Assyrian Hebrew?

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Wed Aug 11 16:59:00 EDT 1999

The trouble with giving any English transcriptions is that different 
English pronunciations vary as much as different Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi 
etc. ones. I cannot attempt to reproduce the southern accent you must 
be used to. It is of course such regional variation which is both the 
starting point and the raw material for changes in vowel quality.

So let's try with my "standard" British English. In this, I would 
transcribe the Arabic Salaam as "Salahm". I think the standard Farsi 
version would be more like "Salawm", not "Salohm". But your Afghan 
friend's pronunciation might be significantly different again, also 
depending on how he learned Farsi and Arabic.

I would guess that the Hebrew, originally "Shalahm", became more like 
"Shalawm" in later Biblical times, and perhaps changed to more like 
"Shalohm" to keep the distinction when qamets (or at least 
qamets-hatuph) came to be pronounced more like "aw".

As for your last paragraph, well, an awful lot of the Israelites have 
already gathered in the state of Israel and must have had just the 
problem you mentioned. Maybe someone living there can comment on how 
this problem has been solved. But remember that those who gathered 
were already speaking many other languages as their mother tongues and 
knew Hebrew, if at all, as a religious language only, so the 
difference was not as great as you say. I guess there must be a bigger 
problem every year at Mecca as Arabs from all over the Arab world 
gather and discover that their different varieties of Arabic are far 
from mutually comprehensible. But then neither you nor I would be 
allowed there to witness this confusion.

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Re[3]: Assyrian Hebrew?
Author:  gs02wmr at panther.Gsu.EDU at internet
Date:    10/08/1999 20:28

On Tue, 10 Aug 1999 peter_kirk at wrote:
> Henry is of course right that this shift cannot be fully explained in 
> a short E-mail. But it is interesting that this long A to O shift
> seems to occur rather regularly, including a second time in Hebrew. 
> Thus we have the following changes in Hebrew:

Are there any practical theories you guys have which would give me(us) a 
rough idea of the influences or forces behind the shifts? Anything simple?

> A similar change has happened to the Arabic long A when borrowed into 
> Farsi and Uzbek: Arabic SALAAM has become SALOM in both these
> languages (with the more open of the two O vowels in both languages; 
> the Farsi vowel is sometimes transliterated as a long A but is
> generally pronounced more like O).

Hmmm. I actually know an Afghan guy who speaks good Afghan Farsi and 
Iranian Farsi, and is fluent in Arabic as well. I'll have to ask him about 
that specifically, but I've never heard any natural Arabic speaker say 
"Salaam"(sal-Am), but something like "Sah-Lawm," whereas you are making 
the argument that an Iranian would say "Sah-LOwm." When I hear him 
greeting friends, I hear this small distinction you speak of. Very Intense 
stuff we have here! ;)

> Basically what is happening each time is that the distinction between 
> long and short vowels tends to become lost and so to make the
> distinctions of meaning clear people start to pronounce the long
> vowels with a different quality. Often the long A moves backwards in 
> the mouth and the short A moves forward (in English the long A moved

That is fascinating history. I definitely have to research this some more.

> your English accent). I would guess that the second vowel in SHALOM 
> was originally pronounced rather like that but later moved higher in 
> the mouth (more like the Spanish "o", French "eau"), especially when 
> qamets also acquired an O sound in Ashkenazi pronunciation (and also 
> in Sephardi pronunciation when short, qamets-hatuph).

Thaks for all the information! This begs the question - since the 
Israelite tribes are scattered all over Earth across nations and people - 
would their reunification into the Holy Land bring together hundreds of 
different forms of dialects of Hebrew, or one complete understandable 
language? I guess that's for a religious forum, then...;)


Wondell M. Rachman

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list