Page 58 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
4 4
and colloquial, was conspicuous by its absence. The coachmen
in the stories of Mapu and Smolenskin and in Gordon’s poems
conversed in the language of Isaiah or, at best, in the idiom of
Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi. But the Jerusalem coachman, the
Sephardi porter and the Assyrian (Urfali) stone-cutter conversed
with each other in simple, unadorned Hebrew on the most ordi-
nary and mundane topics. The Ashkenazi shopkeepers in Jaffa
and in Jerusalem transacted their business in even simpler and
more natural Hebrew.
Ben Yehuda was eager to fashion a simple and natural folk-
style. Well do I remember his translation of Schumacher’s
Berenice,
and the translation produced by David Frishman.
While Frishman’s translation was an artistic work, it was neither
simple nor accurate; indeed, it was hardly a translation. Ben
Yehuda's, on the other hand, while occasionally lacking in flavor,
amazed us by virtue of its meticulous precision and its wealth
of new and reconstructed words used by the translator to avoid
beclouding the author’s meanings. Or consider his translation of
Zola's
UArgen t .
That work achieved the ultimate in colloquial
Jerusalem Hebrew. This is the manner in which the simple folk
in Israel would talk once the direct influence of literary Hebrew
on their speech would be curbed.
In order to satisfy the needs of a spoken folk language, Ben
Yehuda was forced to examine all the lexicons of our language,
hoping to find among them the simple colloquial terms required
for the people’s everyday usage. It is wondrous to behold that he
found precisely what he was looking for. He succeeded in finding
what he sought because he directed his attention, not to books
dealing with the spiritual aspects of the people’s life, but to those
that were redolent of the fresh earth and of the fields, books
flavored with the taste of the household and workshop. In other
words, he concentrated on books concerned with man’s simple
raw needs, with the everyday life of the mundane world. Ben
Yehuda was never interested either in the discovery or in the
coining of new terms for abstract philosophical notions. Rather,
he always sought the “earthy" words whose very “earthiness"
rendered them more lively and more popular. Household uten-
sils, foodstuffs, building materials, craftsmen's implements, mar-
ket wares, and even personal things—these are what Ben Yehuda
sought and found in our Hebrew literature. He felt the pulse
of our language and sensed its feverish throbbing. As in the days
of the resurrection of the dead according to Jewish tradition, he
revived the Hebrew language out of the only compact bone, out
of the backbone still in its body, using those parts of the Mishnah,
of the Talmud and of medieval Hebrew literature which deal
with the commonplace aspects of life. Whenever he came across
new simple, earthy Hebrew words in our ancient literature, he
was quick to publish and circulate them in the language columns
of his newspapers and in his numerous printed articles and trans-