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Lesson Transcript


Michael: What types of Hebrew romanization are there?
Lenny: And which one is most common?
Michael: At HebrewPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Ben Lee, a college student, got confused about the romanization of the Hebrew language. He decided to ask a teacher, Shlomit Shalom,
"Is there one romanization standard for Hebrew?"
Lenny as Ben Lee: ?האם יש צורת ליטון אחת בעברית (Ha'yim yesh tsurat litun akhat be-Ivrit?)
Ben Lee: ?האם יש צורת ליטון אחת בעברית (Ha'yim yesh tsurat litun akhat be-Ivrit?)
Shlomit Shalom: .לא (Lo.)
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Ben Lee: ?האם יש צורת ליטון אחת בעברית (Ha'yim yesh tsurat litun akhat be-Ivrit?)
Michael: "Is there one romanization standard for Hebrew?"
Shlomit Shalom: .לא (Lo.)
Michael: "No."

Lesson focus

Michael: As you may know, the Latin alphabet, or
Lenny: האלף-בית הלטיני (ha'alef-bet ha'latini)
Michael: serves as a base for most of the writing systems on Earth, but not all writing systems are based on the Latin alphabet. Some languages, like Greek, Russian, Japanese, or Thai, use alphabets based on other unique scripts.
When it comes to Hebrew, the Hebrew alphabet is used. However, if we have multiple alphabets, then, naturally, people from various countries won't be able to read all of them. For example, imagine that someone from the US is going to Israel without knowing how to read the Hebrew alphabet. They are in the Israeli countryside and want to visit a vineyard. How will they know how to read the street signs?
In a different scenario, imagine that a girl from Israel is in America and has to write down her name, which is traditionally written in Hebrew. What will she do?
Luckily, we have a way to make our lives easier! We use a system that makes it possible to decipher non-Latin alphabets. We call it romanization, or
Lenny: ליטון (litun).
Michael: For example, let's consider the Hebrew word,
Lenny: [NORMAL] יִשְׂרָאֵל (Israel) [SLOWLY] יִשְׂרָאֵל
Michael: on HebrewPod101.com, we romanize it as 'Israel', spelled I-s-r-a-e-l. Basically, you'll be writing the word phonetically—a process called "transliteration." Let's try an everyday example:
Lenny: [NORMAL] חבר (kha'ver) [SLOWLY] חבר,
Michael: which means 'friend', and we can write it as we say it: k-h-a-v-e-r.
Lenny: kha'ver.
Michael: These letters mirror the pronunciation of the Hebrew word.
Let's look a bit deeper at how it all started! Romanization of Hebrew first occurred with contact between the Romans and the Jews, and was influenced by earlier transliteration of Hebrew into the Greek language. With the rise of Zionism in the late 19th century, some Jews promoted the use of romanization instead of the Hebrew script, in the hopes of helping more people learn Hebrew. One of them was a young journalist named Itamar Ben-Avi. He was the first advocate for romanizing the Hebrew alphabet and printed his biography in a made-up romanization of Hebrew. These days, there are many different romanization systems used.
So, how does it work? Well, although standard romanizations exist, there are no official rules for transliterating Hebrew letters and words into the English alphabet. When there's a lack of equivalence between the English and Hebrew, it's okay to write an approximate transliteration. So, don't be surprised if you see the same word romanized in different ways! For example, you might see the Hebrew word
Lenny: [NORMAL] בית (bayit) [SLOWLY] בית,
Michael: which means 'house', transliterated as both 'b-a-i-t' or 'b-a-y-i-t.' Does this sound confusing? Well, it really just comes down to discrepancies in the romanization systems, which are not standardized. There are two main systems. The first is the ISO 259, which is a traditional and scholarly system. It first appeared in 1984 and was updated in 1994. It included the diacritical signs, or niqqud, used for Biblical Hebrew—also known as Classical Hebrew. The updated version is simplified and disregards some vowel sounds, and is also designed for studies in Modern Hebrew.
The second main system is the one designed by the Academy of the Hebrew Language, or
Lenny: הָאָקָדֶמְיָה לַלָּשׁוֹן הָעִבְרִית, ( ha-akademya la-lashon ha-ivrit).
Michael: The Academy set the standards for modern Hebrew grammar, orthography, transliteration, and punctuation based on the historical development of the language. This system is widely used.
Michael: In this lesson, we learned that, Hebrew uses a peculiar script, and, in order to make it more accessible, it's romanized or transliterated into the latin alphabet. There isn't a standard way, but there are two main systems: the ISO-259 and the system designed by the Academy of the Hebrew Language.
On Hebrewpod101.com, we're not following a certain standard, but we romanize the words in order to mirror how they are pronounced.
Cultural Insight
Michael: In Israel, most catalogs and maps use the Hebrew script, but romanized maps are easily available and road signs usually include romanized names.
Some Hebrew speakers use romanized words to communicate when using internet systems that have poor support for the Hebrew alphabet.
Romanized Hebrew is also used in music scores—in part because music is written left-to-right and Hebrew is written right-to-left.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Lenny: !להתראות (lehitra'ot!)
Michael: See you soon!

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