Emet Prize Laureates

Prof. Ruth Berman

Tel-Aviv University
2012 Laureates of Emet Prize

In Category: Humanities
In Field: Linguistics

Language Acquisition

Prof. Ruth Berman

Jury Statement

“For her activities to promote English teaching on the basis of linguistic studies in particular and for advancing language education in general; for her groundbreaking studies in the field of linguistics and for developing the study of language acquisition in native Hebrew speakers as an independent scientific branch.”


Was born in Cape Town, South Africa.

After finishing her undergraduate studies she immigrated to Israel in 1954. She completed her M.A. studies at Columbia University, New York. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Linguistics and Hebrew Language at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Upon her arrival in Israel she responded to the call made by pedagogue Dr. Pua Menchel to join the educational venture in the Negev, and she became an English teacher in Beer Sheba. After only two years in this job her achievements won her a British Council scholarship for studying at the Edinburgh University, where she came into contact with modern linguistics. On returning to Israel she was appointed as an inspector for English teaching in the new Negev communities. While completing her M.A. studies she founded and headed the section for teaching English as a second language at the UN International School. At Tel Aviv University she founded the Department of Language Studies, inspired by the ideas of the new American linguistics and headed a project whose goal was to produce new English textbooks for Israeli pupils.

She was active in promoting English teaching based on the principles of confrontive linguistics, which compare Hebrew characteristics to English characteristics as source language to the characteristics of English as target language. In the 1970s her academic studies focused on the various aspects of Modern Hebrew, and in the 1980s she began studying Hebrew language acquisition as a mother tongue. Her book Modern Hebrew Structure, published in 1978 is still used as a source in studies of the subject. She later began studying the acquisition of Hebrew as a mother tongue among toddlers in Israel. In 1983 she was made associate professor in the Department of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University, and in 1989 she was promoted to full professorship. She acted as a member of central committees in the Faculty of Arts and in general university committees.

Her work won her awards from leading institutions and organizations around the world, among them the prestigious Humboldt Award, a Distinction Award by the Linguistic Society of America – an honorary lifetime membership. Her colleagues and students have edited a jubilee publication in her honor, with selected chapters from her various studies in the past five decades.