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Text messaging. Photo by Nir Keidar
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New technology engenders new words, but it’s not always clear which language those words will be in when the country adopting the technology is not a predominantly English-speaking one. In Israel, integration of technological terms seems to depend partly on the extent to which the English word is similar to words or word forms already used in Hebrew.

Take tweeting, for example. Hebrew doesn’t have a “w” sound, and while Twitter is referred to as such, the act of sending a tweet is known in Hebrew as “letzayetz,” which, as in English, is what a bird does when it’s chatting to its mate.

On the other hand, Israelis adopted “SMS” (which stands for “short message service”) straight from the English, not even taking a thumb-typing break to come up with a genuine Hebrew equivalent for “texting.” But just because it’s an English abbreviation doesn’t mean it can’t take on Hebrew letters and become a Hebrew verb. It helps that the Hebrew transliteration of S-M-S looks a lot like a standard three-letter Hebrew root word, and just as standard root words get vowelized when turned into verbs, so “SMS” becomes “le-sa-MES,” with all the attendant grammatical conjugation: si-MES (“he texted”), sim-SA (“she texted”).

I have no idea what the next innovation in communication technology will be, but a little bird told me it’s a good bet that Israelis will find a way to make a term for it that is all their own.