Annual Review of Applied Linguistics

Country and Regional Surveys

Multilingualism in Israel

Bernard Spolsky

Israel's geographical position as a land bridge connecting Europe, Asia, and Africa, its resulting long history of conquest and reconquest, and its status as the point of focus of four major world religions (the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, and significant to Islam and Baha'i), all assure it a long tradition of complex and ever-changing multilingualism. By the beginning of the Common Era two thousand years ago, a pattern of triglossia had emerged, with Hebrew, Judeo-Aramaic, and Greek all playing meaningful roles (Spolsky 1983). This model of language organization became the norm for the Jewish people during most of their dispersion, with separate defined functions for three languages. Hebrew (actually Hebrew and Talmudic Aramaic) was used for religious and literacy purposes; a Jewish language like Yiddish, Judeo-French, Ladino, or Judeo-Arabic was used for most other community and home functions (Rabin 1981); and one or more “co-territorial vernaculars” was used for communication with non-Jews (Weinreich 1980).

Bernard Spolsky earned his Ph.D. at the University of Montreal and taught at McGill University, Indiana University, and the University of New Mexico before his appointment in 1980 as Professor of English at Bar-Ilan University. His recent books include The languages of Jerusalem (with Robert L. Cooper), Conditions for second language learning, and Measured words. A monograph on Sociolinguisitics is in press, and he is currently writing a book, with Elana Shohamy, on Israeli language education policy.