[b-hebrew] Inseparable Prepositions and that shewa

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Sun Apr 18 17:26:27 EDT 2010

On Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 12:20 AM, Ryan Clan <robert.ryan at xtra.co.nz> wrote:
> Hi Randall
> Thanks for your response. I am taken with the idea of a shva medium, but I
> still can't quite figure out in my own mind whether it solves the problem,
> or adds to it!  More mulling required, I think.
> If there is no phonemic difference between a vocal, silent and medium shewa,
> what then is the mechanism at work causing a following begadkephat letter to
> switch its dagesh lene (and presumably its pronunciation) off and on in all
> the different situations we see it. If the dagesh lene is not responding to
> a phonemic difference, what is it responding to?

It appears that you are mixing 'phonemic' with 'phonetic'.
While 'phonetic' is a real difference, it is not 'phonemic', not
meaning bearing.

> Modern Hebrew pronunciation of these letters is certainly a *practical*
> option, and there is a lot to be said for a practical, working solution that
> lets you move on. It was this pragmatism mixed with the juggernaut of Modern
> Hebrew as a spoken language today, that has made me think that MH is indeed
> at work influencing and pressuring the way we pronounce and teach biblical
> Hebrew. I can't otherwise account for the differences in pronunciation
> taught of not only the inseparable preposition, but also with the vowels,
> the begadkephat letters, and the "waw." Or is it just a happy coincidence
> that the more recent grammarians teach a pronunciation that conforms so
> readily to modern Hebrew? Or perhaps some major discovery of ancient
> pronunciation accounts for the trend? If Modern Hebrew is not at work here,
> then what is?

Modern Hebrew and Masoretic Hebrew are separated by a thousand
years, so you'll need to look elsewhere.


> There is a practical aspect to my question too. I learnt the ol' time
> pronunciation seen in Weingreen et al, as you can see from my "waw" and
> "shewa" but perhaps it is time I jumped ship? How did Weingreen get it so
> wrong on all these counts?
> As you can see I have been saving up my questions over the years fit to
> bust!
> Regards
> Kay Christensen
> Randall Buth wrote:
> 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.
> Questions:
> 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
> boundaries.
> 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
> phonological
> development where the begedkefet distinction is being phonemicized in the
> spoken language.
> Regards
> Kay Christensen
> braxot
> Randall Buth

Randall Buth, PhD
randallbuth at gmail.com
Biblical Language Center
Learn Easily - Progress Further - Remember for Life

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