[b-hebrew] Inseparable Prepositions and that shewa

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Tue Apr 20 10:57:40 EDT 2010

On Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 12:20 AM, Ryan Clan wrote:
> Hi Yitzhak
>> Can you give an example where the dagesh is absent in this situation?
>> In any case, this is the correct view.
> I'll give you A.B. Davidson's example: He says that before another shewa
> the pointing of the preposition becomes a hireq, forming a half-syllable
> eg lebhav becomes bilebhav (in the heart of.)  He says that the shewa
> here is sounded because it was necessarily so in the original, and is
> therefore not bilbav. In another section, he also says that the vocal
> shewa, simple or composite has the same effect as the full vowels on a
> following begadkephat letter [ie the dagesh lene drops out], and thus
> the state of a begadkephat letter makes it clear whether the shewa
> is silent or vocal. He gives the example of bilebhavo (in his heart),
> saying that the shewa before the letter beth must be vocal because the
> beth has no dagesh lene.

A hireq is not a "half-syllable."  It is a full syllable.

The schewa takes the sound of a hireq in several cases -- where it precedes
a yodh, or where it precedes a guttural pointed with a hireq.  In those cases,
it is a short open syllable with the quality "i" and therefore may count as a
"half-syllable."  (Also, a vocal schewa is usually dependent on the following
syllable for its quality, so it is not complete by itself.)  Even in
these cases,
though, all you see is a schewa.  You are supposed to know, as a reader,
that these are sounded as a short open 'i'.

In the case of bilvavo, the first b has the fricative realization because
historically there was a vowel separating the two.  The vowel dropped
out but the fricative pronunciation remained.  This happened because
at the time the vowel dropped, the rule specifying that a beth is fricative
when following a vowel was no longer active.  When a sound rule stops
being active, the realization of the words in the language remains as
while the rule was active but new words are no longer affected by this

>> There is no rule that a short vowel
>> likes to be closed.
> Yes, I overstated the rule part, but is "like" so very wrong? Are not
> short vowels usually seen in closed syllables more often than not?

Short vowels are seen in open syllables whenever you have a vocal
schewa or a hataf.  This doesn't sound to me rare.  How often do you
see a schewa or hataf (a short vowel in an open syllable) compared
to an unstressed closed syllable (short vowel in a closed syllable)?
I do not think it is easy to answer that or argue that the second is
more likely.

>> An open short (and unstressed) vowel is simply denoted
>> by a schewa or hataf.
> I may be misunderstanding you, but isn't this exactly the issue I have
> stated with my two schools of thought? Essentially one lot say the first
> syllable is closed with a silent shewa, and the other lot say, no, no,
> what we have is..."an open short (and unstressed) vowel denoted by a
> shewa or hataf" same as the Davidson examples. Given what you say here,
> why do you then favour the first option (closed syllable, silent shewa)
> and not the second.

I favor the first option because it is consistent with the Masoretic
We know a great deal today about the Masoretic pronunciation because the
Masoretes left us not only their system but also many various pieces of
evidence where they describe what their system means.  The first option is
consistent with what they describe.  The second is not.

A schewa is not always vocal.  In fact, a schewa in the middle of the word
is usually quiescent except in several conditions, the common ones being
that either it follows another schewa, or it follows a long vowel and is under
a consonant that repeats immediately after, or it is under a dagesh hazaq.

I disagree with the identification of a "schewa medium" which is a late
term that was not used by the Masoretes themselves.  I similarly disagree
with the idea that there was no difference between a vocal and quiescent
schewa.  The Masoretes did distinguish the two, and the fact that the two
were not distinguished graphically is simply because a writing system is
an imperfect medium to convey pronunciation, even when it is as detailed
as the Tiberian system.

The word bittakhem ('your daughter') is not attested in the Bible.  But its
syllabification is obviously different from mikht at v because the second
letter is doubled to compensate for the loss of the -n- from original *bnt

Yitzhak Sapir

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