Apostrophe in Hebrew

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We've already looked at the use of an apostrophe in Hangul.  Now Wendy Heller has sent in this photograph of a shop sign in Haifa, Israel:

The apostrophe is a flower so as to be distinguished from the "י" (yōd) next to it.  There's no mistaking that outsize "S" — going in the opposite direction of the Hebrew letters!

The name of the woman who owns the shop must be Tali טַלִי (a common Hebrew name), and this is her place — Tali's (store).

An Israeli friend comments:

How strange. It always bothers me when Israelis use English in their advertisements and stores (a lot of them write English using the Hebrew alphabet). They seem to think this gives what they write more pizzazz and will attract more people. There are wonderful ways to say any of these things using Hebrew, but it's not up to me!

Another Israeli friend tells me that mixing Hebrew and English is getting quite common nowadays, but such a mix of scripts as that pictured above is seldom seen.

Biscriptalism is becoming so common in Chinese that it is hardly noticed any longer.  Here are four of the many Language Log posts that document it:

[Thanks to Ori Tavor and Noa Hagesh]


  1. Jim Breen said,

    November 22, 2016 @ 6:37 pm

    There are complex character coding, display and typesetting issues with mixing LTR and RTL scripts. In the early days of computing there were a lot of problems – I used to have a page of instructions in Hebrew for some device which mentioned an "ENILNO" message. Various approaches have been used over the years, including the insertion of special non-displaying code sequences to signal a change of direction.

    These days Unicode has a directional property associated with each character and special algorithms to handle the different display directions. See https://www.w3.org/International/articles/inline-bidi-markup/uba-basics for a description of such an algorithm.

    Right at the moment there is a discussion on the main technical Unicode mailing list about some problems with mixed Japanese/Hebrew texts. The issue appears to be with the handling of parentheses associated with the different scripts.

  2. philip said,

    November 22, 2016 @ 6:50 pm

    So that's where all the missing apostrophes from English have been going!

    A similar thing happens with Irish words which are used in English prose, e.g. bean an tí (woman of the house), ends up with an inappropriate apostrophe in phrases like 'the bean an ti's concerns' – which is not how to mark the genitive in the Irish language.

  3. Rubrick said,

    November 22, 2016 @ 7:35 pm

    @philip: So that's where all the missing apostrophes from English have been going!

    No, those have all been stolen by alien races, who need enormous numbers of apostrophes to sustain their languages. Or as they might say, "Y'garg m'thla'ak g'abra'ak k'halgul!"

  4. January First-of-May said,

    November 22, 2016 @ 7:42 pm

    Not to be confused with the geresh (U+05F3), which is a Hebrew punctuation mark that looks a lot like an English apostrophe (though somewhat lower) and is used after some letters to modify their pronunciation (e.g. for spelling foreign loanwords) and at the end of truncated words to mark the truncation (and a double version, gershayim (U+05F4) – which looks like a quotation mark – is inserted before the last letter of acronyms/initialisms).

  5. Belial Issimo said,

    November 22, 2016 @ 8:07 pm

    O versatile symbol, that dost thy duty across scripts and sustainest multitudes of phonologies!

  6. Noam said,

    November 22, 2016 @ 9:59 pm

    I noticed a lot of multilingual puns, rather than just random use of English, such as (I'll spell these out in English, since my Hebrew spelling is atrocious) Shakespri for a fruit smoothie place (combining Shakespeare, shake, and pri meaning fruit in Hebrew), and Full Volume for a place that served ful (fava beans).

  7. AntC said,

    November 22, 2016 @ 11:40 pm

    When I first glanced at the photo (and before I'd read Victor's title), I saw the 'S', and read the sign as 'SoLD'; but puzzled at the apostrophe (yod) in light of the title.

    I must have retained a distant memory from my time in Israel of lamed = L.

    I also remember the ubiquitous bus stops saying (to my eyes) 'TAXi'. I.e. L-to-R Dalet looks like T, Gimel looks like A, Aleph looks like X. Reading R-to-L in Hebrew, it's 'Egged' — the largest transport co-operative.

  8. flow said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 6:32 am

    @AntC—"I must have retained a distant memory from my time in Israel of lamed = L."

    Curiously, several writing systems seem to have retained some kind of memory about what makes a good L shape: Hebrew has ל, Tibetan has ལ, Hangeul has ㄹ, Devanagari ल. It's difficult for me to say why I find these shapes related, or why it is that I seem to be able to remember these shape/sound connections more easily, and find the shapes of the Ls more recognizable than those for many of the other letters. I do not read Ge'ez, but looking up the letter shapes in Wikipedia, I, again, find that ለ is by far the most recognizable, memorizable letter, yet all the other shapes would appear to go back to the same source—Phoenecian—as the Latin alphabet.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 8:07 am


    "…all the other shapes would appear to go back to the same source—Phoenecian—as the Latin alphabet."

    A profound statement, for which thanks.

  10. Bloix said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 8:50 am

    Slightly off-topic but relevant in the sense of combined Hebrew-Latin orthography:
    The logo for the paper products brand "Lily" is designed to read the same in both Hebrew and English:

  11. Rodger C said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

    ends up with an inappropriate apostrophe in phrases like 'the bean an ti's concerns'

    I don't see how it's inappropriate, since "bean an ti" is being used as an English word here.

  12. Yuval said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 10:45 pm

    My favorite Heb-Eng mishmash is putting vowel diacritics (niqqud) on Latin characters. Here's a compendium curated by Amir Aharoni.

  13. David Morris said,

    November 24, 2016 @ 12:24 am

    @Belial Issimo: Bellissimo!

  14. philip said,

    November 24, 2016 @ 7:31 am

    hi Rodger

    bean an tí is NOT an English word, and in most instances it is being thrown into the middle of English prose as a sort of tokenism by those who only know enough Irish to make grammatical errors with the few phrases they do know. Similar, maybe, to joie de vivre's attributes?

  15. Terry Collmann said,

    November 24, 2016 @ 10:09 am

    philip, I think you just made Rodger's point for him – apostrophe-s is not how you indicate possession in French. But it IS how you indicate possession when you write the English expression "joie de vivre's attributes". Would you really expect, say, someone to say "the role an Taoisigh" rather than "the Taoiseach's role"?

  16. Rodger C said,

    November 24, 2016 @ 1:03 pm

    What Terry said (thank you). If "the bean an ti's concerns" is a comprehensible Irish-English phrase, then "bean an ti" is an Irish-English word.

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