[b-hebrew] Apparently Redundant Letters

Dr. Joel M. Hoffman joel at exc.com
Sun Oct 9 09:39:06 EDT 2005

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

What you seem to be looking for is the general understanding of the
Tiberian Masoretic system for pronouncing Biblical Hebrew, which I
call Tiberian Hebrew.  The Tiberian Masoretes lived just over one
millennium ago, and they are the ones who gave us Dagesh and BEGED
KEFET and so forth.

The general pattern to keep in mind is this: Of the many places you
can block air flow, Tiberian Hebrew expands on three, giving us sounds
for voiced and unvoiced, stop and fricative varieties, for a total of
12 sounds, all represented by the BEGED KEFET letters.

By "voiced" I mean that the vocal chords are vibrating; so, for
example, V is voiced and its corresponding unvoiced sound is F.  If
you make these two sounds (V and F) and place your hand on your
throat, you can feel the vibrating vocal chords

By "stop" I mean that the flow of air is completely stopped.  B and K,
for example, are stops.  One result of being a stop is that you cannot
prolong the sounds.

By "fricative" I mean that the flow of air is restricted but not
stopped.  F and X are fricatives.  They can be prolonged.

Finally, the air can be restricted at the lips ("labial"), the
alveolar ridge just behind the teeth ("alveolar"), soft palate in the
throat ("velar"), further back in the throat ("glottal"),  further
back yet ("uvular") or even further back than that ("pharyngeal");
these last three are collectively called "guttural."

In BEGED KEFET, Dagesh indicates a stop, while lack of Dagesh
indicates a fricative.

Bet, Gimel and Daled are voiced; Pe, Kaf and Taf are their unvoiced

Bet/Pe are labial; Daled/Taf are alveolar; Gimel/Kaf are velar.


			Voiced			Unvoiced
	Stop		Bet+Dagesh (B)		Pe+Dagesh (P)
	Fricative	Bet (V)			Pe (F)

	Stop		Daled+Dagesh (D)	Taf+Dagesh (T)
	Fricative	Daled (Z or Th1)	Taf (S or Th2)

	Stop		Gimel+Dagesh (G)	Kaf+Dagesh (K)
	Fricative	Gimel (3)		Kaf (X4)

Th1 = "Th" as in "this."
Th2 = "Th" as in "with."
We don't have (3) in English.  (Note: Gh in "aghast" is pronounced
			        just "g.")

X4 = "Ch" as in "Bach."

Because of the pattern, you can learn how to say (3).  You can try to
make Gimel fricative, or Kaf voiced; either way should give you the
same result.

Furthermore, there are some more guttural sounds:

		        Voiced			Unvoiced
	Stop		lacking			Aleph

	Stop		lacking			Kuf
	Fricative	lacking			lacking

	Stop		lacking			lacking
	Fricative	lacking			Chet
	Approximant	lacking			Ayin

(An approximant is when the air flow is still constricted, but not as
much as with a fricative.)

To round out the pattern, Tet was probably a combination of Taf+Dagesh
and Ayin, while Tzadi might have been a combination of Taf and Ayin.

Hope this helps.

-Joel M. Hoffman

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