Media's limited vocabulary

makes learning languages easier

In most countries, the language of the news media is very limited, said Benjamin Hary, associate professor of Hebrew and Arabic in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies and director of the Linguistics Program. "You only need about a thousand words such as 'institution,' 'participate' and 'political affairs,' which are commonly used in news writing."

His theory is the basis of the course, "Hebrew of the Israeli Media," which trains fourth-year Hebrew students or the equivalent to read and listen to the Israeli news media and master its vocabulary and language structure.

The course "can give students-even students who don't have complete mastery of the language-the feeling that they can really read a newspaper after a relatively short time of training," said Hary, who proposed this course when he first came to Emory in 1988. "I've had some really good reactions from students," he added. "They feel they've achieved a lot in one semester."

Students taking this course begin by reading selections from newspapers, concentrating on different topics. The course begins with articles on politics and moves on to economics, security, sports and the arts.

Once students become more comfortable reading newspapers, they begin watching Israeli televised news broadcasts and listening to Israeli radio news, both in and outside of class. Sometimes students also learn to write news and present it in a simulated television studio.

Since Hary once worked for Israeli television and radio, he tries to give his students some background on the power of the media as well as what constitutes good and bad journalism. But the main emphasis of the course is training students in the Israeli media's use of the Hebrew language.

Next fall's course will be easier to teach, said Hary, "because the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz ('The Land') is now on-line daily in Hebrew. The newspaper's web address is <\daily\index.htm>. For access to the newspaper, a computer must be loaded with Hebrew fonts.

Early in his career, Hary edited Arabic news broadcasts for Israeli public radio. Because the population of Israel is made up of people from many countries, radio news is broadcast in about 14 languages besides Hebrew, said Hary. In addition to regular radio news broadcasts in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian, there are additional broadcasts in Yiddish, Judeo-Spanish, Rumanian, Hungarian, Polish, French and the language of Ethiopia, Amharic.

Israel's public radio also broadcasts news in specific Jewish dialects. For example, he said, "it's the only place in the world where they have news in the Judeo-Arabic dialect of the Jews of Morocco."

Israeli public television, which is financed by the state and controlled by a politically diverse board of directors, offers news in Hebrew, Arabic, English and sometimes Russian and Amharic, he said. In addition, Israel has two semi-private commercial broadcast channels and widely received cable television programming, which carries news channels from around the world.

Hary, whose area of expertise is Egyptian Judeo-Arabic language and linguistics, spends about four months a year in Israel. His first book dealt with the dialect of the Jews of Cairo in the 16th and 17th centuries as revealed in manuscripts. He now concentrates primarily on modern Egyptian Judeo-Arabic dialects and sociolinguistics, or how language is connected to culture and society.

Hary noted that it's challenging to do field work in Egypt now, since only about 70 people out of the country's once extensive Jewish population remain there. Most of the others have moved to Israel, France, Canada and the United States, he said. "Every time there was political tension, they left."

-Linda Klein

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