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

Kevin Riley klriley at
Sat Apr 17 07:25:18 EDT 2004

>-----Original Message-----
>From: b-hebrew-bounces at
>[mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at]On Behalf Of Trevor Peterson
>Sent: Saturday, 17 April 2004 11:48 AM
>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
>> 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

The same issues are also addressed when modern languages need to be
standardised.  While most European languages went through this process
centuries ago, others - like Irish, Gaelic, Welsh, Frisian - are still in
the process.  The advice given to me by my Irish teacher seems to me to work
well for Hebrew and Classical/NT Greek as well: choose a system that appeals
to you and follow it consistently.  Then you can get on with learning while
others spend their time arguing the merits of a particular pronunciation.  I
enjoy the study of dialects and the history of the language, but it doesn't
help with learning the language as much as spending the time actually
studying does.

Kevin Riley

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