Evidence of a T/V distinction in European Hebrew

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This article presents research on the system of T/V distinction in Hebrew from the 16th to the 20th century. As the article is the first attempt to describe the phenomenon, it aims to give a general overview of the T/V distinction in European Hebrew, introducing new language data, and posing new questions. One book served as terminus a quo for the whole article: Course of the Russian Language by Zalkind (Epstein, Zalkind. 1869. [Course of the Russian language. Path of learning or book to study the language of Russia with translation into Hebrew]. Warsaw: Schriftgisser), written in Hebrew, contains approximately 100 pages of everyday dialogues in both Hebrew and Russian. The question of whether the Hebrew language of the 19th century was a dead or living language is still a matter of debate. In that regard, the course book provides valuable material that does not fit into the framework of the general idea of the history of the Hebrew language. Basic elements of conversational politeness are the focus of the analysis. The system, in which V-forms of address are expressed by a third-person singular, is reconstructed from the conversations in the Epstein’s book and traced back to the 16th century in a wide range of various Hebrew sources. The T/V distinction in Hebrew is also compared to the similar phenomena in Polish and German. Originating before the 16th century, the T/V distinction disappeared in modern Israeli Hebrew. However, it is still in use in some specific communication situations, which can be regarded as residues of earlier forms of traditional speech practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-150
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Historical Sociolinguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Journal of Historical Sociolinguistics. All rights reserved.


  • Address forms
  • Address pronouns
  • Dead languages
  • Hebrew language
  • Language politeness
  • Language revival
  • T/V distinction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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