Hebrew Alphabet Question

I’ve been working on memorizing the Hebrew Alphabet slowly as I’ve studied a bit of Hebrew on my own. But I want to be sure that I’m pronouncing the letters correctly. I’ve checked several grammars, both introductory and reference grammars. But I want to test my information with those of you out there who know Hebrew.

So I ask the impossible question: Is there anyone out there who is familiar both with Hebrew and also the International Phonetic Alphabet??? And if so, could you tell me how accurate my charts below are:

Hebrew Consonants

This chart is read from left to right and then top to bottom that means that with the bgdkpt consonants (though only bkp have the dagesh here) the first Hebrew consonant on the left goes with the top IPA symbol

Hebrew Vowel Pointings

I’ve placed the * at the location of the IPA vowel with the pointing below it and the IPA symbol below that. And yes, I know one of the middle lines is very crooked. And yes, I know my hand writing is terrible.

I’m really counting on John Hobbins who seems to know a bit of everything from Philosophy to Hebrew to be able to say, “Yes.”

Other’s who I have a bit of confidence in are Peter Kirk, my friends at the Better Bibles Blog, and perhaps Iyov (though I’ve had much less interaction with him).

If anyone else is out there who knows both Hebrew and IPA, please let me know how accurate I am, if at all…

10 thoughts on “Hebrew Alphabet Question

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  1. Hey, you should download my Hebrew Alefbet module. It is an interactive module I created and is free for download at my site. It has audio and is quite easy to use. Check it out and let me know what you think. –Michael

  2. Nick, yeah, I spet quite a bit of time working on them. I started at the end – that’s why the last five letters are so much thinner than the others.

  3. The problem is, there are so many possible pronunciations of Hebrew. Which one do you want? Somewhere I have a CC table (for SIL Consistent Changes program) or similar to convert SIL Hebrew to (pseudo-)IPA, but it works properly only for one particular assumed pronunciation of Hebrew.

  4. I have found my CC table, which in fact goes from the SIL transliteration encoding to IPA. Here is an extract giving the main IPA for the consonants and vowels, maybe meaningful only if you understand CC a bit:

    c consonants
    “‘” fol(vowelwdend) > ‘ʔ’ c א ʔ – only when followed by a vowel or at word end
    “‘” > ” c silent when unpointed except at word end
    ‘b’ > ‘v’ c ב v
    ‘B’ > ‘b’ c בּ b
    ‘BB’ > ‘bː’
    ‘g’ > ‘ɣ’ c ג ɣ
    ‘G’ > ‘g’ c גּ g
    ‘GG’ > ‘gː’
    ‘d’ > ‘ð’ c ד ð
    ‘D’ > ‘d’ c דּ d
    ‘DD’ > ‘dː’
    c ‘h’ > ‘h’ c ה h (not word final), zero (word final)
    ‘h’ fol(wdend) > ”
    ‘h’ d247 > ‘h’ c הּ h
    ‘w’ fol(vowelwdend) > ‘w’ c ו w
    ‘ww’ > ‘wː’
    ‘w’ > ” c silent when unpointed except at word end (or in combinations as below)
    c ‘z’ > ‘z’ c ז z
    ‘zz’ > ‘zː’
    ‘x’ > ‘ħ’ c ח ħ
    ‘X’ > ‘tˤ’ c ט tˤ
    ‘XX’ > ‘tˤː’
    ‘y’ fol(vowelwdend) > ‘j’ c י j
    ‘yy’ > ‘jː’
    ‘y’ > ” c silent when unpointed except at word end (or in combinations as below)
    ‘k’ > ‘x’ c כ x
    ‘K’ > ‘k’ c כּ k
    ‘KK’ > ‘kː’
    c ‘l’ > ‘l’ c ל l
    ‘ll’ > ‘lː’
    c ‘m’ > ‘m’ c מ m
    ‘mm’ > ‘mː’
    c ‘n’ > ‘n’ c נ n
    ‘nn’ > ‘n:’
    c ‘s’ > ‘s’ c ס s
    ‘ss’ > ‘sː’
    ‘v’ > ‘ʕ’ c ע ʕ
    ‘p’ > ‘f’ c פ f
    ‘P’ > ‘p’ c פּ p
    ‘PP’ > ‘pː’
    ‘c’ > ‘sˤ’ c צ sˤ
    ‘cc’ > ‘sˤː’
    c ‘q’ > ‘q’ c ק q
    ‘qq’ > ‘qː’
    c ‘r’ > ‘r’ c ר r (but the exact quality of this is very uncertain)
    ‘rr’ > ‘rː’ c very rare but does occur a couple of times
    ‘W’ > ‘s’ c שׂ s (?? – probably originally ɬ but sounded like s by Tiberian times)
    ‘WW’ > ‘sː’
    ‘S’ > ” c dotless shin, found only in “Issachar” where it can be dropped
    ‘S’ prec(wdend) > ‘s’ c and one place in Isaiah 46:4 following maqqef where it should be read as sin
    ‘H’ > ‘ʃ’ c שׁ ʃ
    ‘HH’ > ‘ʃː’
    ‘t’ > ‘θ’ c ת θ
    ‘T’ > ‘t’ c תּ t
    ‘TT’ > ‘tː’

    c vowels

    ‘A’ > ‘ɑː’ c ָ ɑː (long), ɔ (short)
    d228 > ‘ɑː’
    ‘Ayw’ fol(wdend) > ‘ɑːw’
    ‘o’ > ‘ɔ’
    d243 > ‘ɔ̆’ c ֳ ɔ̆
    c ‘a’ > ‘a’ c ַ a
    d242 > ‘a’ c furtive patah
    d225 > ‘ă’ c ֲ ă
    ‘E’ > ‘eː’ c ֵ eː
    d202 > ‘eː’
    d203 > ‘eː’
    ‘e’ > ‘ɛ’ c ֶ ɛ
    d234 > ‘ɛ’
    d235 > ‘ɛ’
    d233 > ‘ɛ̆’ c ֱ ɛ̆
    d252 > ‘ə̆’ c ְ ə̆ (voiced), zero (silent)
    d248 > ”
    c ‘i’ > ‘i’ c ִ i
    ‘iy’ > ‘iː’ c ִי iː
    d236 > ‘iː’
    d238 > ‘iː’
    ‘O’ > ‘oː’ c ֹ oː
    d244 > ‘oː’ c וֹ oː
    d245 > ‘oː’
    d246 > ‘oː’
    d251 > ‘uː’ c וּ uː
    d249 > ‘uː’
    c ‘u’ > ‘u’ c ֻ u

    Whether this pronunciation is more accurate than yours given above is very uncertain.

  5. I’m not familiar with CC, but I think I can figure it out. Regardless of which is more accurate, it at least gives me something to compare it to. My chart is based on a comparison of several reference grammars.

    Thanks Peter, this is very helpful.

  6. Peter is correct that there are numerous pronunciations of Hebrew. Most people learning Hebrew for the first time learn a simplified version of Sephardic Israeli pronunciation. I prefer to use “yeshiva”-ish Americanized Ashkenazi pronunciation. Other pronunciations alter the vowel structure so much that “Torah” comes out sounding like “tater” — causing one to wonder what the focus is on potatoes.

    Yemenite pronunciation is often considered to be the “purist” (retaining distinct sounds for each vowel and consonant). I’ve tried to use Yemenite pronunciation but to many sounds are difficult for my American Engish trained tongue.

    If you go to the library and look at Encyclopedia Judaica they have an exhaustively complete discussion of Hebrew pronunciation.

  7. Thanks Iyov.

    My main frustration was that all the grammars I examined gave vague and imprecise descriptions: “this sounds like the English X.” So what I’ve done is probably a bit of a patchwork. I have more or less distinct sounds for each of the consonants on my chart (though I only put in the dagesh for three). But for the vowels, I have eight different volumes with up to three different vowel lengths.

    But I appreciate your imput. I think my pronunciation will be reasonably close enough – and I’ll officially be taking a class within the next year if all goes well.

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