Happy Friday everyone! Do you ever have those weeks where you feel like you’re just limping towards the finish line? That is definitely the week I’m having. TGIF.
And since it’s Friday, it’s time for another installment of my new regular feature, Friday’s Featured Language! This series lets speakers show off the sounds and richness of their native languages, and lets us hear and learn about a language we might not have had the chance to encounter before! (Again, sorry for the excessive use of exclamation points. This series makes me very happy.)
Today’s native speaker is Professor Eyal Aviv. Eyal is a speaker of (Modern) Hebrew, and grew up monolingual in Israel. He lives in the US now and speaks English outside of his home and with his children, but he still speaks Hebrew with his “dear wife.” He says he learned some English in school, but learned a lot “from books, music, and life.”
His favorite thing about his language, he says, is how old it is. “It was a dead language for more than a millennium and was revived against all odds in the modern period by one dedicated person,” he says. (For more on the revival of Modern Hebrew, here is a summary.)
The audio sample Eyal recorded is an excerpt of a song by popular Israeli singer/songwriter Meir Ariel. Although Eyal said trying to translate Ariel’s writings into English is “a crime against humanity,” he still wanted to share this piece because “It is a beautiful song that I like and the singer/poet who wrote it is one of the few masters of Hebrew that can bring the language to a rare level of perfection.” For those who can read Hebrew, a transcription of the clip is included below, and for those who can’t, Eyal’s attempt at an English translation follow.
שוב אני מוצץ גבעול
תחת גשר מט ליפול
כשמעלי העגלות בתנועה מתמדת
שוב אני מתחיל לשאול
מה לרצות מה לאכול
כשהנמלה העניינית אותי מודדת.
אחת לאיזה זמן מוגבל
אני נשמט אביון ודל
ממירוץ הכרכרה המשתקשקת
נפלט משצף מעגל
וכמו שוקע תחת גל
כשההמולה הסחרחרה אט מתרחקת.
ואבא תמיד אומר
תעזבהו יום יעזבך יומיים
העגלה נוסעת אין עצור.
קפצת ממנה היום
והנה נשארת מאחור.
Sucking a grass blade again
Underneath a crumbling bridge
With the constant move of the carts above me
Starting to ask again, what should I eat and what should I want when the matter-of-fact ant measures me.
Once in a limited-while I drop out poor and low from the rattling-wagon race.
Ejected from the gushing circle, as if drowning under the wave, when the dizzying hustle slowly moves away.
But dad always says, “if you’ll leave it for one day it will leaves you for two days, the wagon is moving forward with no delay.
You’ll jump off it today, two years will go by and you’ll remain behind.”
Diving freely without a parachute opens up to all directions when my desire for each direction consumes me.
So for now I am resting, exactly as I was laid, while the acceleration above constantly overriding.
If you’d like to hear the whole original song, the music video is on youtube, but I’m warning you, it is very catchy, and if you don’t know Hebrew and you’re anything like me, it might drive you nuts to not be able to sing along!
I’ve often seen Hebrew written, especially in religious writings. But before I met Eyal I’d never heard the modern language spoken. Thank you, Professor Aviv, for sharing your lovely language with us all!