variant pronunciation (was Re: [b-hebrew] Draft proposal for Unicode encoding ofholam male)

Trevor Peterson 06peterson at
Fri Apr 16 21:47:45 EDT 2004

Dora Smith wrote:
> Did y'all know that (according to exactly half of my resources) undotted
> dalet is pronounced "th" like the Welsh dd?  I didn't know this sound
> existed in Hebrew!

It doesn't in Modern Israeli Hebrew, which follows the Sephardic 
tradition. But as precise as the Masoretes were with their markings, it 
makes sense that they pronounced the letter two different ways. (And in 
fact there are spoken Aramaic traditions today that retain the distinction.)
> And how many of y'all knew that vav is pronounced "w"?   Again according to
> exactly half my sources - sometimes.

If by "sometimes" you mean when it's not a vowel, this is true. Again, 
the vav pronunciation is Israeli, but the equivalent consonant in Arabic 
and Syriac is pronounced waw. The two sounds are really not all that 
different, when you think about it. A Spanish b is pronounced as a 
fricative (also Greek beta), which is very nearly a /w/ but differs from 
/v/ only in that the top lip is used instead of the teeth. Compare w as 
/v/ in German and as /w/ in English. It makes good sense that Hebrew vav 
was at some point /w/, and it offers the advantage of distinguishing the 
spoken consonant from a spirantized bet.

So the reason we get these differences in the grammars is because of 
different strategies. Some follow modern pronunciation; some try to 
reconstruct Masoretic pronunciation (or earlier stages). Any time one 
studies a dead language, the same issues must be addressed.

Trevor Peterson

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