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Lesson Transcript


Michael: Is Hebrew similar to Arabic?
Lenny: And are they mutually intelligible?
Michael: At HebrewPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: high school student Sasha Lee is unsure about whether or not a word is Hebrew. She asks her teacher, Shlomit Shalom ,
"Is 'Sababa' a Hebrew word?"
Sasha Lee: ?האם "סבבה" היא מילה בעברית (Ha'yim 'sababa' hi mila be-Ivrit?)
Sasha Lee: ?האם "סבבה" היא מילה בעברית (Ha'yim 'sababa' hi mila be-Ivrit?)
Shlomit Shalom: .כן, אבל היא מגיעה מערבית (Ken, aval hi megi'ah me-Aravit.)
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Sasha Lee: ?האם "סבבה" היא מילה בעברית
Michael: "Is 'Sababa' a Hebrew word?"
Shlomit Shalom: .כן, אבל היא מגיעה מערבית
Michael: "Yes, but it comes from Arabic."

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we'll discuss the relationship between the Hebrew language, or
Lenny: עברית (Ivrit),
Michael: and the Arabic language, or
Lenny: ערבית (Aravit).
Michael: In order to understand the relationship between Hebrew and Arabic, it's important to first understand the origin of each language. Both Hebrew and Arabic belong to the Semitic language family, a branch of the larger Afro-Asiatic language family. To be more specific, Hebrew is a Northwest Semitic language, whereas Arabic, is considered a Central Semitic language. However, despite this difference, the related origin of these languages results in several shared characteristics.
Michael: On the subjects of vocabulary, vocabulary structure, and pronunciation, for example, there are many shared elements between the two languages. To begin, let's briefly touch upon the related vocabulary. Take the word
Lenny: יום (yom),
Michael: for instance, which in Hebrew means "day." One can find that the Arabic equivalent is almost identical. Similarly, there are several other words between the two languages that may not be the same, but are still very much alike. As an example, consider the word for "peace," which in Hebrew is
Lenny: שלום (shalom).
Michael: The Arabic equivalent is similar but sounds a bit more like salaam.
Michael: On that note, there are also many similarities when it comes to pronunciation—which native speakers, as well as advanced-level language learners, should be able to notice quite easily. There are vowel sounds, for example, that appear in both Hebrew and Arabic, which are not found in English or other European languages.
Michael: In addition to vocabulary and pronunciation, both languages also share a root system for creating words. In Hebrew, most words are built from a system of three- and four-letter roots. These root letters are then put into a pattern, including vowels and sometimes additional consonants, which thereby determine the meaning of the words.
This is very similar in Arabic, so when you see words that have the same three- or sometimes four-letter roots in them, those words will most likely be related in some way.
Michael: Yet another similarity between the languages can be seen in the sharing of some alphabetical letters. For example, the first letter in both alphabets has the same name:
Lenny: א (alef).
Michael: One final similarity which we'll mention is that both languages use a script without voweling signs. In both languages, voweling signs are only added for learners or when necessary to disambiguate a word.
Michael: Given all the similarities, when it comes to the basic structure and characteristics of each language, there are also some noticeable differences.
The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters, for example, whereas the Arabic alphabet has 28. Hebrew and Arabic are both read from right to left, but Arabic letters are joined in a cursive format, whereas letters are not joined in Hebrew.
While each language also has its own unique dialects, the way the standard form of each language is used is slightly different. Modern Hebrew, which is the language taught at HebrewPod101.com, is the standard language taught and spoken in Israel—and differs from liturgical Hebrew, such as Ashkenazi Hebrew. Arabic, on the other hand, has a standard version known as Modern Standard Arabic, and also has a wide range of dialects, such as Levantine Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Gulf Arabic, and Central Asian Arabic. Unlike Modern Hebrew, however, Modern Standard Arabic is mostly a literary standard used only in limited settings, such as news broadcasting, or literature. Consequently, Arabic dialects are as important as Standard Arabic for actually being able to communicate with people from different Arabic speaking countries.
Practice Section
Michael: Let's review the sample conversation: respond to the prompts by speaking aloud, and then listen carefully as the native speaker models the correct answer. Repeat after her, with the focus on your pronunciation. Are you ready?
How do you say, "Is 'Sababa' a Hebrew word?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Lenny: ?האם "סבבה" היא מילה בעברית (Ha'yim 'sababa' hi mila be-Ivrit?)
Michael: Did you get it right? Listen again and repeat. Remember to focus on your pronunciation.
Lenny: ?האם "סבבה" היא מילה בעברית (Ha'yim 'sababa' hi mila be-Ivrit?)
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Lenny: ?האם "סבבה" היא מילה בעברית (Ha'yim 'sababa' hi mila be-Ivrit?)
Michael: Let's move on to the second sentence. How do you say, "Yes, but it comes from Arabic."
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Lenny: .כן, אבל היא מגיעה מערבית (Ken, aval hi megi'ah me-Aravit.)
Michael: Did you get it right this time? Listen again and repeat.
Lenny: .כן, אבל היא מגיעה מערבית (Ken, aval hi megi'ah me-Aravit.)
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Lenny: .כן, אבל היא מגיעה מערבית (Ken, aval hi megi'ah me-Aravit.)
Michael: It may be interesting to note that though its meaning markedly differs from its original Arabic counterpart, the colloquial Hebrew word
Lenny: סבבה
Michael: means "cool" or "great."


Michael: As we have seen, Hebrew and Arabic have many similarities but also several differences. As a result, the two languages are not mutually intelligible, meaning that native speakers of each language are not able to understand the opposite language without having first studied it. Nevertheless, those that study both languages will be able to notice and benefit from the many common points that they share.
Michael: That's all for this lesson. Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Lenny: !להתראות (lehitra'ot!)
Michael: See you soon!