[b-hebrew] The unchangeable long vowel in Hiphil verb form

Trevor Peterson 06PETERSON at cua.edu
Tue Aug 3 11:29:16 EDT 2004

>===== Original Message From "wattswestmaas" <wattswestmaas at eircom.net> =====
>Hallo all,
>Page H. Kelly makes multiple remarks concerning the unchangeable vowel in
>the Hiphil stem (hireq yod), IE that it does not become volatilised or
>shortened before such things as pronoun suffixes and heavy suffixes for
>example.  I am then taken by surprise at reading the following three
>scriptures: 2 ch 28:15,  gen 3:21 and zech 3:5 where the verb "to clothe"
>has lost the "Unchangeable Vowel" and has been assimilated into the middle
>root consanant (I assume by the dagesh forte being there) and shortened to

I haven't used Kelly's grammar myself, but I have a pretty good idea of what 
the problem might be. The whole notion of irreducibly long vowels IMO puts too 
much pressure on the system of matres lectionis. A fair amount of confusion 
seems to arise in new students over a failure to adequately explain what's 
going on here. You have to think in layers. If you were to look at a Modern 
Hebrew newspaper, you would not generally see vowel points. Vowel points were 
added artificially after the fact--generations after the fact--to preserve a 
reading tradition more adequately than could have been done simply by handing 
it down orally. By nature, Hebrew orthography did not include this level of 
precision. The intention of the vowel points was to insert the reading 
tradition without changing the consonantal text. The matres lectionis belong 
to the consonantal text. Before the masoretes added their vowel points, this 
was a workable system for indicating certain types of vowels. To us it seems 
grossly inadequate, but keep in mind that the Phoenicians got by with 
consonants only. It's doable if your intended readership consists of native 
speakers. Orthographic traditions are generally placed on a continuum between 
Phoenician with no matres lectionis and Aramaic with a more well-developed 
system. Hebrew tends to fall somewhere in the middle, developing over time 
from a more Phoenician-like approach to a more Aramaic-like. Note the more 
frequent use of matres lectionis in Qumran material. The stage at which we 
find most of the biblical texts is rather inconsistent. It generally marks 
contracted vowels and long final vowels, but long medial vowels are less 
regularly marked. When a word might be expected to have a mater, and it is 
found to be without, we call that defective writing.

Now, when the masoretes came along, they had no intention of changing the text 
as it was before them. They just added their points around the letters. Where 
there was already a vav for an /o/ sound, they put the holem over it. Where it 
stood for /u/, they put the dot in the middle of the line instead of using 
three dots below the preceding consonant. Letters like hireq and tsere are 
unaffected. The yod just stays where it is, and the dots are added as 
necessary. So, the Masoretes were simply indicating whatever vowel sound they 
felt should be there. If there happened to be a mater already, they worked 
with it. If not, they pointed the consonants as-is.

One potential problem with a situation like the one you bring up is that it is 
possible that the Masoretes parsed the verb differently from whoever wrote the 
text without the mater. But this is a problem any time a verb form cannot be 
clearly identified from the consonants that are written (Qal vs. Piel, for 

Trevor Peterson

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