[b-hebrew] Multiple pronunciations for vocalic shewa

Anstey, Matthew MAnstey at csu.edu.au
Thu Aug 23 18:50:25 EDT 2007

Dear Raoul,
Muraoka is not quite right here. Khan explains in much more detail (as a few others do) what the proper Masoretic pronunciation of shewa is. I am one who uses this pronunciation in my work, but very few do. 
Shewa can be realised as any of the 7 vowel qualities. Shewa is not a full vowel before gutturals. The hateph shewa simply clarifies the pronounciation of shewa in that context.  Khan (and many others) analyse the vowel system to be 7 quality, not kimchi's 5 quality 2 quantity system. Again, grammars almost uniformly perpetuate the 5-vowel system, which I think is a mistake.
Similarly, the rules governing vocal and silent shewa are incorrect in standard grammars (i.e. shewa IS silent after so-called long vowels like holem (waw)), as is the pronunciation of consonantal waw, which is realised as /v/ or /w/ depending on context.
My article in Hebrew Studies covers some of these issues.
Matthew Anstey
ARC Postdoctoral Fellow, Biblical Hebrew linguistics
Charles Sturt University, School of Theology, Canberra


I noted with interest in Muraoka (p. 51) that Massoretic grammarians
laid down three rules for pronouncing vocal shewa. a) a full vowel
before gutturals similar to that of the gutterals concerned b) /i/
before yod and c) /a/ elsewhere. I wondered how far today this
practice is still observed among scholars of ancient Hebrew today, and
how if at all these rules play in modern Hebrew. I have not seen any
Hebrew grammar recommend multiple pronunciations of shewa and in most
cases the recommendation is to say a short 'a' as in 'careen'. This
too is at odds with modern Hebrew pronunciation of shewa which sounds
to me more like the 'e' in better than like the 'a' in careen.

Dr Raoul Comninos
93 Wagenaar Street
Monte Vista
South Africa
capechurch at gmail.com
Fax: (086) 6544615

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list