The Language of the Mishnah – Between Late Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew


Bar-Asher Siegal EA. The Language of the Mishnah – Between Late Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew. In: What's the Mishna. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press ; Forthcoming.


In discussing the history of the Hebrew language, a distinction must be made between its history as a linguistic system and the history of its written forms. The former assumes an idealized periodization of the language and distinguishes between Early Hebrew (EH) and Late Hebrew (LH). The latter bases the division on corpora, resulting in the traditional classification into Biblical Hebrew, Qumranic Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew, with further sub-divisions such as early vs. late Biblical Hebrew, Early vs. Late Mishnaic Hebrew, Babylonian vs. Palestinian Talmudic Hebrew, etc. Although these two perspectives are fundamentally different, they are clearly interrelated: on the one hand, our knowledge about the history of the structure(s) of the language is based on data gathered from the Hebrew corpora and on the historical setting of these texts; on the other hand, the analysis of the linguistic information in the corpora is a de facto description of how the different linguistic systems were used in each corpus. This paper aims to examine the language of the Mishnah from these two perspectives and explore the conceptual distinction between the two categories with which it is associated, namely Late Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew. I will outline what it means to provide a description of Late Hebrew as a linguistic system, and what it means to examine Mishnaic Hebrew as the language of a written corpus. Accordingly, this paper has a twofold goal: 1) to explain the difference between the two perspectives as relevant to the language of the Mishnah. 2) to demonstrate the advantages of keeping them separate.

Last updated on 06/07/2021