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The emergence of Modern Hebrew as a case-study of linguistic discontinuity

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EMODHEBREW (The emergence of Modern Hebrew as a case-study of linguistic discontinuity)

Reporting period: 2019-04-01 to 2020-12-31

The Emergence of Modern Hebrew (EMODHEBREW) is a research project that documents the development of the grammar of Modern Hebrew, in particular its syntax. Hebrew presents a unique phenomenon of a language which for generations was only used for literary purposes (mostly liturgical, scholarly, and legal literature) becoming a language spoken again for everyday use. Though the dramatic historical circumstances of this revival have been described, the linguistic process itself is not yet understood. The project 'aimed to systematically study the linguistic aspect of the process. We constructed a linguistic data-base for the documentation of the novel syntactic constructions of Modern Hebrew, their sources in previous stages of Hebrew and in the languages with which Modern Hebrew was in contact at the time of the revival, and the development of these constructions since the beginning of the revival until present time.
The aim of the project was to construct a model of the linguistic factors which have shaped the revival of Hebrew. This model aimed to provide clues for the understanding of the process of language revival in general. For a language to be revived, a new grammar must be created by its speakers. The principal objective of the proposed project was to trace the syntactic trajectory of Modern Hebrew during its early years. The study aimed to contribute to the understanding of, first, the language-internal vs. language-contact origins of the syntactic properties of Modern Hebrew at the stage where it only had speakers for which it was a second language (L2 stage), and second, the changes that these properties underwent when Modern Hebrew acquired native spkeakers for which it was a first language (L1 stage). The second issue has practically not been addressed before.
Only few of the syntactic traits of MH have so far been studied from a historical perspective. The project aimed at studying parameters not previously discussed in the literature whose value setting at the L1 stage could explain the clustering of the innovation of particular syntactic constructions.
Despite the criticism of the creolization/relexification view of Modern Hebrew genesis (Wexler 1990), it has so far not been superseded by an alternative theory. This is one task undertaken in the present project. The syntactic changes within Modern Hebrew served as testing grounds for existing theories of linguistic contact and discontinuity. We evaluated two recent theories in light of the changes we documented in Modern Hebrew:
I. Imperfect transmission (Kroch 2001, Meisel 2011)
II. Hybrid grammar (Aboh 2015)

The principal objective of the project was to trace the syntactic constructions which were introduced to Hebrew during the early years of its revival, to analyze their syntactic changes and semantic uses, to map their interrelations with other constructions, and to try to determine their origin. We checked whether they can be shown to have origins in earlier stages of Hebrew, and find out to what extent they are influenced by language contact, including the possibility that existing potential language-internal processes were activated or accelerated through external influence. We aimed to reveal new parameters not previously discussed in the literature whose value reset could explain the clustering of the innovation of particular syntactic constructions and not others.
In light of the unique socio-linguistic circumstances of the revival of Hebrew, what we can learn from this study is invaluable not only for the understanding of Modern Hebrew, but also for furthering our understanding of cross-linguistic issues of language acquisition, language shift and contact-induced change in general.
The untimely death of the PI of the project, Prof. Edit Doron on March 27, 2019 came at a period of intense activity and a surge in Prof. Doron’s research output and that of the members of her team.
This report is provided by Prof. Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegal, who supervised the project in its phasing out period.

Two major outputs emanate from the general objective of the project:
• Empirical output: The construction of a linguistic data-base for the documentation of the novel syntactic constructions of Modern Hebrew, their sources in previous stages of Hebrew and in the languages with which Modern Hebrew was in contact at the time of the revival, and the development of these constructions since the beginning of the revival until present time. The data-base has advanced and is available on the website for other linguists to use and to contribute to.
• Broader theoretical implications: The cumulative results determined by the primary objective enabled to begin the construction of a model of the linguistic factors, which have shaped the revival of Hebrew. This model provides clues for the understanding of the processes underlying various types of “linguistic discontinuity” in general, and also better inform us on processes of linguistic change. The results of the project (which was shorter than expected) are already pointing to the resolution of some hotly-debated issues in the literature on contact-induced change on the one hand, and the understanding of the mechanisms underlying the emergence of the grammar of Modern Hebrew on the other.

=> The group has been working intensively on documenting and exploring the relevant linguistic phenomena. The output can be witnessed in the multiple publications, talks at conferences, and in the data-base available on line.
The project’s website hosts the data base containing entries tracing the historical developments of syntactic structures through their manifestation in Modern Hebrew. Trajectories of internal development and the influence of contact languages are suggested and documented.

=> The supervisor and the researchers published the results of their studies.
=> There were also weekly meetings (even at the time of the pandemic) in which proposals concerning the broader theoretical questions are being discussed.
The project advanced beyond the state of the art as the team worked on new syntactic material that was not analyzed before and also worked on new theoretical proposals as for how Modern Hebrew could emerge.

As we moved earlier to the phasing out period of the project, as a result of the death of the PI, the ream worked mainly on several exemplars of studies.
The team worked on a preliminary synthesis of the study case of Modern Hebrew and its emergent grammar.
The team held weekly meetings to discuss the results of the studies of the individual members of the team. Such discussion allowed the team as a whole to put to the test existing theories pertaining to the emergence of grammars broadly speaking and in situations of language contact, in particular.

Despite the pandemic group organized on Zoom a conference to conclude the project, which was well attended with over 100 participants from all over the world.

All of the papers presented in the conference are now are now in a process of being ready for publication.
poster final conference