[b-hebrew] Re: variant pronunciation

Joel Nothman jnothman at student.usyd.edu.au
Sat Apr 17 21:56:32 EDT 2004

On Sat, 17 Apr 2004 14:38:31 -0700 (PDT), Uri Hurwitz <uhurwitz at yahoo.com>  

> there couldn't have been a single one for "biblical times"

It is likely that over the span of the Israelite kingdom there were in  
fact many dialects and accents. But not only from modern accents and from  
related languages can we get many clues, but there are many present in the  
masoretic orthography and pointing systems.

The fact that there exists a dagesh kal in 6 letters clearly shows that  
the masoretes distinguished between 2 variations on these letters,  
depending generally on whether they started a syllable. It may also clue  
that these distinctions followed similar phonetic shifts.

> She said: the Yemenite is the closest.

Regarding this, although the Yemenites have been very much isolated from  
many of the influences of other dialects, they still may have some  
influence from Yemenite Arabic. Particularly with reference to the "jimel"  
(gimel-dagesh)- this sound is the odd one out with respect to the 6  
letters mentioned above, since all others both the variations with and  
without dagesh are pronounced in the same place. In Yemenite hebrew,  
gimel-with-dagesh is pronounced at the front of the mouth (on the alveolar  
palate) as "j", and gimel-without-dagesh is pronounced at the back of the  
mouth as "gh". Now, this could be the influence of Yemenite Arabic which  
has no hard "g" sound, but does have a "j"; it could also be a regional  
Ancient Hebrew dialect adopted by the Yemenites, and it is unlilely that  
we will ever know.

> one example: Qamatz gadol they pronounced  O similarly to the Ashkenazi  
> way.

You can see this from the masoretic transcription, in fact. In academic  
Hebrew, Qamats itself is considered a "long a", whose short equivalent is  
Patah, and shorter is Patah Hatuf (patah with a sheva next to it). But the  
Qamats is also used to transcribe two different vowels - the Qamats Qaton  
(short qamats) and Qamats Hatuf (qamats with sheva next to it). Both of  
these are in fact classified as "o" sounds, and are pronounced such by  
most Modern Hebrew accents. Nonetheless, the Masoretes gave them the same  
symbol, which tells us that the Masoretes too, like the Ashkenazim,  
pronounced all three as the same or similar sound, that is, "o".

This has been the subject of much confusion, as Qamats = "a" and Qamats  
Katon = "o" are written exactly the same in many texts (although there are  
a number of modern texts that do distinguish them), and so many readers of  
Hebrew ignorant of this fact will pronounce Qamats Katon as "a"  

Additionally, it has caused issues, now put down to custom, of whether  
Qamats before a Qamats Hatuf is to be pronounced Qaton or normal, ie:
'afternoon' = tsahorayim or tsohorayim ?
'tents' = aholim or oholim ?
'your workers' = pa'olecha or po'olecha ?

Just a little more food for thought.

- Joel

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