Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Shana Tova

For lovers of Hebrew, the Jewish Daily Forward has a wonderful column called "Philologos." This week's column was on the Jewish New Year greeting "Shana Tova".
This week's column is packed with good information.
As a grammar buff, I took pleasure in his review of the ins and outs of the pluralization of feminine nouns in Hebrew. Pluralization of feminine nouns in Hebrew is surprisingly complex. The inconsistencies in the treatment of Hebrew feminine nouns reveals Hebrew's roots  in other Near Eastern languages.

Two comments:
Perhaps it is because of the constraints of a newspaper column, but Phililogos fails to distinguish between the different levels of Hebrew.

Phililogos writes:

"In the genitive, shana takes the feminine plural all the time, so that one says sh’not he-me’ah ha-esrim, “the years of the 20th century,” not sh’ney ha-me’ah ha-esrim, as one normally would with a masculinely pluralized noun. "

While that is true in Israeli Hebrew, this is not always the case in Biblical Hebrew. As in Genesis
 23:1 sh'ney chayey Sarah not sh'not chayey Sarah. (But sh'not in other places such as Deuteronomy 32:7)

Also, several of the irregular feminine nouns Philologos mentions, such as the segolate derekh, while being feminine in modern Hebrew can be either masculine or feminine in the Biblical Hebrew. The Talmud (the beginning of BT Kiddushun among many others) addresses the irregular gender of Biblical nouns. There are hundreds of nouns in the ambiguous category. In addition, there are many nouns that had one gender in Biblical Hebrew and switched in later, Rabbinic Hebrew.

As I said, I'm a grammar geek. This is my fun.

Shana Tova to all, however you choose to genderize and pluralize!

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