Tiberian Hebrew

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Closeup of Aleppo Codex, Joshua 1:1 Aleppo Codex Joshua 1 1.jpg
Closeup of Aleppo Codex, Joshua 1:1

Tiberian Hebrew is the canonical pronunciation of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) committed to writing by Masoretic scholars living in the Jewish community of Tiberias in ancient Galilee c.750–950 CE under the Abbasid Caliphate. They wrote in the form of Tiberian vocalization, [1] which employed diacritics added to the Hebrew letters: vowel signs and consonant diacritics (nequdot) and the so-called accents (two related systems of cantillation signs or te'amim). These together with the marginal notes masora magna and masora parva make up the Tiberian apparatus.

Contents

Though the written vowels and accents came into use in around 750 CE, the oral tradition that they reflect is many centuries older, with ancient roots.

Sources

Page from Aleppo Codex, Deuteronomy Aleppo Codex (Deut).jpg
Page from Aleppo Codex, Deuteronomy

Today's Hebrew grammar books do not teach the Tiberian Hebrew that was described by the early grammarians. The prevailing view is that of David Qimchi's system of dividing the graphic signs into "short" and "long" vowels. The values assigned to the Tiberian vowel signs reveals a Sephardi tradition of pronunciation (the dual quality of qames (אָ) as /a/, /o/; the pronunciation of simple sheva (אְ) as /ɛ̆/).

The phonology of Tiberian Hebrew can be gleaned from the collation of various sources:

Phonology

Consonants

Tiberian Hebrew has 29 consonantal phonemes, represented by 22 letters. The sin dot distinguishes between the two values of ש, with a dot on the left (שׂ) being pronounced the same as the letter Samekh. The letters בגדכפת (begadkefat) had two values each: plosive and fricative.

Tiberian Hebrew consonant phonemes
Labial Dental Denti-alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain emphatic
Nasal m n
Stop voiceless p t k q ʔ
voiced b d g
Fricative voiceless f θ s ʃ x ħ h
voiced v ð z ɣ ʕ
Trill r ʀ
Approximant w l j

The following are the most salient characteristics of the Tiberian Hebrew consonantal pronunciation:

Vowels

This vowel chart gives a general idea of the vowel space of Tiberian Hebrew. It is not meant to be a precise mapping of the tongue positions, which would be impossible to do anyway since there are no native speakers of Tiberian Hebrew. Tiberian Hebrew vowel chart.svg
This vowel chart gives a general idea of the vowel space of Tiberian Hebrew. It is not meant to be a precise mapping of the tongue positions, which would be impossible to do anyway since there are no native speakers of Tiberian Hebrew.
Figurines holding Tiberian vowel diacritics. Limestone and basalt artwork at the shore in Tiberias. Tiberian-vocalisation-david-fine.jpg
Figurines holding Tiberian vowel diacritics. Limestone and basalt artwork at the shore in Tiberias.
Tiberian Hebrew phonemic vowels [2]
Front Back
Close iu
Close-mid eo
Open-mid ɛɔ
Open a
Reducedă ɔ̆ (ɛ̆)1
  1. marginal

The vowel qualities /a e i ɔ o u/ have phonemic status: אָשָׁם הוּא אָשֹׁם אָשַׁם (Lev. 5:19) and אָשֵׁם 'guilty', אִם 'when' and אֵם 'mother'. [3] /ɛ/ has phonemic value in final stressed position רְעֶה רְעִי רָעָה, מִקְנֶה מְקַנֵּה, קָנֶה קָנָה קָנֹה, but in other positions, it may reflect loss of the opposition /a/: /i/. [3] By the Tiberian period, all short vowels in stressed syllables had lengthened, making vowel length allophonic. [4] [nb 1] Vowels in open or stressed syllables had allophonic length (such as /a/ in יְרַחֵם, which was previously short). [5] [nb 2]

The Tiberian tradition possesses three reduced (ultrashort, hatuf) vowels /ă ɔ̆ ɛ̆/ of which /ɛ̆/ has questionable phonemicity. [6] [7] [nb 3] /ă/, under a non-guttural letter, was pronounced as an ultrashort copy of the following vowel before a guttural (וּבָקְעָה[uvɔqɔ̆ˈʕɔ]) and as [ĭ] preceding /j/, (תְדַמְּיוּנִי[θăðammĭˈjuni]). However, it was always pronounced as [ă] under gutturals: חֲיִי[ħăˈji]. [8] [9]

Stress

Tiberian Hebrew has phonemic stress (בָּנוּ֫/bɔˈnu/ 'they built' vs. בָּ֫נוּ/ˈbɔnu/ 'in us'). Stress is most commonly ultimate, less commonly penultimate, and rarely antepenultimate stress: הָאֹ֫הֱלָה/hɔˈʔohɛ̆lɔ/ 'into the tent'. [10] [nb 4]

Phonotactics

As described above, vowel length is dependent on syllable structure. Open syllables must take long or ultrashort vowels; stressed closed syllables take long vowels; unstressed closed syllables take short vowels. Traditional Hebrew philology considers ultrashort vowels not to be syllable nuclei.

Orthography

letterאבגדהוזחטיכ/ךלמ/םנ/ןסעפ/ףצ/ץקרשת
transliterationʾb, g, d, hwzyk, lmnsʿp/fqrš, śt,
pronunciation (Modern)[ ʔ ][ b ]
[ v ]
[ ɡ ][ d ][ h ][ v ][ z ][ χ ][ t ][ j ][ k ][ x]
[ χ ]
[ l ][ m ][ n ][ s ][ ʔ ][ p ]
[ f ]
[ ts ][ k ][ ʁ ][ ʃ ]
[ s ]
[ t ]
pronunciation (Yemenite)[ ʔ ][ b ]
[ v ]
[ ]
[ ɣ ]
[ d ]
[ ð ]
[ h ][ w ][ z ][ ħ ][ ][ j ][ k ]
[ x ]
[ l ][ m ][ n ][ s ][ ʕ ][ p ]
[ f ]
[ ][ g ][ r ][ ʃ ]
[ s ]
[ t ]
[ θ ]
pronunciation (Tiberian)[ ʔ ][ b ]
[ v ]
[ ɡ ]
[ ɣ ]
[ d ]
[ ð ]
[ h ][ w ][ z ][ ħ ][ ][ j ][ k ]
[ x ]
[ l ][ m ][ n ][ s ][ ʕ ][ p ]
[ f ]
[ ][ q ][ ʀ ]
[ r ]
[ ʃ ]
[ s ]
[ t ]
[ θ ]
pronunciation (Biblical)[ ʔ ][ b ]
[ β ]
[ ɡ ]
[ ɣ ]
[ d ]
[ ð ]
[ h ][ w ][ z ][ ħ ],
[ χ ]
[ ][ j ][ ]
[ x ]
[ l ][ m ][ n ][ s ][ ʕ ],
[ ʁ ]
[ ]
[ ɸ ]
[ ][ q ][ ɾ ][ ʃ ],
[ ɬ ]
[ ]
[ θ ]
niqqud with בבַבֶבֵבִבָבֹבֻבוּ
name pathaḥ seghol ṣere ḥireq qamaṣ ḥolam qubuṣ shuruq
pronunciation/a//ɛ//e//i//ɔ//o//u/
niqqud with בבַא
בַה
בֶא
בֶה
בֶי
בֵא
בֵה
בֵי
בִי
בִא
בָא
בָה
בֹא
בֹה
בוֹ
בוּא
בוּה
name pathaḥ male seghol male ṣere male ḥireq male qamaṣ male ḥolam male shuruq male
pronunciation/a//ɛ//e//i//ɔ//o//u/
niqqud with אאְאֲאֱאֳ
name shwa ḥaṭaf pathaḥ ḥaṭaf seghol ḥaṭaf qamaṣ
pronunciation/ă/, ⌀/ă//ɛ̆//ɔ̆/
niqqudבּבֿהּשׁשׂ
name daghesh rafe mapiq shin dot sin dot
pronunciationGemination of a consonant /Cː/, or the stop pronunciation of the בגדכפ״ת consonantsFricative pronunciation of the בגדכפ״ת consonants (its use is optional)/h/, being the last letter of a word/ʃ//s/

The simple sheva sign changes its pronunciation depending on its position in the word (mobile/vocal or quiescent/zero) and its proximity to certain consonants.

In these examples, it has been preferred to show one in the Bible and represents each phenomenon in a graphic manner (a chateph vowel), but the rules still apply when there is only a simple sheva (depending on the manuscript or edition used).

When the simple sheva appears in any of the following positions, it is regarded as mobile (na):

The gutturals (אהח"ע), and yodh (י), affect the pronunciation of the sheva preceding them. The allophones of the phoneme /ă/ follow these two rules:

It must be said that even though there are no special signs apart /ɛ̆/, /ă/, /ɔ̆/ to denote the full range of furtive vowels, the remaining four (/u/, /i/, /e/, /o/) are represented by simple sheva (ḥaṭaf ḥiriq (אְִ) in the Aleppo Codex is a scribal oddity and certainly not regular in Hebrew manuscripts with Tiberian vocalization).

All other cases should be treated as zero vowel (quiescent, nah), including the double final sheva (double initial sheva does not exist in this Hebrew dialect), and the sheva in the words שְׁתַּיִם/ˈʃtajim/ and שְׁנַיִם/ˈʃnajim/, read by the Tiberian Masoretes as אֶשְׁתַּיִם/ʔɛʃˈtajim/ and אֶשְׁנַיִם/ʔɛʃˈnajim/ respectively. This last case has similarities with phenomena occurring in the Samaritan pronunciation and the Phoenician language.

Depending on the school of pronunciation (and relying on musical grounds, perhaps), the metheg sign served to change some closed syllables into open ones, and therefore, changing the vowel from short to long, and the quiescent sheva, into a mobile one.

That is referenced specifically by medieval grammarians:

If one argues that the dalet of 'Mordecai' (and other letters in other words) has hatef qames, tell him, 'but this sign is only a device used by some scribes to warn that the consonants should be pronounced fully, and not slurred over'.

Abu al-Faraj Harun, Hidāyat al-Qāri (Horayat Ha-Qore), quoted in Yeivin (1980:283–284)

The names of the vowel diacritics are iconic and show some variation:

The names of the vowels are mostly taken from the form and action of the mouth in producing the various sounds, as פַּתַ֫ח opening; צֵרֵ֫י a wide parting (of the mouth), (also שֶׁ֫בֶר) breaking, parting (cf. the Arab, kasr); חִ֫ירֶק (also חִרֶק) narrow opening; ח֫וֹלֶם closing, according to others fullness, i.e. of the mouth (also מְלֹא פּוּם fullness of the mouth). קָ֫מֶץ also denotes a slighter, as שׁוּרֶק and קִבּוּץ (also קבוץ פּוּם) a firmer, compression or contraction of the mouth. Segôl (סְגוֹל bunch of grapes) takes its name from its form. So שָׁלֹשׁ נְקֻדּוֹת (three points) is another name for Qibbúṣ. Moreover the names were mostly so formed (but only later), that the sound of each vowel is heard in the first syllable (קָמֶץ for קֹמֶץ, פַּתַח for פֶּתַח, צֵרִי for צְרִי); in order to carry this out consistently some even write Sägôl, Qomeṣ-ḥatûf, Qûbbûṣ.

Notes

  1. In fact, all stressed vowels were first lengthened in pause, see Janssens (1982 :58–59), as can be seen by forms like Tiberian כַּף/kaf/ < */kaf/, pausal כָּף/kɔf/ < */kɔːf/ < */kaːf/ < */kaf/. The shift in Tiberian Hebrew of */aː/ > */ɔː/ occurred after that lengthening but before the loss of phonemicity of length (since words like ירחם with allophonically long [aː] show no such shift).
  2. That is attested to by the testimony of Rabbi Joseph Qimḥi (12th century) and by medieval Arabic transcriptions: Janssens (1982 :54–56). There is also possible evidence from the cantillation marks' behaviour and Babylonian pataḥ: Blau (2010 :82).
  3. See אֳנִי/ʔɔ̆ˈni/ 'ships' אֲנִי/ʔăˈni/ 'I', חֳלִי/ħɔ̆ˈli/ 'sickness' חֲלִי/ħăˈli/ 'ornament', עֲלִי/ʕăˈli/ 'ascend!' (Num 21:17) and בַּעֱלִי/baʕɛ̆ˈli/ '(with the) pestle' (Prov 27:22). Blau (2010 :117–118)/ɛ̆/ alternates with /ă/ frequently and rarely contrasts with it: אֱדוֹם/ʔɛ̆ˈðom/ 'Edom' versus אֲדֹמִי/ʔăðoˈmi/ 'Edomite'. Blau (2010 :117–118)/ɔ̆/ is clearly phonemic but bears minimal functional load. Sáenz-Badillos (1993 :110)/ă/ is written both with mobile šwaְ and hataf patahֲ. Blau (2010 :117)
  4. In fact, it is not clear that a reduced vowel should be considered to be a whole syllable. For example, a word's stress shifts to a preceding open syllable to avoid it from being adjacent to another stressed syllable skips over ultrashort vowels: עִם־יוֹ֫רְדֵי בוֹר/ʕimˈjorăðe vor/ 'with those who go down into the pit' מְטֹ֫עֲנֵי חָ֫רֶב/măˈtˤoʕăne ˈħɔrɛv/ 'pierced with a sword'. See Blau (2010 :143–144)
  5. These two rules, as well as the rule that metheg changes sheva from an ultrashort to a normal vowel, are recorded by Solomon Almoli in his Halichot Sheva (Constantinople 1519), though he states that these differences are dying out and that in most places vocal sheva is pronounced like segol. In Oriental communities such as the Syrians, these rules continued to be recorded by grammarians into the 1900s (such as Sethon, Menasheh, Kelale Diqduq ha-qeriah, Aleppo 1914), but they were not normally reflected in actual pronunciation. The rules about yodh and metheg, though not the rule about gutturals, is still observed by the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam: Rodrigues Pereira, Martin, 'Hochmat Shelomoh.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tiberian vocalization</span> System of diacritics for the Hebrew Bible

The Tiberian vocalization, Tiberian pointing, or Tiberian niqqud is a system of diacritics (niqqud) devised by the Masoretes of Tiberias to add to the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible to produce the Masoretic Text. The system soon became used to vocalize other Hebrew texts, as well.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Biblical Hebrew</span> Archaic form of the Hebrew language

Biblical Hebrew, also called Classical Hebrew, is an archaic form of the Hebrew language, a language in the Canaanite branch of Semitic languages spoken by the Israelites in the area known as the Land of Israel, roughly west of the Jordan River and east of the Mediterranean Sea. The term "Hebrew" (ivrit) was not used for the language in the Bible, which was referred to as שְֹפַת כְּנַעַן or יְהוּדִית, but the name was used in Ancient Greek and Mishnaic Hebrew texts.

Ashkenazi Hebrew is the pronunciation system for Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew favored for Jewish liturgical use and Torah study by Ashkenazi Jewish practice.

Sephardi Hebrew is the pronunciation system for Biblical Hebrew favored for liturgical use by Sephardi Jewish practice. Its phonology was influenced by contact languages such as Spanish, Judaeo-Spanish (Ladino), Arabic, Portuguese and Modern Greek.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yemenite Hebrew</span> Pronunciation system for Hebrew traditionally used by Yemenite Jews

Yemenite Hebrew, also referred to as Temani Hebrew, is the pronunciation system for Hebrew traditionally used by Yemenite Jews. Yemenite Hebrew has been studied by language scholars, many of whom believe it to retain older phonetic and grammatical features lost elsewhere.  Yemenite speakers of Hebrew have garnered considerable praise from language purists because of their use of grammatical features from classical Hebrew. Tunisian rabbi and scholar, Rabbi Meir Mazuz, once said of Yemenites that they are good grammarians.

Mizrahi Hebrew, or Eastern Hebrew, refers to any of the pronunciation systems for Biblical Hebrew used liturgically by Mizrahi Jews: Jews from Arab countries or east of them and with a background of Arabic, Persian or other languages of Asia. As such, Mizrahi Hebrew is actually a blanket term for many dialects.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Romanization of Hebrew</span> Transcription of Hebrew into the Latin alphabet

The Hebrew language uses the Hebrew alphabet with optional vowel diacritics. The romanization of Hebrew is the use of the Latin alphabet to transliterate Hebrew words.

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Kamatz or qamatz is a Hebrew niqqud (vowel) sign represented by two perpendicular lines ⟨ ָ ‎ ⟩ underneath a letter. In modern Hebrew, it usually indicates the phoneme which is the "a" sound in the word spa and is transliterated as a . In these cases, its sound is identical to the sound of pataḥ in modern Hebrew. In a minority of cases it indicates the phoneme, equal to the sound of ḥolam.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Palestinian vocalization</span> Extinct system of diacritics for Hebrew

The Palestinian vocalization, Palestinian pointing, Palestinian niqqud or Eretz Israeli vocalization is an extinct system of diacritics (niqqud) devised by the Masoretes of Jerusalem to add to the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible to indicate vowel quality, reflecting the Hebrew of Jerusalem. The Palestinian system is no longer in use, having been supplanted by the Tiberian vocalization system.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Babylonian vocalization</span> Historical system of diacritics for Hebrew

The Babylonian vocalization, also known as Babylonian supralinear punctuation, or Babylonian pointing or Babylonian niqqud Hebrew: נִקּוּד בָּבְלִי‎) is a system of diacritics (niqqud) and vowel symbols assigned above the text and devised by the Masoretes of Babylon to add to the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible to indicate the proper pronunciation of words, reflecting the Hebrew of Babylon. The Babylonian notation is no longer in use in any Jewish community, having been supplanted by the sublinear Tiberian vocalization. However, the Babylonian pronunciation as reflected in that notation appears to be the ancestor of that used by Yemenite Jews.

References

  1. Tiberian Hebrew Phonology: Focussing on Consonant Clusters, Andries W. Coetzee
  2. Blau (2010 :105–106, 115–119)
  3. 1 2 Blau (2010 :111–112)
  4. Steiner (1997 :149)
  5. Blau (2010 :82, 110)
  6. Blau (2010 :117–118)
  7. Sáenz-Badillos (1993 :110)
  8. Yeivin (1980 :281–282)
  9. Blau (2010 :105–106)
  10. Blau (2010 :143–144)

Bibliography