the larger environment. In contrast, most young adult PA-speakers are bilingual. For this minority, borrowing fulfills fundamental sociolinguistic and pragmatic needs. IH lexical items have permeated all areas of professional, educational, administrative, and social activities in everyday life discourse in all styles and registers of the spoken language and, to a lesser extent, written language. They fill lexical gaps and lacunae representing modern and western concepts that did not exist in PA. They also symbolize modernism, education, and social mobility. In other words, borrowing serves as a means of ‘stepping in’ for the Jewish majority and conversely as a means for ‘stepping out and up’ for the Arab minority.

Keywords: Contact phenomena; borrowing; codeswitching; Israeli Hebrew; Palestinian Arabic; Judeo-Arabic

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About the article


Published Online: 2011-10-04

Published in Print: 2011-01-01


Citation Information: Lodz Papers in Pragmatics, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 61–100, ISSN (Online) 1898-4436, ISSN (Print) 1895-6106, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/v10016-011-0004-7.

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