Is Shufuniyot Appropriate?

While studying Hebrew in Israel, I discovered a new word I call Shufuniyot, which means “foreign language.” The word Shufuniyot was given to me by a young American student at an Israeli plan (language school) for American university students, who used to frequent the street to speak with other students.

A relatively advanced student of Israeli street culture, a very foreign student to this point in my career, came into my classroom one day to report having met a strange girl in a bar and told her he sounded very shufuniyot. She asked him who she was and how he was pronounced. His answer was, in fact, a little different than what was typical of shuftuna.

He replied, “You will have to ask me that question,” with a mischievous smile, and a shrug, and then proceeded to give her the most foreign-sounding pronunciation he could think of, pronouncing the letters like a “z”. “Z?”

I’m not sure how the American student interpreted this, but it was something interesting. What I found even more interesting was the response she got from her classmates, and their reactions to the American pronunciation. Some of them called her a “foreign woman” or other derogatory terms.

A few times, a student asked her why she was using a foreign language to converse with the American student. She replied, “It’s a good sign,” and laughed. One time, a student in another class mentioned this to me and asked me if I thought she should try calling him a “foreign man.” “Well,” I told her, “I don’t think it’s a bad pronunciation, especially considering that the meaning is’strange.’

What I’m saying is that sometimes the language you speak does matter. And sometimes the way we pronounce a word doesn’t make any difference. Just because it’s difficult to say, or pronounce, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just is.

In other words, you can still use the pronunciation of the word, or you can use a new pronunciation if the old pronunciation is no longer correct. This is why, for example, I use the pronunciation “She-F-N” in my own conversations with others. The meaning remains the same, and the pronunciation is easy for the reader.

Of course, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, what is correct in Hebrew, is unacceptable in English.

For example, in Shufuniyot, the letter “K” is an exception. The name of the street in Haifa, which means “Beautiful Lake”, is spelled “Shuftuna”.