[b-hebrew] Re: variant pronunciation

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Sat Apr 17 17:54:10 EDT 2004

Dora and all,

We would do well to remember that there is no such thing as a "correct"
pronunciation - not of modern languages and certainly not of ancient ones.
There are only traditions, shared by the users of a language, which enable
them to comprehend each other. Is the pronunciation of Latin used by the
Catholic Church less "correct" than the scholarly reconstructions of the way
Caesar would have pronounced the language. Does anyone really think, that in
the ancient world, with its lack of mass-communications, any language was
spoken in the same way in any large area? Was Old Babylonian Akkadian
pronounced the same as Neo-Assyrian? (Of course not: That's why "Sharru-kin"
is spelled "Sargon" in the Bible - the Hebrew scribe recorded what he heard
the Assyrians say.) Or that 10th century Ephraimites pronounced their Hebrew
the same as 6th century Judahites? There was no single "correct"
pronunciation in ancient Israel. To a large extent, the Bible has a
standardized "Judahite" spelling, but as to how things were pronounced, who
can tell? After their dispersion, Jews in different parts of the world took
on linguistic traits of their neighbors. The Masoretes preserved one
particular version, but not the only one. Jews in different parts of the
world had difficulty understanding each others' spoken Hebrew, but since
most communication was written, this was no problem. Not just Ashkenazi and
Sephardi communities, but even within those - Polish, Lithuanian, German and
French Jews had different traditions, in many cases fully believing that
their tradition represented the same accent God used when He said "Yehi Or".
Many of these traditions have been lost due to the events of the 20th
century - mass migrations of Jews on one hand and the destruction of many
Jewish communities on the other (worth remembering as the Jewish world
observes Holocaust Remembrance Day this week). The modern Israeli
pronunciation is, to a large degree, an artificial reconstruction, based on
elements of the traditional Sephardi pronunciation that the Ashkenazi elite
of the early 20th century was willing to accept. Reform, Conservative and
some Orthodox Jews abroad have adopted this pronunciation - other Orthodox
communities have stuck to their traditions. Who of us can say that one is
"correct" and the other is not?
On the other hand, the academic pronunciation used by modern scholars - and
that most of y'all on this list were taught - is just as much a
reconstruction, made mostly by people who had no interest in hw Hebrew was
actually used by the people who actually used it! As one of professors once
said, should he start calling himself Dawidh instead of Dahvid, just because
someone theorized that that's how a theoretical King David would have
pronounced it?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Dora Smith" <villandra at austin.rr.com>
To: "Joel Nothman" <jnothman at student.usyd.edu.au>;
<b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Saturday, April 17, 2004 7:48 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Re: variant pronunciation

> Honest to God, even with my dyslexia, it didn't take me long to notice
> in Spanish half the time r  morphs into d or th - or no systematic reason
> anyone has successfully explained to me.   It drives me crazy - and I
> to pronounce it that way until I understand it.  It would take me five
> minutes to make a complete fool of myself pronouncing it that way on the
> wrong word!
> I took 3/4 of first year Biblical Hebrew with a Near Eastern archeologist
> who was a Conservative Jew - and I attended synagogue for several years
> learned prayers, hymns - and never ONCE heard or said the th sound.   And
> many of those people pronounce in Azhkenazic Hebrew - which sounds
> and also drives me crazy.   "AdonOI"?    Yipe!    Hebrew teacher traced
> history of the word "Ishah" for us on the board, beginning with Akkadian
> cuneiform - so I strongly doubt that d or t are often pronoucned th and
> noone told me!
> Whatever the explanation for dalet and tau morphing into th is, can you
> please provide an explanation that makes sense in light of competent
> and entire temples full of them not ever pronouncing it that way?
> Yours,
> Dora Smith
> Austin, Texas
> villandra at austin.rr.com
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Joel Nothman" <jnothman at student.usyd.edu.au>
> To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
> Sent: Saturday, April 17, 2004 5:42 AM
> Subject: [b-hebrew] Re: variant pronunciation
> >
> >
> > > 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
> > often noted in academic Hebrew.
> >
> > On Fri, 16 Apr 2004 21:47:45 -0400, Trevor Peterson <06peterson at cua.edu>
> > wrote:
> >
> > > 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
> > for the Jewish communities hailing from North Africa, the Middle East,
> > etc...
> >
> > 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
> > Many sephardic/oriental communities do pronounce waw rather than vav-
> > 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
> > 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
> > (bet without dagesh) as b. It was once likely a bilabial fricative,
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> >
> > Also pronounced differently by some Sephardi communities are:
> >
> > - Ssade (tsade) is prounounced as an emphatic s-sound (like Sad in
> >
> > - 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
> > - like sade - and is also present in Arabic.
> >
> > Hmm. That was long. I hope also of interest!
> >
> > - Joel
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