[b-hebrew] Stress and metheg

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Wed Aug 8 04:51:34 EDT 2007

On 8/5/07, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:
> On 7/25/07, Dr Raoul Comninos wrote:
> > In my reading of the Hebrew Bible I am unsure when to read the metheg
> > as a secondary stress. I have read through Gesenius' section on the
> > metheg but found it unintelligible. Perhaps someone could provide me
> > with some specific rules as to when it is not stressed.
> It is my understanding, probably at odds with Gesenius, that all methegs
> denote stress.  The most common example being the end of a verse,
> where a metheg denotes the placement of stress.  Not all secondary
> stress is denoted by a metheg.  That is, sometimes there is no marking
> at all of secondary stress.

Vincent's suggestion of Yeivin's book is a good one and I second it.  I quote
some sections from it on the ga(ya (which I'll spell gaya for simplicity):
Gaya is the older name for this sign ... The absence of gaya is called hatef
... Metheg [is] the later name for the sign and that common today.  ...
Gaya forms part of the accent [cantillation] system and is generally marked
only in MSS in which the accent signs are marked, but not in those which
show only vowel signs.  ... Gaya has no musical motif of its own but
indicates that the reading of the syllable on which it is marked is to be
slowed down, and not slurred over, as noted in Horayat ha-Qore "But gaya
... is neither a disjunctive nor a conjunctive accent, but indicates that the
syllable must be lengthened a bit."  It is probable that this slowing down
of the reading of the syllable is the main function of gaya ... It is possible,
however, that as time went on, gaya came to be viewed as a secondary
accent ... so that it came to be read with a raising of the pitch and a short
motif of its own.

Yeivin then describes the two main categories of gaya as musical and
phonetic.  In the musical form, the marking is dependent on the syllabic
nature of the word, the needs of the Biblical chant, and the accent on the
word or the surrounding words.  The phonetic category marks the gaya
depending on the consonants and vowels of the word or surrounding words.
The musical category consists of - gaya on a closed syllable (known as
"small"/"heavy" gaya) in a word of a "regular" or "irregular" structure, gaya
on an open syllable ("great"/"light" gaya), a schewa gaya, or a gaya on a
closed syllable with a long vowel.  The phonetic category includes a gaya
used to render the following schewa vocal, a gaya on account of a guttural,
and a gaya used in the words of the roots xyh and hyh.  It is possible that
in certain cases both musical and phonetic considerations cause a gaya.

Geoffrey Khan in "Vowel Length and Syllable Structure", writes, passim:
In general, a secondary stress falls on an open syllable which is separated
from the following syllable with the main stress by at least one other
syllable.  The secondary stress may be marked by a gaya or by certain
conjunctive accents. If the second syllable before the main stress is
closed but some preceding syllable is open, then the secondary stress
falls on that syllable.  An additional secondary stress may occur on an
open syllable which is separated from the first secondary stress by at
least one syllable, eg. TW(BTYHM in Ez 6:9.  A long vowel separated
from the tone syllable by schewa also takes secondary stress. ...
By the end of the masoretic period, the vast majority of differences
which existed between the reading traditions of the two major authorities
of the Tiberian school, Ben Asher and Ben Naftali concerned gayot.
The early Tiberian manuscripts exhibit considerable variations in the
consistency with which gayot are marked.  This lack of consistency
in the notation of gayot applies mainly to 'major' gayot, ie those which
occur in open syllables.  ... The major gaya, as we have seen, often
signals the occurrence of secondary stress.  The fact that some
manuscripts do not always mark a gaya in a syllable which one would
have expected to take the secondary stress does not necessarily imply
that in the reading tradition which this manuscript represents the
secondary stress was not pronounced.  When the presence of a gaya
on an open syllable has an effect on the distribution of the accents or
of other gayot the effect on the distribution of the accents or of other
gayot the effect is often sustained even when the gaya is not marked.
... It may be assumed, therefore, that the secondary stress fell on the
appropriate syllable irrespective of whether it was marked graphically.
... It is easier to interpret the gaya on the forms mithpalpalim,
mithqattalim, and mithpa(alim as a marker of secondary stress.  ...
I shall argue here taht in certain cases the secondary stress was
allowed to fall on a short vowel since the motif associated with the
stress was spread over both the stress syllable and the syllable which
followed it.  This occurred in the structures mithpalpalim, mithqattalim,
and mithpa(alim in which the secondary stress fell on the first syllable
but the melisma of the stress was spread over both the first and the
second syllable.  There subsequently followed a buffer syllable in the
form of a mobile schewa or hatep which separated the melismatic unit
of the secondary stress from the main stress syllable.

For more, you can look up these works.
'Vowel length and syllable structure in the Tiberian tradition of Biblical
Hebrew' Journal of Semitic Studies XXXII/1 (1987), 23-82
Israel Yeivin, An Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah, ed. and
trans. E.J. Revell

Yitzhak Sapir

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