Hebrew is an ancient language, and it carries a great deal of historical and religious significance. And it’s a very living language nowadays, as well: it’s spoken by almost 10 million people, and widely studied by linguists and theologists alike. But not all Hebrew is the same; indeed, there are several distinct dialects that have their own pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Below is a list of some of the most popular ones.
Israeli Hebrew, also referred to as Modern Hebrew, is the standard version of the Hebrew language, and is spoken by millions of people in Israel as well as its diaspora. Though it’s by far the most common language in Israel, it’s not the only official language: Arabic also holds official language status in Israel.
If you’re learning Hebrew for communication purposes, you’re likely learning this dialect. If you’re learning Hebrew for religious reasons, it’s more likely that you’ll study a more ancient dialect, which is commonly used in religious texts.
The Ashkenazi dialect is also commonly used in Israel, though its popularity is declining compared to Israeli Hebrew. Its differences from the Israeli dialect are most notable in its pronunciation of certain words and letters. For example, the letters א and ע are pronounced as glottal stops (think of the sound you make when saying “uh-oh”) in Israeli Hebrew, whereas they are completely silent in Ashkenazi Hebrew.
Another popular variation of Hebrew is the Sephardic dialect. Historically, speakers of Sephardi Hebrew have come into contact with many other languages such as Spanish, Arabic, and Portuguese; for that reason, it’s been influenced by those languages. Perhaps because of this, the letterר is pronounced in Sephardi Hebrew like the Spanish “r”, whereas it’s more like the French “r” in other dialects.
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The Yemenite dialect of Hebrew was brought to Israel by the Yemenite Jews, who first began moving to Israel in the late nineteenth century. Like the other dialects on this list, it features several distinguishing phonological traits. For instance, the letter גּ is pronounced like a hard “g” in most Hebrew dialects; in Yemenite Hebrew, however, it is pronounced like the “j” in “job”.
Mizrahi Hebrew originated in Arab countries to the east of Israel. Though it is not as commonly spoken as some other dialects on this list, Mizrahi Hebrew is notable for staying remarkably true to ancient Hebrew -- more so than Israeli Hebrew. It has also been subject to significant Arabic influence, which shows in its shared pronunciation with many Arabic sounds.
Indeed, there is a lot of variation within Hebrew, and each dialect has its own unique pronunciation and history. Whether you want to learn Hebrew for business, personal, or religious reasons, the best way to do so is to take personalized courses taught by a native Hebrew speaker. Send us a quick inquiry to learn about the various ways that we can help you learn Hebrew.