vav - waw

George Athas gathas at ausisp.com
Sat Aug 18 09:40:33 EDT 2001


Dear kyms(?)

There is overwhelming evidence that WAW was originally a "w" sound.

Firstly, there is the issue of diphthongs which contracted to holem vowels. For example,
most Yahwistic theophoric names from ancient Israel begin with the element YW -- an
apocopated form YHWH. It is clear from the transliteration of these names into other
languages (such as Akkadian and Greek) that this element was pronounced "yow" -- not
"yov". This is merely one small example of which there are numerous other examples. The
"v" sound was occupied by the voiced letter BETH (or "VETH"). If these names had actually
employed a "v" sound so that they were pronounced "yov", then we might expect them to have
been transliterated with a "b" such as "yob" in other languages. This, however, does not
happen. Instead, the transliterations demonstrate that people in antiquity were
pronouncing these elements as "yow". Hence, when this "ow" diphthong contracted, the "w"
sound naturally shifted to an "o" sound. That is why these diphthongs are, in Masoretic
Hebrew, represented simply by a holem vowel - "yo".

Secondly, almost all 3-letter roots which originally began with WAW (ie, I-waw or Pe-waw
roots) shifted to a YODH. This interchange between WAW and YODH is demonstrated by the
word for wine, YaYiN, which was originally WaYiN. It's from this word that we get the
Greek word for wine -- OINOS, and even our English word "wine". This transliteration would
not make sense if WAW were pronounced as "v", for then we might expect the word to have
been BOINOS or even MOINOS in Greek. Another example includes the root WRD - "to descend"
from which we get the name YaRDeN ("Jordan"), which in Arabic happens to be URDUNN,
beginning with a waw.

Thirdly, the "v" sound of WAW in modern Hebrew has come down from Ashkenazi pronunciation
of Hebrew which was heavily influenced by continental Europe. In Europe, the continental
"w" is pronounced as a "V" -- hence the city of Vienna is written in German as "Wien".
Continental Europe had such an inluence over Ahskenazi pronunciation that today, there are
hardly any gutturals in modern Hebrew. Certainly Israelis no longer pronounce the guttural
`AYIN. However, Sephardic Jews still retain most of the ancient pronunciation of Hebrew.
Among these groups, the letter WAW is still pronounced as a "w" sound.

You might want to consult some references on the development of Hebrew pronunciation. You
will find them unanimous about WAW being originally pronounced as "w". You would be on a
very lonely limb clinging to the "v" sound as original. Since we don't have any recordings
of ancient pronuncation, we can never be 100% sure, so you might be right. However, those
who have examined the language and its development are 99% sure that WAW was a "w" sound.

Please consult some references. I suggest works by I.M. Young, G. Rendsburg and W.R. Garr
for starters.

Best regards,

GEORGE ATHAS
(Sydney, Australia)
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