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Exploring the Origins of Hebrew Slang Words Yam (ים), Yamba (ימבה) and Malantelafim (מלאנתלפים)

A Look at the Arabic Loanwords in Israeli Slang and Their Meaning in Modern Hebrew


In Hebrew, there are many words and expressions that come from various sources. One of these is the slang word "Malaln" which means "full" in Arabic. However, in some dialects of spoken Arabic, it can also mean "a lot." Early documentation of the use of "Malan" in Hebrew can be found in Asher Barash's book "Gannanim" (1944), in which a young girl of Yemenite origin in Tel Aviv is quoted as saying, "She bought me 'Malan' (a lot) of gifts." Later on, there is evidence of the development of the Hebrew slang term "Malantelafim" from "Malan," as seen in a 1979 article in the Israeli newspaper "Ma'ariv," where the writer signs off with "sending many kisses (Malantelafim)."


It appears that the use of the Hebrew word "Malan" meaning "a lot" began in the 1970s as a translation from the Arabic "Malan." Later, the Hebrew word "Yam" (sea) also became popular, and it is commonly seen as an abbreviation of "Yam Shel" (sea of) in literary expressions.


However, in my opinion, this is also an Arabic loanword. In various dialects of Arabic, one can find the word "Yama" which means "how much", with "Yama" being a contraction of "Ya" (O) and "Ma" (what), the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew interrogative word "Ma." The primary use of this word is to emphasize a large quantity. It seems that this same Arabic word was used in Hebrew and shortened to "Yam," with the intention of referring to the large body of water. Evidence of this usage can be found in an article in "Ma'ariv" in 1989, where the winner of a lottery exclaims, "We lost a 'Yam' of money."


The same Arabic word is also the source of "Yamba." In some Arabic dialects, "Yama" is pronounced as "Yambaa" (with the "m" and "b" sounds pronounced similarly - try it yourself!). It is likely that "Yamba" arrived in Israel alongside "Yama" during the large wave of immigration from Arab countries in the early years of the state, but it only gained popularity in the early 1990s.


In conclusion, Hebrew slang is a melting pot of various languages and dialects, with Arabic being a significant contributor. Words such as "Malan," "Yama," "Yamba," and "Malantelafim" are just a few examples of how the Hebrew language has absorbed Arabic loanwords and created its own unique expressions. These words have become a part of modern Hebrew slang and are used by young Israelis in everyday conversation. The evolution of Hebrew slang is ongoing, and it will be interesting to see what new words and expressions will emerge in the future.

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