Tiberian vocalization

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Closeup of Aleppo Codex, Joshua 1:1

The Tiberian vocalization, Tiberian pointing, or Tiberian niqqud (Hebrew: נִיקוּד טְבֵרִיָנִיNikkud Tveriyani) 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. [1] The system soon became used to vocalize other Hebrew texts, as well.

Hebrew language Semitic language native to Israel

Hebrew is a Northwest Semitic language native to Israel, the modern version of which is spoken by over nine million people worldwide. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites and their ancestors, although the language was not referred to by the name "Hebrew" in the Tanakh itself. The earliest examples of written Paleo-Hebrew date from the 10th century BCE. Hebrew belongs to the West Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Hebrew is the only Canaanite language still spoken, and the only truly successful example of a revived dead language.

A diacritic – also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent – is a glyph added to a letter or basic glyph. The term derives from the Ancient Greek διακριτικός, from διακρίνω. Diacritic is primarily an adjective, though sometimes used as a noun, whereas diacritical is only ever an adjective. Some diacritical marks, such as the acute ( ´ ) and grave ( ` ), are often called accents. Diacritical marks may appear above or below a letter, or in some other position such as within the letter or between two letters.

In Hebrew orthography, niqqud or nikkud is a system of diacritical signs used to represent vowels or distinguish between alternative pronunciations of letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Several such diacritical systems were developed in the Early Middle Ages. The most widespread system, and the only one still used to a significant degree today, was created by the Masoretes of Tiberias in the second half of the first millennium AD in the Land of Israel. Text written with niqqud is called ktiv menuqad.


The Tiberian vocalization marks vowels and stress, makes fine distinctions of consonant quality and length, and serves as punctuation. While the Tiberian system was devised for Tiberian Hebrew, it has become the dominant system for vocalizing all forms of Hebrew and has long since eclipsed the Babylonian and Palestinian vocalization systems.

Tiberian Hebrew form of the Hebrew language in liturgical use by the Jews of Judea during the 8th to 10th centuries, as marked by the Tiberian vocalization of the Masoretic text

Tiberian Hebrew is the canonical pronunciation of the Hebrew Bible or 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, which employed diacritics added to the Hebrew letters: vowel signs and consonant diacritics (nequdot) and the so-called accents. These together with the marginal notes masora magna and masora parva make up the Tiberian apparatus.

Babylonian vocalization system of diacritics developed by the Masoretes to mark the pronunciation of Biblical text, reflecting the Hebrew of Babylon

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.

Palestinian vocalization system of diacritics devised by the Masoretes of Jerusalem to mark the pronunciation of the Hebrew Bible, reflecting the Hebrew of Jerusalem; no longer used today in favour of the Tiberian vocalization

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.

Consonant diacritics

The sin dot distinguishes between the two values of ש. A dagesh indicates a consonant is geminate or unspirantized, and a raphe indicates spirantization. The mappiq indicates that ה is consonantal, not silent, in syllable-coda position.

The dagesh is a diacritic used in the Hebrew alphabet. It was added to the Hebrew orthography at the same time as the Masoretic system of niqqud. It takes the form of a dot placed inside a Hebrew letter and has the effect of modifying the sound in one of two ways.

Rafe diacritical mark used in Hebrew

In Hebrew orthography the rafe, or more commonly spelt raphe, is a diacritic, a subtle horizontal overbar placed above certain letters to indicate that they are to be pronounced as fricatives.


The mappiq is a diacritic used in the Hebrew alphabet. It is part of the Masoretes' system of niqqud, and was added to Hebrew orthography at the same time. It takes the form of a dot in the middle of a letter. An identical point with a different phonetic function is called a dagesh.

Vowel diacritics

The seven vowel qualities of Tiberian Hebrew are indicated straightforwardly by distinct diacritics:

niqqud with אאַאֶאֵאִאָאֹאֻאוּ
name patah segol tzere hiriq qamatz holam qubutz shuruq

The diacritics qubutz and shuruq both represent /u/, but shuruq is used when the text uses full spelling (with waw as a mater lectionis). Each of the vowel phonemes could be allophonically lengthened; occasionally, the length is marked with metheg. (Then, metheg also can indirectly indicate when a following shva is vocal.)

Waw/Vav is the sixth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician wāw, Aramaic waw, Hebrew vavו, Syriac waw ܘ and Arabic wāw و.

In the spelling of Hebrew and some other Semitic languages, matres lectionis are certain consonants that are used to indicate a vowel. The letters that do this in Hebrew are alephא, heה, wawו and yodי. The yod and waw in particular are more often vowels than they are consonants.

Shva or, in Biblical Hebrew, shĕwa is a Hebrew niqqud vowel sign written as two vertical dots beneath a letter. It indicates either the phoneme or the complete absence of a vowel (Ø).

The ultrashort vowels are slightly more complicated. There were two graphemes corresponding to the vowel /ă/, attested by alternations in manuscripts like ארֲריך~ארְריך, ואשמֳעָה~ואשמְעָה.. [2] In addition, one of the graphemes could also be silent:

niqqud with אאְאֲאֱאֳ
name shva hataf patah hataf segol hataf qamatz
value/ă/, ⌀/ă//ɛ̆//ɔ̆/
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.

Shva was used both to indicate lack of a vowel (quiescent šwa, shva nah) and as another symbol to represent the phoneme /ă/ (mobile šwa, shva na), the latter also represented by hataf patah. [2] [3] The phoneme /ă/ had a number of allophones; /ă/ had to be written with shva rather than hataf patah when it was not pronounced as [ă]. [4] Before a laryngeal-pharyngeal, mobile šwa was pronounced as an ultrashort copy of the following vowel (וּבָקְעָה[uvɔqɔ̆ʕɔ]) and as [ĭ] preceding /j/, (תְדֵמְּיוּ֫נִי/θăðammĭjuni/). [2] Using ḥataf vowels was mandatory under gutturals but optional under other letters, and there was considerable variation among manuscripts. [5]

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=ĭ) 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.


Cantillation signs mark stress and punctuation. Metheg may mark secondary stress, and maqqaf conjoins words into one stress unit, which normally takes only one cantillation mark on the final word in the unit.

See also

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Modern Hebrew is phonetically simpler than Biblical Hebrew and has fewer phonemes, but it is phonologically more complex. It has 25 to 27 consonants and 5 to 10 vowels, depending on the speaker and the analysis.

Schwa mid-central vowel sound

In linguistics, specifically phonetics and phonology, schwa is the mid central vowel sound in the middle of the vowel chart, denoted by the IPA symbol, or another vowel sound close to that position. An example in English is the vowel sound of the "a" in the word about. Schwa in English is mainly found in unstressed positions, but in some other languages it occurs more frequently as a stressed vowel.

Vocalization or vocalisation may refer to:

Biblical Hebrew stage of the Hebrew language written and spoken during the composition of the Bible

Biblical Hebrew, also called classical Hebrew, is an archaic form of Hebrew, a Canaanite Semitic language spoken by the Israelites in the area known as Israel, roughly west of the Jordan River and east of the Mediterranean Sea. The term "Hebrew" was not used for the language in the Bible, which was referred to as שפת כנען or יהודית, but the name was used in Greek and Mishnaic Hebrew texts.

Romanization of Hebrew transcription of Hebrew into the Latin alphabet

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

Segol is a Hebrew niqqud vowel sign that is represented by three dots forming an upside down equilateral triangle "ֶ ". As such, it resembles an upside down therefore sign underneath a letter. In modern Hebrew, it indicates the phoneme which is similar to "e" in the English word sound in sell and is transliterated as an e.

Geresh is a sign in Hebrew writing. It has two meanings.

  1. An apostrophe-like sign placed after a letter:
  2. A note of cantillation in the reading of the Torah and other Biblical books, taking the form of a curved diagonal stroke placed above a letter.

Pataḥ is a Hebrew niqqud vowel sign represented by a horizontal line ⟨ אַ ⟩ underneath a letter. In modern Hebrew, it indicates the phoneme which is close to the "a" sound in the English word far and is transliterated as an a.

Kamatz or qamatz is a Hebrew niqqud (vowel) sign represented by two perpendicular lines ⟨ ָ  ⟩ underneath a letter. In modern Hebrew (Sephardi/Israeli), it usually indicates the phoneme which is close to the "a" sound in the English word far 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.

Tzere is a Hebrew niqqud vowel sign represented by two dots "◌ֵ" underneath a letter. In modern Hebrew, tzere is pronounced the same as and indicates the phoneme /e/ which is the same as the "e" sound in sell and is transliterated as an "e". There was a distinction in Tiberian Hebrew between segol and Tzere.

Kubutz and Shuruk are two Hebrew niqqud vowel signs that represent the sound. Kubutz is a short u and Shuruk is long u.. In an alternate, Ashkenazi naming, the Kubutz is called "Shuruk" and Shuruk is called "Melopum".

Hebrew orthography includes three types of diacritics:


Meteg is a punctuation mark used in Biblical Hebrew for stress marking. It is a vertical bar placed under the affected syllable.

Biblical Hebrew orthography refers to the various systems which have been used to write the Biblical Hebrew language. Biblical Hebrew has been written in a number of different writing systems over time, and in those systems its spelling and punctuation have also undergone changes.


  1. The portions of the Hebrew Bible in Biblical Aramaic use the same system of vocalization.
  2. 1 2 3 Blau (2010 :105–106)
  3. Blau (2010 :117–118)
  4. Blau (2010 :118)
  5. Yeivin (1980 :283)