[b-hebrew] Apparently Redundant Letters

Alexander Oldernes alexander at oldernes.no
Sat Oct 8 11:44:43 EDT 2005

Some of the Hebrew letters appears redundant, because the pronunciation has changed into sounds that are already used by other letters.

Redundant letters makes it hard to remember how to spell a word.
Therefore it's a good practice to distinguish the sounds of the letters, making it easier to remember the spellings.
We may not be sure of the original sounds, but I think it's important to indicate that these letters originally had different sounds.

I have always tried to distinguish these letters by pronouncing them differently.
The problem is that there are so many sources with different opinions on which sound is closest to the original pronunciation.

Therefore I would like to hear the general understanding among the b-hebrew readers.

My perception is based on "A modern grammar for classical Hebrew" (Garrett), and I have the following understanding of the apperantly redundant letters...

Beth (withouth dagheh) - V as in "very"
Waw - W as in "wish"

Gimel - GH as in "aghast"
Gimel with daghesh - G as in "good"

Daleth - TH as in "the"
Daleth with daghesh - D as in "dot"

Taw - TH as in "thin"
Taw with daghesh - T as in "tin"
Teth - T as in "tot"
Teth may have been pronounced more on the palate than its counterpart Taw, which seems to have been pronounced with the tongue on the back of the teeth and with a slight breathing.

Kaf with daghesh - K as in "keep"
Qof - a K at back of throat
The letter Qof was probably pronounced further back in the throat than Kaf.

Sin - S as in "seen"
Samekh - S as in "sack"
Sin is a softer S than the Samekh. I haven't managed to distinguish these two sounds.

Alef - The grammar book says this letter had "almost no sound". I believe it was a glottal stop (a very brief silence, air through the glottis is stopped)
Ayin - The grammar book says this letter is a glottal stop. I believe it's more like the Arabic Ayn - a voiced pharyngeal fricative, without a glottal stop.

Wikipedia has audio example of glottal stop and voiced pharyngeal fricative.

If I have understood it correctly the name Be'er in Numbers 21:16 is to be pronounced Be-(no sound, glottal stop)-er,
and Ba'al in Judges 2:13 is to be pronounced Ba-(voiced pharyngeal fricative, withouth glottal stop)-al.

I look forward to hearing your perception on this subject.

Alexander Oldernes

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