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Language Contact and the Genesis of Mishnaic Hebrew

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The origin of Mishnaic Hebrew and its differences from Biblical Hebrew have been explained in different ways, e.g., in terms of chronological development (MH is later), register (MH is colloquial), or geographic (MH originated elsewhere than in Judea). None of these accounts explain, however, just why MH is different in the way that it is different, especially in the pronounced and drastic simplification of its verbal system vis-a-vis BH.

Recent advances in contact linguistics suggest that MH originated out of a very specific kind of contact with Aramaic, namely, the fairly rapid adult acquisition of Hebrew as a second language by Aramaic speakers, which left the language permanently changed. The most likely historical framework for this contact situation is the expansion of the Jewish state under the Hasmoneans in the second and first centuries BCE .

This talk is part of the Semitic Philology Lecture series.

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