Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fact-Checking -- The Language

This is also the introductory posting for the Hebrew lessons I promised. 

I said before it will be hard for you to appreciate some of the things I write on this thread if you don't know Hebrew.  I gave you links to the two parts of a free online Hebrew grammar specifically for Jewish classics.  It's a Victorian-era work; Modern Israeli Hebrew didn't exist at the time:
As a Victorian-era text, Kalisch's work may not get you what you want fast enough.  My lessons will go verse by verse with transliterations, translations, vocabulary, grammar notes, and also how each verse relates to Jewish culture.

If you do one Hebrew lesson every time you read a post on this thread, by the time you finish this thread, you should be able to read the Torah in Hebrew and also, as I put it, be able to "fish", answer questions for yourself.

Here’s a description, which has some terms you need to know, so read this part even if you stop at the end of it.

The Hebrew alphabet is really a syllabary.  Each letter is thought of, by default, as a consonant plus “a” as in “father”.  Except for two letters which have no sound of their own.

Somebody I know who read some ancient book on Hebrew thought these two letters represented glottal stops.  Not in spoken Hebrew they don’t.  Not even in the traditional chant used to read Torah on Sabbath in the synagogue.  They are a matter of spelling, not a matter of pronunciation.

There has been some speculation that one of them originally had a sort of glided sound in the throat like the Greek gamma, and that was used to explain why the Septuagint (Greek) version of the Torah has “Gomorrah” when in Hebrew it’s pronounced “Amorah.”  The cursive Hebrew letter even looks like a Greek gamma.

It doesn’t have that sound now, so don’t sweat it.  I just included that factoid because you might hear about it some time.

Sofit    This is a description of some Hebrew letters which have two shapes, one of which only appears at the end of a word.  Count yourself lucky.  Arabic has four shapes for some letters, and so does its descendant Syriac.

One letter does have four forms, if you want to count it that way: one plain with the “kh” sound back in your throat; one with a dot in it that is “k”; one at the end of a word with a vowel that makes it “kha” which is a masculine gender ending; and one at the end of a word with a shva in it that makes it “kh” again, a feminine gender ending.

Dagesh  This is a dot in the middle of some letters.  It changes the sound of some of them.  It is part of the spelling rules and all you care about is to recognize when you have to say a letter differently because of dagesh.  Some letters never take dagesh and I’ll point them out.

Shva  is two vertically placed dots under a letter.  This is also a spelling rule, but sometimes shva has a sound you may have been taught about in school, the schwa e, which is kind of a half-vowel sound.  Schwa is a German version of shva. 

Now go to the Hebrew thread for the rest of the introductory info.

© Patricia Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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