Hebrew is a Semitic language originating in the Middle East, and is related to Arabic, Aramaic, and other members of the Semitic family. It is the language in which most of the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) was written, and has been used as a liturgical and literary language by Jews throughout the centuries. It was also used to a certain extent as a non-native lingua franca between Jews with no other common language.
In the 19th century Hebrew was “revived” as a native spoken language as part of the Zionist movement. The language was intended to be revived along with a revived Jewish presence in the Holy Land. Modern Hebrew does not exactlycorrespond with Biblical Hebrew, drawing on other forms of Hebrew (such as Mishnaic Hebrew) as models. It was also influenced to some degree by the native languages of the early generations that adopted it. But compared to other languages and how much they have changed over a similar time period, the two forms of Hebrew are remarkably similar.
Modern Hebrew has 3-5* million native speakers in the present day State of Israel, with over 5 million speaking it as their primary language. Virtually all Israeli citizens are proficient in Hebrew, while over 1 million Israeli Arabs speak Hebrew fluently as a second language. It is also spoken by many Palestinians in the Palestinian Territories, to varying degrees. There are approximately 9 million speakers of Modern Hebrew in total.
*The range 3-5 is given because of conflicting definitions of “native speaker”, with many Israelis learning Hebrew from childhood but speaking a different language at home with immigrant parents.
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