[b-hebrew] be-ne vs. ve-ne

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Tue Dec 28 01:31:38 EST 2010

Hi Paul,

I agree with most of what you wrote here, but must add the following: as with every language, Hebrew was also pronounced in different ways by different communities. One of the things that the Masoretes brought about was standardization. For example, we don't really have any way of knowing if BNY was pronounced "v'ney" when preceded by a vowel sound in most communities, but that's the way the Masoretes thought that it should be pronounced, so that's how they wrote the vowels, and as the Mesoretic nikkud became the standard in all Jewish communities (a process that is worth discussing, if not on this list than somewhere), that became the standard. The same is true of Tav, but since the difference between a dageshed Tav and a non-dageshed Tav is only pronounced by some Ashkenazic and some Yemenite communities, and not by the majority of Hebrew readers today, it is less noticed.

So in a way, the Masorets did "create" grammar, not just describe it.

Yigal Levin

-----Original Message-----
From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Paul Zellmer
Sent: Tuesday, December 28, 2010 6:47 AM
To: 'fred burlingame'
Cc: 'Hebrew List'
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] be-ne vs. ve-ne


Your follow-on question is looking at language somewhat backwards.  Language is spoken first, and then written.  If someone is truly fluent in the language of the Hebrew Bible, that would imply that that person can not only read and pronounce the text, but generate conversation in that language with natural pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.  For such a person, the words of the written text would only be symbols to indicate what vocal sounds would be made if the message were being spoken.

Ari's rules come from analyses made of the actual text.  They were not made up first, and then applied to the text.  So all four rules would not even be consciously thought of by a truly fluent speaker, any more than you are consciously thinking of the numerous rules of grammar and pronunciation of the English language as you read this.

To put this in more technical terminology, your stated opinion of your own question looks at the Masoretic markings as being prescriptive when they were actually descriptive.  They were following the sounds of the language as they actually heard, without regard for *why* the sounds were pronounced that way.

Therefore, for the dialect that the Masoretes were reducing to writing, the marks reflect very accurately how the language would have been spoken, whether in the formal setting or outside.

The ones that I know who seem to approach true fluency in Masoretic Hebrew are not average, so I don't know how to answer that area of your question.  But they can take the consonantal text and consistently read it out loud with the same pronunciation as is reflected in the pointed text.

Hope this helps,

Paul Zellmer

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