One interesting thing about the Hebrew alphabet (known as the alephbet for its first two letters, the aleph and the bet) is that it contains two characters with no sound. They are silent when alone and may serve as a pause, a spacer. More commonly they are used in conjunction with vowels, giving the vowel sound without a consonant sound modifying it. The two characters are the Aleph, and the Ayin. Either of those two characters can be modified as follows:

Line under-- Sounds like "ah"
"T" under-- Sounds like "ah" or "aw"
1 dot under-- Sounds like "i" in "machine"
2 dots under (horizontal)-- Sounds like "ay"
3 dots under-- Sounds like "eh"
2 dots under (vertical)-- silent if at end of a syllable

Also, the character "Vav" can have vowel sound:

1 dot above-- "o" sound
1 dot in middle-- "oo" sound

Of course, this may all differ a bit depending on Sephardic or Ashkenazic choice of pronunciation.

Edit: Gartogg says "The ayin does have a gutteral sound, like the sound of swallowing, and different israelis either pronounce it, or do not. The grammatical rules reflect it's gutteral nature."
The above write-ups refer primarily to Modern Hebrew, the language of modern Israel. Before that, for about 2000 years, Hebrew was a "dead" language (see note at end), though preserved for liturgical and literary functions. Before that, back in the Biblical period when it was originally a living language, the alphabet was something like this:

?âlep, bêt, gimel, dâlet, hê, wâw, zayin, h!êt, t!êt, yod, kap, lâmed, mêm, nun, sâmek, &ayin, pê, s!âdê, qop, rêsh, shin, tâw.

Each of these 22 is a consonant. I am using the following special symbols for six of the consonants: ? h! t! & s! sh, the same system as in my write-up on Arabic pronunciation.

But the vowels weren't written until almost a thousand years after the consonants: by Jewish scholars called Masoretes preserving the traditional pronunciation. They also indicated some shades of pronunciation in the consonants present in their own day. And this tradition continued right up until the time Hebrew was resurrected as a fully living language last century.

There were seven distinct vowel signs in Ancient Hebrew: I am using the extra symbols â ê for two of them. So these are not length marks here. It is debatable whether this represented a five-vowel system with significant length, or a seven-vowel system where length was less important; possibly there were two distinct traditions. Some of the consonants indicated vowel length in the oldest texts, and probably still did when the rest of the vowels got inserted.

So what is studied as Biblical Hebrew is normally a hybrid, the consonants of 1000-500 BCE, the vowels of 500-1000 CE, and in fact the European pronunciation of that from about 1500-2000. (Modern Hebrew has been filtered through the sound systems of German, Polish, and/or Russian, and lost its characteristically Semitic sounds.) (Later. Aha, TheLady below makes a valuable contribution to my very small knowledge of Modern Hebrew.)

The consonant ? ?âlep (yes I do mean a question mark) was a glottal stop, as in the London no? a lo? "not a lot". The sound & &ayin was the indescribable pharyngeal fricative, and h! h!êt was its voiceless counterpart, like h with the throat constricted. Both of these still occur in Arabic and Somali, but have disappeared from Modern Hebrew. (Again, see TheLady's correction of my ignorance under this.)

The q qop was a uvular stop; and the t! t!êt was probably a pharyngealized t; both also still occur in Arabic.

The six consonants b g d k p t had by the Masoretic period acquired two variants: single between vowels, and finally, they were fricatives v gh dh kh f th (where dh is as in then, kh as in loch). The Masoretes marked these distinctions with points (dots) inside the consonants: whence the usual spellings aleph, beth, daleth etc.

The waw was w as in English, not the v of modern Hebrew; when it changed to this sound it therefore merged with the fricative variety of b.

The sibilants sâmek, s!âdê, shin are problematic. The simplest possibility is that they were respectively s as in English see, emphatic (pharyngealized) s! as in Arabic, and sh as in English shin. However, the Masoretes had to use points to split shin into two different letters, and called one of them sin: it apparently had the plain s sound the same as sâmek. Perhaps the texts were first written in a dialect that didn't have a distinct sin sound. It is now thought likely (by comparison with other Afro-Asiatic languages) that sin originated from a lateral fricative like Welsh ll.

Also, the s! sound later developed into a ts sound (as in Modern Hebrew, also written tz). It might have had this sound quite early. The name Yis!h!aq contains four consonants none of which occurred in Ancient Greek: it was transliterated in the Septuagint as Isaak. This suggests it had not yet become ts, because they could have written Itsaak in Greek.

This is just the alphabet. Under one or more nodes yet to be written I intend to go into details of the Ancient and the Traditional (Masoretic) pronunciations, and the differences between them.

* On "dead" languages: this traditional designation is too crude. Linguists don't have any official terminology to clarify the point, but some "dead" languages, cardinally Hebrew, Latin, and Sanskrit, had no native speakers for between one and two thousand years but were nevertheless widely and fluently used by a large community of people who learnt them as a second language. Though they did not evolve at the same rate as languages learnt in the cradle, they nevertheless changed historically too.


There is a butterfly called Hebrew letter because of its marking.

Modern Hebrew has been filtered through the sound systems of German, Polish, and/or Russian, and lost its characteristically Semitic sounds.

Not quite. Crudely speaking, Hebrew had two separate diasporas - the European diaspora and the North African/Middle Eastern diaspora. Jews who lived on different sides of the Christian/Muslim divide around the Mediterranean basin were isolated from each other by war and the sea, and so two very distinct ways of pronunciation developed. Some of the differences between them have nothing to do with the alphabet, and so I will not go into them here. Just as an example, though, on the Arabic side Hebrew retained all its pharyngal consonants, in keeping with the Arabic.

When Hebrew came to be "ressurected", as Gritchka puts it (although I personally don't see how a language that devolved so much from it ancient origins in 2000 years can be said to have been dead all that time), allowances needed to be made for the pronunciation problems of people (characteristically) from Poland and Morocco. The Poles could never hope to pronounce &ayin or h!êt, but have preserved the gh and dh sounds, which the Moroccans couldn't get their teeth around, as well as having vh (as in war) which I'm not sure was part of the "original" Hebrew. The pharyngal q! and t! were pretty much dead all over by then.

The compromise that was eventually reached basically eliminated everything that anyone couldn't pronounce from the "official" language. Which meant gh, dh, h! and &a had to go. However, one of the things that make Hebrew such a dynamic language is that people who speak it in dialect or a second language are still immigrating to Israel all the time. So even though they might not teach this to linguists, you can still hear plenty of &ains and h!ets all over the place.


At Gritchka's behest, I am appending a note about the whole Sephardi - Ashkenazi Jews thingamypop.

Now. Very roughly speaking, Jews who come from Europe are Ashkenazi Jews (Ashkenaz is actually old Yiddish for Germany), and Jews who come from the Middle East & North Africa are Sephardi Jews. The respective phonologies are therefore known as the Sephardic pronounciation and the Ashkenazi pronounciation.

However. These distinctions are about as historically or genetically accurate a ethnic distinctions generally are, which is why I wouldn't want to make it sound as if these handles are definitive. They're not. They're just handy handles.

For your noding pleasure, the Hebrew Alphabet in HTML codes.

To get any letter, type &#number; (replacing 'number' by the number given):

א - aleph  - 1488
ב - bet    - 1489
ג - gimmel - 1490
ד - daled  - 1491
ה - hay    - 1492
ו - vav    - 1493
ז - zayin  - 1494
ח - chet   - 1495
ט - tet    - 1496
י - yud    - 1497
כ - kaf    - 1499
ל - lamed  - 1500
מ - mem    - 1502
נ - nun    - 1504
ס - samech - 1505
ע - ayin   - 1506
פ - pei    - 1508
צ - tzadi  - 1510
ק - kuf    - 1511
ר - reish  - 1512
ש - shin   - 1513
ת - taf    - 1514
ך - kaf sofit (final kaf)     - 1498
ם - mem sofit (final mem)     - 1501
ן - nun sofit (final nun)     - 1503
ף - pei sofit (final pei)     - 1507
ץ - tzadi sofit (final tzadi) - 1509

As for the Unicodes, well, E2 policy of not breaking copyright does not allow me to actually list the unicode chart, so I'll give the following link, for your unicode-chart-viewing-pleasure:
www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U0590.pdf

I intend this to be a metanode for other Hebrew nodes. I realize most people here wouldn't be able to display Hebrew letters on their computer screen, let alone read Hebrew, and might therefore downvote this node to no end. So be it. I think Hebrew nodes will enrich the Everything2 experience.

The only bad thing is that it is quite hard to write in Hebrew on Everything, since each letter has to be converted to its Unicode representation. Maybe some computer genius can come with a way to solve this. Maybe not.

א - Aleph

ב - Bet

ג - Gimel

ד - Dalet

ה - Heh

ו - Vav

ז - Zayin

ח - Chet

ט - Tet

י - Yod

כ - Kaf

ל - Lamed

מ - Mem

נ - Non

ס - Samech

ע - Ayin
עברית

פ - Peh

צ - Tsadi

ק - Kof

ר - Resh

ש - Shin

ת - Tav

Hebrew
Hebrew alphabet
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda
Aramaic
Gematria
Source code to "Everything in the rest of the world"
Using Unicode on E2
ISO-8859-8

A few simple(?) points, specifically the first write-up suggests that there are many more hebrew letters than there are. While this point is embedded in the other write-ups, I for one was unable to understand them, and I imagine I wasn't the only one. So I've endeavored to clarify a few things.

There are either 22 or 27 hebrew letters, depending on how you look at it.

  1. There are the 22 basic letters.
  2. Within these 22 are 5 letters that are written/printed differently when they appear at the end of a word.
  3. There are 7 letters within the 22 which each have two different ways to be pronounced depending on their usage.
  4. Of these 7, only 4 are universally still pronounced both ways. Some ashkenazim pronounce 5 and some sepharadim pronounce 6. No one currently pronounces the 7th letter (ר), partially because it would rarely ever be pronounced the second way even if people knew how.
  5. There is an 8th letter (ש) which has two pronunciations (pronounced by everyone) but is not considered a double letter.

The 22 letters were listed above and they are: (asterisks mark the one's with dual pronunciation.)((a) denotes pronunciation by some ashkenazim) ((s) denotes pronunciation by some sepharadim) ((m) denotes pronunciation in modern hebrew)
א
ב *(a)(s)(m)
ג *(s)
ד *(s)
ה
ו
ז
ח
ט
י
כ *(a)(s)(m)
ל
מ
נ
ס
ע
פ *(a)(s)(m)
צ
ק
ר
ש (a)(s)(m) (i'm still researching)
ת *(a)(s)

sources: personal experience, the seventh dual-pronunciation letter is mentioned along with the others in the Sefer Yetzirah as well as in other Jewish sefarim.
please correct any errors

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