[b-hebrew] Inseparable Prepositions and that shewa

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Fri Apr 16 08:06:49 EDT 2010

>Your opinions please.
>My grammars are divided into two schools of thought concerning the way
>an inseparable preposition attaches itself to a word that begins with a
>vocal shewa.
>The first school of thought says that under these conditions, an
>inseparable preposition creates a closed syllable at the beginning of a
>word, usually invoking the "rule of shewa." However, this approach
>ignores the absence of a dagesh lene in any following begadkephat letter.

Your question is about single consonant prepositions being
joined to words whose first consonant would be expected to have a
"reduced vowel//vocal shva". e.g.
b+dvar-o "with his word"
Here, the resultant form is bidvaro where the dalet does not take a dagesh,
because of following a vowel, yet the following 'b' is also soft, as
if following a vowel.
This is one of the classic examples where a 'middle shva' is discussed,
where the shva has a double nature, almost closing a syllable, and
providing a syllable onset to a following begedkefet letter.
See below. However, phonemically,
there was no difference between a 'silent', 'vocal' or 'in-between' shva.

>The second says that the initial syllable is left open with the hireq
>vowel, with vocal shewa following. The absence of a dagesh lene in a
>following begadkephat letter is often cited as proof. However, this
>approach ignores the usual rule that a short vowel likes to be closed in
>an unaccented syllable.

This is the other side of the 'middle shva' situation.
See below.

>1. So, which do we choose? How do we account for the problems that arise?

I would start with the summary discussions on 'shva medium' in Jouon-Muraoka
and in Gesenius. It is a kind of grammatical fiction that might be compared to
'virtual dagesh', too. (A gutteral consonant without written dagesh
that acts 'as if'
a dagesh existed, closing off a syllable and preserving a previous
short vowel.)
As the Bard said, 'Much Ado About Nothing'. Pun intended.

The basic meaning of 'shva' in the MT was 'no vowel'.
As for choice, a practical option is to use a modern Israeli pronunciation,
where half of the begedkefet pronunciations disappear,
and   !
there is a strong tendency to drop all shva except at initial grammatical/word

>2. And more importantly, how did this situation come about?

Through the history of the language where open syllables, two syllables before
an accented syllable, shortened their vowel.

>3. Is Modern Hebrew pronunciation influencing the situation here? And if
>so, should it?

No, it is the other way around. The Masoretic text only had one symbol and
the vocal shva interpretation is problematic but is used primarily in
explaining begedkeft consonants.
The Masoretic text is recording a tradition from late antiquity.
Modern Hebrew tends to ignore or modify the exact vocalization of the MT.

In fact, sometimes in Modern Hebrew one hears 'b', 'p', and 'k' as stops
even when following one of these prepositions because the 'stand-alone' form
of the word has a 'stop' (i.e., a dagesh qal-lene). That is a further
development where the begedkefet distinction is being phonemicized in the
spoken language.

>Kay Christensen

Randall Buth

Randall Buth, PhD
randallbuth at gmail.com
Biblical Language Center
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