[b-hebrew] Kamatz katan and other vowels

Vadim Cherny VadimCherny at mail.ru
Wed Oct 4 12:40:52 EDT 2006

> The problem with this assumption, is the plain fact that the kamatz katan
fulfills a perfectly valid function. Every vowel in Hebrew has a long and
short form: Tsere and segol for E, hiriq with or without a yod for I, shuruq
and qubutz for U, and also Kamatz (gadol) and Patah for A. Since the "vav"
of the Holam is fairly arbitrary and does not effect pronounciation, there
would have to be a symbol for the short O, to be used whenever a short vowel
is called for. This is especially true of  the Hataph-kamatz. In all other
cases the Hataph only goes with a short vowels - Hataph patah and hataph
segol. Just as there is no such thing as a hataph-tsere, the fact that there
is a hataph-kamatz shows that the kamatz is meant to be a "shorth" one.
> Yigal Levin

Segol is not a short tzere. Segol occurs in one and only one instance: in
epenthesis (cotevt - cotevet, calb - celev, etc). Segol, therefore, is a
short indeterminate sound, sort of Russian ы or French apostrophe.
Traditionally, it is pronounced as [e], but etymologically it is not a short
tzere but rather an elongated apostrophe.

The notion of short and long [i] and [u] is not necessarily correct.
Languages do not routinely preserve vowel length distinctions, and it is
incredible that long and short i, u survived for more than millennium so
that the Masoretes heard them, but disappeared in speech afterwards.
Before the Masoretes, [u] was marked with mater lectionis waw in some
instances, not marked in others. The Masoretes added three dots for [u]
where the vowel was not marked at all, but only one vowel to [u]'s mater
lectionis waw. What we see as shuruk and kubbutz is the same sound.
The case for the similarity is even stronger for hirek. The sound [i] was
originally marked with mater lectionis iod, and the Masoretes added the dot
mark. Hirek without iod mostly appears in double-schwa situations (d'b'rei -
div'rei) introduced by the Masoretes - transliterations show [a] and [e]
instead. Hirek with iod is the "old hirek," hirek without iod - "Masoretic

Short tzere and holam are patah, hirek, or shuruk. Consider hitlabEsh -
hitlabAsh.ti, gadOl - gdUl.lA.

Kamatz katan is only a vulgar pronuciation of kamatz. Consider that the same
word could be pronounced cal (kamatz) or col (katan). Katan is a popular
pronunciation of kamatz in closed unstressed syllables. It is very common
among languages to pronounce the same vowel differently in accented and
unaccented positions.

I discuss the vowels in more details at

Vadim Cherny

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