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Classical Hebrew - Pronunciation

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Classical Hebrew - Pronunciation

Postby Lucus Eques » Wed Apr 15, 2009 3:52 pm

Hi all! I hope you've all been well; feel free to drop me a line to let me know what you've been up to; I'd love to hear (so busy these days!).

As I study a bit of Biblical Hebrew, I would love to know how to pronounce it correctly.

A am aware of the various pronunciation standards that exsist, including Modern Israeli as well as the Christian traditional manner. Most interesting to me is how Hebrew ought to have been pronounced during its initial use in the Torah.

For example, I'm tempted to pronounce words like "aleph" with an aspirated 'p' as in Attic Greek "phi," and not according to the modern "f" sound. What about the letter bet/vet? Was it also a v-sound in Classical Hebrew? I have read that waw/vav was pronounced as a 'w' — much like Classical Latin's 'v'.

What about vowel quality and quantity?

I'd love to hear what you folks might suggest to get me on the right track. Thanks in advance!
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Re: Classical Hebrew - Pronunciation

Postby jaihare » Wed Apr 15, 2009 5:48 pm

I'm not sure what the "Standard Christian" pronunciation would be. As far as I know, Christians generally use the Israeli pronunciation system. There is a lot of variation in Hebrew pronunciation, from Ashkenazi to Sepharadi to Teimani (Yemenite) to general Mizrachi.

The best way to get to the old pronunciation is to look at related languages.

It's certain that vav (ו) was pronounced like 'w,' as in Arabic (و) and Syriac (ܘ).

Peh (פ), when lacking the dagesh, should be pronounced like an 'f' and not like in Latin. It corresponds to the 'f' sound in Arabic (ف).

When it comes to vowel quality and length, you're going to get a lot of variation. Is there a reason why you want to pronounce Hebrew in a fashion that will not be understood when speaking to people? I realize that you're interested in learning for your personal reasons, but there may come a day when you run into an Israeli and want to flex your Hebrew muscles, or when you decide to take a trip to Israel and want to order a cup of coffee (כוס קפה kos kafé). I don't see the benefit of pronouncing Hebrew in a non-Israeli manner. ;)
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ὁ μὲν Παῦλος τοὺς ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις μαθητὰς τὴν χωρὶς νόμου δικαιοσύνην τὴν ἐν Χριστῷ ἐδίδασκεν, οἱ δ᾿ ἄλλοι ἀπόστολοι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἐδίδασκον τηρεῖν τὸν θεῖον νόμον τὸν χειρὶ Μωϋσέως δοθέντα.
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Re: Classical Hebrew - Pronunciation

Postby annis » Wed Apr 15, 2009 8:11 pm

jaihare wrote:I don't see the benefit of pronouncing Hebrew in a non-Israeli manner. ;)


But it's such fun listening to stories of biblical scholars trying to figure out how many shekels it takes to ride a chariot, erm, bus while in Israel for the first time. :)

Luce, the consonants beth, gimel, daleth, kaph, pe and taw were true fricatives after vowels (and not marked with dagesh). So, in aleph the final consonant should be /f/ or maybe even once /φ/ (that's IPA, not Greek, i.e., true bilabial rather than labiodental fricative). Post-vowel beth was probably like Spanish post-vocal b, then went on to /v/. Etc., etc. Aramaic had the same habits.

Modern Israeli Hebrew, which has been run through a pretty powerful Indo-European filter, is all over the place with respect to the likely ancient pronunciation.
William S. Annis — http://www.aoidoi.org/http://www.scholiastae.org/
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Re: Classical Hebrew - Pronunciation

Postby Lucus Eques » Thu Apr 16, 2009 1:52 am

Thanks, guys!

The reason that Biblical pronunciation interests me is the same reason that the pronunciation of Ancient Greek and Latin interests me: to understand the original authors and their people through the very sounds of the words they spoke and wrote. I intend to learn Modern Hebrew separately when the time comes, of course. :)

So: BET without dagesh is a true fricative, a bilabial or labiodental, while PE without dagesh is also a true fricative of the same nature. Is this also true of DALET and GIMMEL? What about TET or TAPH (or is it TAU?); is either made a fricative? One of these is different, but I'm not sure how; this page uses an underlined 't' to distinguish.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Hebrew

Then 'kh' also is a true fricative, and so will be intervocalic GIMMEL (any dagesh there?).

When the for quantity? Same as Arabic? that is, consonants and vowels carry quantity and longer syllables?
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Re: Classical Hebrew - Pronunciation

Postby Lucus Eques » Thu Apr 16, 2009 2:42 am

This is interesting with respect to Biblical Hebrew pronunciation:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_pho ... _variation

So this chart says no fricatives, and maybe not even aspirates. Huh. Thoughts?
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Re: Classical Hebrew - Pronunciation

Postby jaihare » Thu Apr 16, 2009 6:28 am

I guess that's why I don't like the speculation too much. Everyone and his uncle has some perspective on how they "might" have pronounced the letters. I'm much more interested in learning the language and learning it well. To do that, you just have to choose a pronunciation and go with it. Those who read/speak/pray Hebrew in a Yiddish accent do not know Hebrew less well than those who read/speak/pray in one of the most common Israeli accents. The struggle, in my opinion, is comprehensibility.

There's a kid on youtube who believes that he has the correct pronunciation, and he demonstrates it in his recitation of the Shma here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtbjmyX7lwo

Personally, I think it's essentially incomprehensible, and it sounds less like a language than like a computerized voice attempting a chopping and confused production. You're welcome to go above and beyond in trying to learn how the ancients would have pronounced Hebrew, but I really think it's a wasted pursuit when you could be investing yourself in just learning the language fluently — in a manner than is understandable to other people.
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ὁ μὲν Παῦλος τοὺς ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις μαθητὰς τὴν χωρὶς νόμου δικαιοσύνην τὴν ἐν Χριστῷ ἐδίδασκεν, οἱ δ᾿ ἄλλοι ἀπόστολοι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἐδίδασκον τηρεῖν τὸν θεῖον νόμον τὸν χειρὶ Μωϋσέως δοθέντα.
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Re: Classical Hebrew - Pronunciation

Postby Lucus Eques » Thu Apr 16, 2009 4:56 pm

Jason, tell me, what pronunciation do you use when learning Greek?
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Re: Classical Hebrew - Pronunciation

Postby jaihare » Thu Apr 16, 2009 7:18 pm

Lucus Eques wrote:Jason, tell me, what pronunciation do you use when learning Greek?

When I was in college, I took six semesters of Koine, and we used the Erasmian pronunciation in class. I find it incredibly difficult to get away from it, since it's such an ingrained habit. I have looked into the reconstructed pronunciation, and the differences boggle me. We have just started to form the new Pharr group, and I have thus far continued with the Erasmian in my personal dealings — simply because I want to avoid the headache of relearning everything. I mean, I have a base knowledge of vocabulary and grammar from the Koine, and I don't want to have to learn how to read every single word again — especially since it's a dead language and can have no real bearing in how I communicate with anyone in the real world. Hebrew's quite different, since it is also now a living language and you should probably learn to read Hebrew with the idea that at some point in your life you may run into Hebrew speakers and you don't want to come across as aloof. Know what I mean?
Jason Hare
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ὁ μὲν Παῦλος τοὺς ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις μαθητὰς τὴν χωρὶς νόμου δικαιοσύνην τὴν ἐν Χριστῷ ἐδίδασκεν, οἱ δ᾿ ἄλλοι ἀπόστολοι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἐδίδασκον τηρεῖν τὸν θεῖον νόμον τὸν χειρὶ Μωϋσέως δοθέντα.
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Re: Classical Hebrew - Pronunciation

Postby Lucus Eques » Thu Apr 16, 2009 9:10 pm

Well, I think we fundamentally agree:

In order to talk with Israelis and other Jews of today, one should know the Israeli pronunciation.

And that is something I have done and will continue to reinforce. I would never ponder the Israelis I encounter with long vowels and WAWs and such unless it were fully solicited.

I think we differ in the desire to go to the effort to learn these ancient pronunciations, and I also believe we are differently informed as regards the benefits of such a quest. This quest has been part of my animus since first I started with Latin, and later Greek, and almost any language I encounter of an ancient origin. I read Middle English as it was spoken when it was written (with careful attention to the variances of the centuries) and the same goes for Old English — Modern English sounds simply will not do. I suppose it's just part of who I am as an amateur philologist, and a discussion of a different thread.

Will, what do you think of the wiki article that showed no aspiration or fricative for Biblical Hebrew?
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