Saturday, May 7, 2011

Getting to the Root of it all

I've had the idea for this post for a while now I just haven't had the time or there were posts that needed to be written first. I guess this post will be a continuation of a mini language series since yesterday's post was about Akkadian today we have Hebrew. This post will focus on mainly Modern Hebrew.

Modern Hebrew is a fairly new language you can read a little about its history here. It's hard for me to believe I've been studying Hebrew for almost a year now. One of the things I like about Hebrew is the root system. Each word in modern Hebrew has a three letter root. There are of course some exceptions to this rule but most words have a three letter root. Each root has a meaning so if you see a word you don't know you can guess the meaning if you know what the root means.

For these examples  remember that Hebrew is read from right to left. I know that one word is out of place but you can see where it goes in the table. I can't figure out where I made a mistake in my html code for the table.

to tell a story   לספר
library                ספרייה

The idea of roots having meanings also continues into Hebrew names. Lucky for you my name is Hebrew in origin. Anna written in Hebrew as      אנה   In modern Hebrew this root has several meanings to lament or mourn, to cause to happen, or to meet. If you look in baby name books they will tell you the name means gracious or merciful.

I really like the root system because it does help you figure out the meanings of new words. Of course the other side is there are many roots in Hebrew and its hard to remember them all.


  1. I don't quite see how "mournful" becomes "merciful". Maybe there was an Anna in the bible, apocrypha or commentaries that showed mercy?

    I've been reading manga recently and they also do the stuff right to left. Wonder if this facet of japanese and hebrew are of common origin. Or maybe you only have four ways to go and chance can have an effect.

    BTW -- Google Translate makes "to tell a story" as

    לספר סיפור

    I see the first word must be "to tell" and the second you have in your table as "story". Is that what you're talking about as the html prob?

  2. The Modern Hebrew root system appears to make learning easier. Reading and writing from right to left would be challenging for me. I've got some idea what your brain must be going through while learning these new languages. It's always fun to know what your name means in other languages. Appreciate the lesson.