Fw: [b-hebrew] Biblical Pronunciation of Waw and Ayin

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Thu Aug 12 05:01:26 EDT 2004

Yemenites are the ONLY Jews I know of, that actually pronounce "W". All
other communities use "V", although some (Iraqis, for instance), pronounce
it very weakly, and so it sounds almost like "W". Most "Sephardi" or Middle
Eastern Jewish communities were aware of the guttural sound of Ayin, but not
all actually pronounced it. Ashkenazim were barely even aware of it. The
same is true of Qoph verses Kaph. Very few Jews are aware that Tet sounded
different than Tav.

Of course, we don't really KNOW haw any ancient language was pronounced.
Modern linguists assume that Arabic preserves a pronunciation that is very
close to the ancient Semitic one, but even then, there are many different
pronunciations within the Arabic-speaking world of about 500 million people.
There were probably as many different pronunciations among the
Semitic-speaking people through the 3000 years of so of what we call "The
Ancient Near East".

However, one "clue" is in the transliteration of names into other languages.
The fact that the Greek Bible preserves forms like "Gaza" and "Gomorrah" is
proof that at least during the Hellenistic period, some Jews still
pronounced those names with a Ghayin, rather than Ayin. The reason Jacob's
son is "Simeon" while the Hasmonean and NT spelling of the same Hebrew name
is "Simon" is because the Jews of the Second Temple period, while careful to
pronounce the name "properly" when reading the Torah, did not when
pronouncing their own names. Just like today, the biblical Patriarch is
"Ya'aKOV", while a modern Jew with the same name is likely to be "YAkov".

However, since Greek did not have a "V" sound (it does now - Beta in modern
Greek is pronounced Veta), it transliterated most consonantal Vav's with an
Upsilon. In classical Latin, there was also no "V" sound - the letter V was
pronounced "W". The letter W was only invented in the Middle Ages, when
people began pronouncing V like we do now, and needed a sign for "W".

So where does this leave us? With a lot of doubts. So we should realize
that, on one hand, we just don't always know what the "real" or "original"
pronunciation was, and that what we are working with is simply a convention.
On the other hand, scholars should learn to respect the traditions of people
who have actually used Hebrew through the ages - while understanding how
those traditions developed through time.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Karl Randolph" <kwrandolph at email.com>
To: "b-hebrew" <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Thursday, August 12, 2004 9:03 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Biblical Pronunciation of Waw and Ayin

> Fernando:
> When I studied Hebrew in college, I was told that Yeminite Jews pronounced
"waw" as an English "w". Pronouncing it as an English "v" comes from German
(Yiddisch) which doesn't have that sound.
> As for the Ayin, I was not given such clear information.
> Karl W. Randolph.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "frater three" <fraterthree at lycos.com>
> > Dear erudite members,
> >
> > Does anybody know scholarly evidence about the Biblical pronunciation of
Vav as Waw? Do the Ethiopian and Yemeni Jews keep the Biblical pronunciation
of Waw and Ayin? Does anybody know references to how the Ethiopian and
Yemeni Jews pronounce Waw and Ayin?
> >
> > Thanks in advance for any answer,
> >
> > Fernando
> --
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