As written in the previous post, we’ve seen Bush make a speech at the Knesset this week, and even opening it in Hebrew. Well, I would suggest Mr. Bush to take the next step, and join a Hebrew class — it would do good to his intelligence.

Nikud 2Many Zionist immigrants (Olim Ha’dashim) complain that Hebrew is a tough language to master. One of the reasons for this difficulty is the way Hebrew is written and read. Vowel signaling is mostly optional in Hebrew, and it is normally used only by children learning to read.

Suppose you see the word “presume” like this: “prsum” — Could you make out what’s hiding behind these consonants?! Well, that is, more or less, how most people read Hebrew, as omission of most of the vowel letters is conventional. Again, since it is posing a significant barrier in the acquisition of reading abilities, children in primary school usually use a special punctuation subscript called “Ni’kud”, but as they grow up, they don’t need it anymore.

The point I’m trying to make is that reading and writing Hebrew properly requires more activation of the brain’s cognitive faculties than is the case with writing and reading English (or French, for that matter). What cognitive faculties am I talking about? Well, first of all, there is the increased amount of memory needed to store the different options of punctuating the same transcript. The same set of letters is used differently, and is pronounced differently, in alternate contexts. And this brings me to the second capacity which the Hebrew transcript develops: a stronger inclination to mental association. As just mentioned, the pronunciation of a word differs according to its meaning, and the meaning is dependent on the overall context of the word.

Nikud 1Going back to the “prsum” example. One can choose to pronounce it like “preesuma” or like “prosumeh” or like “presume”. Since among these three options, only “presume” is a real word, the choice is simple. But in Hebrew we have many cases where several of the possible pronunciations are valid options. Thus, quick analyzing of sentence structure is the associative capacity every Hebrew writer is expected to acquire by the end of primary school.

In addition, nouns in Hebrew are all gender specific, just like in French. This feature isn’t unique to Hebrew, however in comparison with the previous feature I mentioned, this one is present in both spoken and written Hebrew, so even young children just learning to speak have to confront this hurdle. Again, this feature of the Hebrew language requires the increased use of memory and of associative analysis, since each gender necessitates the use of alternate words with distinctive punctuation.

A good example for this would be the use of “his” and “her” in English. We can say “his score” for Danny and “her score” for Rachel, but we use “its score” for the Basketball team. However, in Hebrew, a basketball team is a female noun, and it is virtually impossible to refer to it as a genderless word.

In sum, learning to master the Hebrew language is good for your brain, since it forces you to allocate more “cognitive power” in order to process this ancient and complex language.