Revisiting the language factor in Zionism: The Hebrew language council from 1904 to 1914
Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies
45 - 64
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The role of language and linguistic-philological studies in the nationalist movements of the nineteenth century received much attention. The aim of this article is to focus on the language factor in Zionism and the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language in the Yishuv between 1904 and 1914. Founded in 1904, the Hebrew Language Council was expected to enhance the process of revival and, from the very beginning, an unmistakably nationalist attitude to its subject matter marked the Council's agenda. However, the authority of the Council to make binding decisions on linguistic matters was contested by a number of other Zionist institutions, a development which ruined the prestige and effectiveness of the Council. The controversy resulted less from a turf war or quarrels over scarce resources than a deeper question of which institution represented the "true" Hebraic spirit. The World Zionist Organization's decision to de-align from cultural matters, including the revival of Hebrew, worsened the conditions under which the Council operated. From a comparative perspective, thus, the Hebrew case provides an unusual case of linguistic nationalism, which should be of interest to students of both nationalism and sociolinguistics. © School of Oriental and African Studies, 2010.