[b-hebrew] Re: variant pronunciation

Joel Nothman jnothman at student.usyd.edu.au
Sat Apr 17 06:42:24 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!

This is actually quite common knowledge among users of Hebrew, and is also  
often noted in academic Hebrew.

On Fri, 16 Apr 2004 21:47:45 -0400, Trevor Peterson <06peterson at cua.edu>  

> It doesn't in Modern Israeli Hebrew, which follows the Sephardic  
> tradition.

This is a bit of a generalisation. "Sephardic" is a very bad umbrella term  
for the Jewish communities hailing from North Africa, the Middle East,  

But in a number of these places, particularly where Arabic is spoken, a  
number of the characteristics mentioned by Dora are present. A number of  
communities pronounce th for thav (last letter of aleph-beth without  
dagesh); fewer pronounce dh (as in "the") for daleth withut dagesh,  
although I have heard it noted that some Iraqi communities do this  
regularly only on some common words, such as Adhonai, but not in general.  
Many sephardic/oriental communities do pronounce waw rather than vav- this  
letter is also in Arabic. Yemenite Hebrew also retains a ghimmel and in  
fact a jimmel for the gimmel without and with dagesh, respecitvely.
The tav-thaw variation is also related to the fact that Ashkenazi  
(European) Hebrew pronounces this letter as sav.
Providing such plosive/fricative distinctions completes the set of letters  
that take dagesh in the same way orthographically, known as the "beged  
kefet" (beth, gimmel, daleth, kaph, peh, taw).
Also of note here is that a number of these communities also pronounce vet  
(bet without dagesh) as b. It was once likely a bilabial fricative, which  
is not so easy to pronounce and so seems to fall out of languages - it  
sounds somewhere between v and b. This sound also accounts (in Latin  
Spanish) for the spellings of Habana/Havana. It may also account for  
"Jacob" and "Job" and not "Jakov" and "Jov".

Additional dialectal phonetic variations in modern pronunciation exist,  
again mostly present between some oriental communities and the rest of the  
population who have seemingly normalised their sounds to reflect  
surrounding changes, or a Europeanisation.

These include gutturals:

- Aleph is varies in its distinction as a glottal stop between various  
accents (also depends on where it appears in the word, eg few pronounce it  
as a glottal stop at the end of a word; many do at the start of a  
syllable, though less often if this is the start of a word or after an  
open syllable).

- 'Ayin as a guttural is often pronounced among oriental/Sephardic  
communities. Sometimes it is pronounced a bit further forward than the  
Arabic 'ayin.

- Het (or "Chet") is pronounced as an unvoiced 'ayin in similar amounts of  
communities to 'ayin

- He is also somewhat varied, particularly in modern pronunciations

It is interesting to note that khaf-het and sometimes aleph-'ayin  
distinctions are made in older members of the Jerusalem community of  
Ashkenazi background, though it seems there are a few dialectal  
differences in Modern Hebrew between Jerusalemites and the rest of Israel.

Also pronounced differently by some Sephardi communities are:

- Ssade (tsade) is prounounced as an emphatic s-sound (like Sad in Arabic)

- Quf is pronounced further back (uvular) than kaf, like the q in Iraq  
should be. Still, this distinction has been lost in a number of Arabic  
dialects, and so is not present in corresponding Jewish dialects.

I have not heard any distinctive tet, although this should be an emphatic  
- like sade - and is also present in Arabic.

Hmm. That was long. I hope also of interest!

- Joel

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