[b-hebrew] Meteg and Shva Na/Nah

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Thu Dec 4 21:09:39 EST 2008

On Wed, Dec 3, 2008 at 8:05 AM, Rivka wrote:

> Do you know if what you wrote was also the view of medieval Sephardi
> grammarians like Radak and others?
> The reason I'm asking is that Tanakh editions that use different symbols for
> Shva Na and NaH (like Tanakh Simanim) specifically use a Shva Na (mobile)
> symbol for the Shva in the example you quoted (e.g. Genesis 11:3), whereas
> you say (if I understand correctly) that this Shva is NaH (quiescent).

Dear Rivka, George, and All,

The meteg is not a vocalization mark.  It denotes secondary (and tertiary etc)
stress.  Because all stressed vowels are long in Tiberian
vocalization, this means
that short secondary-stressed vowels are also lengthened.  It is also called
Ma'arikh, literally lengthener.  However, even Yeivin, who suggests that the
main function was slowing down the syllable notes that the meteg is part of
the accent system and is generally marked only in manuscripts where the
accents are marked but not in manuscripts where only vocalization is marked.
Yeivin classifies the example of David's Lev 25:34, w&dh, as one of a phonetic
ga(ya (another name for meteg) as ga(ya on a short vowel, on conjunctive waw
pointed as shureq, marking the following schewa as vocal.  Now, let us take this
word.  "Normally", this word would be pronounced as [usde:].  However, with the
hatef and meteg we have to allow for [usade:].  The hatef marks the vowel as
short, so now we have two short vowels.  However, the Tiberian vocalization
system could not tolerate two consecutive open short vowels.  The consequence
must be that the first vowel was lengthened: [u:sade:].  And now we must ask,
does the meteg signify the following vowel is open (a schewa na), or does it
signify that the u vowel is long?  All evidence of the Masoretes points that the
meteg had a function that caused it to lengthen syllables.  In one place, they
contrast ga(ya with hatef, ie a long syllable vs a short syllable.  I said above
that normally this word would be pronounced as [usde:], placing the "normally"
in quotes.  The fact is that this word appears only once in the Bible, making
it hard to decide whether or not it is normal or not.  We consider it normal
because usually u- (waw with shureq) at the beginning of a word is short and
if it joins a word that independent of the u- begins with a schewa, this schewa
becomes silent.  But "usually" does not mean this is always the case.  If we
look at the word w$m( "and hear!", we find something interesting.  This word is
of the same structure as the one before, having waw with shureq, a shin with
a schewa, and a stressed (hence long) syllable afterwards.  Here the meteg
appears only and always in cases where the stressed syllable is on a pausal
break (atnax or higher) and otherwise does not appear.  This suggests that the
pausal form of the word was with meteg, the non-pausal without.  Here there is
a consistent difference.  Now, the Lev. example was not on a pausal accent,
but the point is this: words have consistent pronunciations.  They are not
pronounced one way or another based on whether the Masorete or vocalizer
chose to put a meteg or not, or to denote a schewa with hatef or not, which
Masoretes did inconsistently.  In fact, the Masoretes noted that the ga(ya is
pronounced consistently *whether it is written or not".  Quoting from
Geoffrey Khan's translations in "Vowel Length and Syllable Structure in the
Tiberian Tradition of Biblical Hebrew":
"The reader pronounces the ga(ya whether it is written or not written" - Sefer
Ta'ame haMiqra
"in some books, the ga(ya is written whereas in others it is not written but
rather the knowledge of the reader is relied upon." - Mahberet haTijan.
Now, it is possible that sometimes Masoretes would want a word to be
especially pronounced some other way, but in view of such explicit statements
by the Masoretes, and in view of the fact that normally languages have
consistent pronunciations for words, we should accept such solutions only
where all other solutions have been eliminated and discarded.  In the cases
examined above, we have a long vowel u: where the meteg appears, and we
have to consider whether this was simply the normal pronunciation of the
respective word.  At a simplistic level, we could then say that the meteg's
function was to lengthen the otherwise short open syllable.  However, given
that the meteg is also associated often with secondary stress, it is worthwhile
to ask whether we have here secondary stress.  Well, it turns out that
secondary stress fell on an open syllable which is separated from the main
stress syllable by at least one other syllable, unless in some other conditions
it fell on an earlier syllable.  Here we don't have another earlier
syllable, so this
is exactly the situation we have here.

Now, the Qimhis (Radak and his father) classified the Hebrew vowels into
five sets of quality each with short and long quantity.  What they essentially
tried to do was to impose a five vowel system over the seven vowel system.
This may work out in many cases.  For example, original long a: became
long qamats in the Tiberian tradition.  This means that in many cases the
Qimhis would say that a long qamats is pronounced as a: if their tradition
did not undergo this shift.  Now, of the cases that are left, a was originally
short, although in the Tiberian tradition it later sometimes became long if
it was in an open or stressed syllable (for example, [hahu:], "that
one").   The
Qimhis would say that patah is short in general.  But these are only general
statements and it is wrong to apply them consistently to Tiberian-marked
manuscripts.  Tiberian vocalization displaced other systems to the point
where the Qimhis would try to fit their system on the Tiberian.  What we
don't have is the exceptions, the deviations from the main rules.  What we
do have today are accurately edited versions of quality Tiberian vocalized
manuscripts.  These are not to be read with another system -- they are
meant to be read only with the Tiberian system.  This system has seven
vowel qualities, and a systematic application of vowel length based on
stress.  The Qimhis' system isn't wrong.  It is also a valid system that is
based on their own tradition of Hebrew.  But it is wrong to apply the Qimhi's
five-vowel system to a manuscript that is not vocalized with the five-vowel
system, and much more so to apply it to a manuscript that has been
carefully vocalized with a seven-vowel system.

To understand just how wrong it is, take a look at qubuts and shureq, which
are really just graphic variants of the same vowel.  According to the Qimhi's
system overlaid the Tiberian system, shureq is to be pronounced long whereas
qibbuts is to be pronounced short.  In reality, there was no way to write a
shureq where there was no waw.  The qibbuts was a graphic variant for those
cases.  According to the Qimhi's system overlaid on the Tiberian one then, we
have to pronounce an "u" long or short based on whether the manuscript chose
to spell the vowel plene or not.  It is ridiculous.  In normal languages, words
have consistent pronunciations, even if they have variant spellings, and Hebrew
is no different.

As for David's comment regarding how "we pronounce it today," vayomru is
pronounced just like that by most Hebrew speakers and by most Torah
readers.  Then there are those who take special pains to pronounce it as
vayomeru, in keeping with the rules developed after the Masoretes that
attempted to fit the five vowel system over the Tiberian one.  But not only
are they a minority, in this case, they are also wrong, because the Tiberian
system which is the vocalization they are purporting to read is quite clearly
reading the schewa as quiescent.  I would be very interested to see where
in Diqduqe Hateamim, for example, David finds evidence for reading it as
he suggests, because I have quite a few articles on hand that point out on
the basis of Diqduqe Hateamim, the schewa must be quiescent in such
cases.  But then, what does the author of Diqduqe Hateamim know about
reading Tiberian vocalizations?

Yitzhak Sapir

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