Monday, January 23, 2012

Heblish: The Accent

It’s one of the biggest controversies to rock the close-knit Heblish academic community.

Namely: Is there such a thing as a Heblish accent?

Indeed, every Heblish journal of record has published countless articles on this topic, and at every Heblish scholarly conference, numerous lecturers have weighed in on the subject.

(What? Try and name ONE Heblish journal that has NOT delved into the topic… :-))

Why is this even an issue?

Well, to paraphrase Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, it’s just that all Anglo parents are sure their Israeli offspring have flawless American accents, and most American grandparents, at one time or another, have complained that their Israeli grandchildren frequently lapse into unintelligible Heblish.

So you do the math…


Please note that I’m not talking about kids who speak English with thick Israeli accents. You know, the type who can’t help but roll their R’s and say “dis” or “zis” instead of “this”.

Rather, I’m referring to a certain subtle inflection which indicates that although a person speaks English fluently, s/he has Anglo parents and was raised in Israel.

My personal feeling is that not only does this telltale inflection exist, but – despite their Anglo parents’ protestations to the contrary – no Heblish speaker is immune.

Except for the Shiputzim kids, of course. Because did I mention that they all boast flawless American accents?


What’s your take on this extremely pressing and important issue?


P.S. The latest Haveil Havalim is available here. Special thanks to Risa for including my Top 10 Signs That Your Klitah Is Complete post.


  1. Accent or accents? If the parents are British, Australian or Canadian will the kids all speak Heblish with the same inflections?

  2. It's definitely true, no one is immune. On the other hand, one of my Israeli-born daughter's Israeli friends have accused her of having an American accent in Hebrew! You just can't win...

  3. i always liked binyamin netanyahu's accent when he speaks in english. no rolling 'r's etc but yet something that says im not anglo.
    true confession - i have been starting to say 'sorry' in hebrew lately bc it cracks me up

  4. Ilana-Davita - Good question. Those kids would probably speak English with a British/Australian/etc. accent but with that same Heblish inflection.

    Toby - That's pretty funny. On a related note, we hosted a friend of one of the Shiputzim daughters last Shabbat. The two girls have known each other for a while, but before last week, neither of them realized that the other one also has American oleh parents who speak English at home! They always talk to each other in Hebrew...

    Faith/Emuna - Yes! Netanyahu's accent is a perfect example of what I'm talking about! And LOL about saying soh-rree... :-)

  5. On a JFK > TLV flight, I saw an English-speaking family and their perfect-but-different accents indicated, as you said, that they were brought up in Israel in an English-speaking family. Then, during conversations I overheard, they began mixing in small sentences of Arabic here and there into their English conversation. So it's not just American-Israelis that have this perfect-but-slightly-different accent, but also the American-Palestinian Arabs!

    (Technically I could call them American-Israelis as well because they were likely Israeli Arabs. But I meant that they were not Jewish.)


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