Hebrew alphabet

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This article is about the alphabet derived from the Aramaic alphabet. For the alphabet derived from the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, see Samaritan script. For the insect, see Hebrew Character.
אבגדהוזחטי
כךלמםנןסעפ
ףצץקרשת  •  
Features: Abjad • Mater lectionis • Begadkefat
Variants: Cursive • Rashi • Braille
Numerals: Gematria • Numeration
Ancillaries: Diacritics • Punctuation • Cantillation
Translit.: Romanization of Hebrew • Hebraization of English • IPA • ISO
Computers: Keyboard • Unicode and HTML
Hebrew alphabet
Alefbet ivri.svg
Type
Languages Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic (see Jewish languages)
Time period
3rd century BCE to present
Parent systems
Sister systems
Nabataean
Syriac
Palmyrene
Mandaic
Brāhmī
Pahlavi
Sogdian
ISO 15924 Hebr, 125
Direction Right-to-left
Unicode alias
Hebrew
U+0590 to U+05FF,
U+FB1D to U+FB4F

The Hebrew alphabet (Hebrew: אָלֶף־בֵּית עִבְרִי[a], alefbet ʿIvri ), known variously by scholars as the Jewish script, square script, block script, is used in the writing of the Hebrew language, as well as other Jewish languages, most notably Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic. There have been two script forms in use; the original old Hebrew script is known as the paleo-Hebrew script (which has been largely preserved, in an altered form, in the Samaritan script), while the present "square" form of the Hebrew alphabet is a stylized form of the Assyrian script. Various "styles" (in current terms, "fonts") of representation of the letters exist. There is also a cursive Hebrew script, which has also varied over time and place.

The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters, of which five have different forms when used at the end of a word. Hebrew is written from right to left. Originally, the alphabet was an abjad consisting only of consonants. Like other abjads, such as the Arabic alphabet, means were later devised to indicate vowels by separate vowel points, known in Hebrew as niqqud. In rabbinic Hebrew, the letters א ה ו י are also used as matres lectionis to represent vowels. When used to write Yiddish, the writing system is a true alphabet (except for borrowed Hebrew words). In modern usage of the alphabet, as in the case of Yiddish (except that ע replaces ה) and to some extent modern Israeli Hebrew, vowels may be indicated. Today, the trend is toward full spelling with these letters acting as true vowels.

History[edit]

A Jewish stele near the archeological excavations of the early medieval walls of Serdica
Aleppo Codex: 10th century CE Hebrew Bible with Masoretic pointing. Text of Joshua 1:1

According to contemporary scholars, the original Hebrew script developed during the late second and first millennia BCE alongside others[citation needed] used in the region. It is closely related to the Phoenician script, which was also an abjad, and which itself probably gave rise to the use of alphabetic writing in Greece (Greek alphabet). A distinct Hebrew variant, called the paleo-Hebrew alphabet, emerged by the 10th century BCE,[1] an example of which is represented in the Gezer calendar.

The paleo-Hebrew alphabet was commonly used in the ancient Israelite kingdoms of Israel and Judah, as well as by the Samaritans. Following the exile of the Kingdom of Judah in the 6th century BCE, in the Babylonian exile, Jews began using a form of the Assyrian script, which was another offshoot of the same family of scripts. During the 3rd century BCE, Jews began to use a stylized, "square" form of the Aramaic alphabet that was used by the Persian Empire (which in turn was adopted from the Assyrians),[2] while the Samaritans continued to use a form of the paleo-Hebrew script, called the Samaritan script. After the fall of the Persian Empire, Jews used both scripts before settling on the Assyrian form. For a limited time thereafter, the use of the paleo-Hebrew script among Jews was retained only to write the Tetragrammaton, but soon that custom was also abandoned.[citation needed]

The square Hebrew alphabet was later adapted and used for writing languages of the Jewish diaspora – such as Karaim, Judæo-Arabic, Ladino, Yiddish, etc. The Hebrew alphabet continued in use for scholarly writing in Hebrew and came again into everyday use with the rebirth of the Hebrew language as a spoken language in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in Israel.

Description[edit]

General[edit]

In the traditional form, the Hebrew alphabet is an abjad consisting only of consonants, written from right to left. It has 22 letters, five of which use different forms at the end of a word.

Vowels[edit]

Hebrew script on the bustier of Jan van Scorel's Maria Magdalena, 1530.
Hebrew Alphabet - souvenir from Israel.

In the traditional form, vowels are indicated by the weak consonants Aleph (א), He (ה), Vav (ו), or Yodh (י) serving as vowel letters, or matres lectionis: the letter is combined with a previous vowel and becomes silent, or by imitation of such cases in the spelling of other forms. Also, a system of vowel points to indicate vowels (diacritics), called niqqud, was developed. In modern forms of the alphabet, as in the case of Yiddish and to some extent modern Israeli Hebrew, vowels may be indicated. Today, the trend is toward full spelling with the weak letters acting as true vowels.

When used to write Yiddish, vowels are indicated, using certain letters, either with or without niqqud-diacritics (e.g., respectively: "אָ", "יִ" or "י", "ע"), except for Hebrew words, which in Yiddish are written in their Hebrew spelling.

To preserve the proper vowel sounds, scholars developed several different sets of vocalization and diacritical symbols called niqqud (ניקוד, literally "applying points"). One of these, the Tiberian system, eventually prevailed. Aaron ben Moses ben Asher, and his family for several generations, are credited for refining and maintaining the system. These points are normally used only for special purposes, such as Biblical books intended for study, in poetry or when teaching the language to children. The Tiberian system also includes a set of cantillation marks used to indicate how scriptural passages should be chanted, used in synagogue recitations of scripture (although these marks do not appear in the scrolls), called "trope". In everyday writing of modern Hebrew, niqqud are absent; however, patterns of how words are derived from Hebrew roots (called shorashim, or root letters) allow Hebrew speakers to determine the vowel-structure of a given word from its consonants based on the word's context and part of speech.

Alphabet[edit]

Neither the old Hebrew script nor the modern Hebrew script have case, but five letters have special final forms,[c] called sofit (Hebrew: סופית‎, meaning in this case "final" or "ending") form, used only at the end of a word, somewhat as in the Greek or in the Arabic and Mandaic alphabets.[b] These are shown below the normal form, in the following table (letter names are Unicode standard[3][4]). Hebrew is read and written from right to left.

Alef Gimel Dalet Zayin Het Tet Yod Kaf
א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ
ך
Lamed Mem Samekh Ayin Tsadi Qof Resh Tav
ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת
ם ן ף ץ

Note: The chart reads from left to right.

Pronunciation of letter names[edit]

letter Name of letter Established pronunciation
in English
[5]
standard Israeli
pronunciation
colloquial Israeli
pronunciation (if differing)
Yiddish / Ashkenazi
pronunciation
MW[5] Unicode[3][4] Hebrew[6]
א Aleph Alef אָלֶף /ˈɑːlɛf/, /ˈɑːlɨf/ /ˈalef/   /ˈalɛf/
בּ Beth Bet בֵּית /bɛθ/, /bt/ /bet/   /bɛɪs/
ב בֵית /vet/ /vɛɪs/
ג Gimel Gimel גִּימל /ˈɡɪməl/ /ˈɡimel/   /ˈɡimːɛl/
ד Daleth Dalet דָּלֶת /ˈdɑːlɨθ/, /ˈdɑːlɛt/ /ˈdalet/ /ˈdaled/ /ˈdalɛs/
ה He He הֵא, הה, הי /h/ /he/ /hej/ /hɛɪ/
ו Waw Vav וָו, ואו, ויו /vɑːv/, /wɑːw/ /vav/   /vɔv/
ז Zayin Zayin זַיִן /ˈz.ɨn/ /ˈzajin/ /ˈza.in/ /ˈzajin/
ח Heth Het חֵית /hɛθ/, /xt/ /ħet/ /χet/ /χɛs/
ט Teth Tet טֵית /tɛθ/, /tt/ /tet/   /tɛs/
י Yod Yod יוֹד /jɔːd/ /jod/ /jud/ /jud/
כּ Kaph Kaf כַּף /kɑːf/ /kaf/   /kɔf/
כ כַף /xɑːf/, /kɑːf/ /χaf/ /χɔf/
ךּ Final Kaf כַּף סוֹפִית /kɑːf/ /kaf sofit/ /laŋɡɛ kɔf/
ך כַף סוֹפִית /xɑːf/, /kɑːf/ /χaf sofit/ /laŋɡɛ χɔf/
ל Lamed Lamed לָמֶד /ˈlɑːmɛd/ /ˈlamed/   /ˈlamɛd/
מ Mem Mem מֵם /mɛm/ /mem/   /mɛm/
ם Final Mem מֵם סוֹפִית /mem sofit/ /ʃlɔs mɛm/
נ Nun Nun נוּן /nn/ /nun/   /nun/
ן Final Nun נוּן סוֹפִית /nun sofit/ /laŋɡɛ nun/
ס Samekh Samekh ְסָמֶך /ˈsɑːmɛk/, /ˈsɑːmɛx/ /ˈsameχ/   /ˈsamɛχ/
ע Ayin Ayin עַיִן /ˈ.ɨn/ /ˈʕajin/ /ˈʔa.in/ /ˈajin/
פּ Pe Pe פֵּא, פה /p/ /pe/ /pej/ /pɛɪ/
פ פֵא, פה /f/ /fe/ /fej/ /fɛɪ/
ף Final Pe פֵּא סוֹפִית, פה סופית /p/, /f/ /pe sofit/ /pej sofit/ /laŋɡɛ fɛɪ/
צ Sadhe Tsadi צַדִי, צדיק /ˈsɑːdə/, /ˈsɑːdi/ /ˈtsadi/   /ˈtsɔdi/, /ˈtsɔdik/, /ˈtsadɛk/
ץ Final Tsadi צַדִי סוֹפִית, צדיק סופית /ˈtsadi sofit/ /laŋɡɛ ˈtsadɛk/
ק Qoph Qof קוֹף /kɔːf/ /kof/ /kuf/ /kuf/
ר Resh Resh רֵישׂ /rɛʃ/, /rʃ/ /ʁeʃ/ /ʁejʃ/ /rɛɪʃ/
שׁ Shin Shin שִׁין /ʃn/, /ʃɪn/ /ʃin/   /ʃin/
שׂ שִׂין /sn/, /sɪn/ /sin/   /sin/
תּ Taw Tav תָּיו, תו /tɑːf/, /tɔːv/ /tav/ /taf/ /tɔv/, /tɔf/
ת תָיו, תָו /sɔv/, /sɔf/

Stylistic variants[edit]

The following table displays typographic and chirographic variants of each letter. For the five letters that have a different final form used at the end of words, the final forms are displayed beneath the regular form.

The three lettering variants currently in use are block, cursive and Rashi. Block and Rashi are used in books. Block lettering dominates, with Rashi lettering typically used for certain editorial inserts (as in the glosses of Isserles to the Shulchan Aruch) or biblical commentaries (as in the commentary of Rashi) in various standard literary works. Cursive is used almost exclusively when handwriting, unless block lettering is desired for stylistic purposes (as in signage).

Letter
name
(Unicode)
Variants
Modern Hebrew Ancestral
Serif Sans-
serif
Mono-
spaced
Cursive Rashi Phoenician Paleo-Hebrew Aramaic
Alef א א א Hebrew letter Alef handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Alef Rashi.png Alef Alef Aleph.svg
Bet ב ב ב Hebrew letter Bet handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Bet Rashi.png Beth Bet Beth.svg
Gimel ג ג ג Hebrew letter Gimel handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Gimel Rashi.png Gimel Gimel Igimel.png
Dalet ד ד ד Hebrew letter Daled handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Daled Rashi.png Daleth Daled Daleth.svg
He ה ה ה Hebrew letter He handwriting.svg Hebrew letter He Rashi.png He Heh He0.svg
Vav ו ו ו Hebrew letter Vav handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Vav Rashi.png Waw Vav Waw.svg
Zayin ז ז ז Hebrew letter Zayin handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Zayin Rashi.png Zayin Zayin Zayin.svg
Het ח ח ח Hebrew letter Het handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Het Rashi.png Heth Khet Heth.svg
Tet ט ט ט Hebrew letter Tet handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Tet Rashi.png Teth Tet Teth.svg
Yod י י י Hebrew letter Yud handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Yud Rashi.png Yodh Yud Yod.svg
Kaf כ כ כ Hebrew letter Kaf handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Kaf-nonfinal Rashi.png Kaf Khof Kaph.svg
Final Kaf ך ך ך Hebrew letter Kaf-final handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Kaf-final Rashi.png
Lamed ל ל ל Hebrew letter Lamed handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Lamed Rashi.png Lamedh Lamed Lamed.svg
Mem מ מ מ Hebrew letter Mem handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Mem-nonfinal Rashi.png Mem Mem Mem.svg
Final Mem ם ם ם Hebrew letter Mem-final handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Mem-final Rashi.png
Nun נ נ נ Hebrew letter Nun handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Nun-nonfinal Rashi.png Nun Nun Nun.svg
Final Nun ן ן ן Hebrew letter Nun-final handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Nun-final Rashi.png
Samekh ס ס ס Hebrew letter Samekh handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Samekh Rashi.png Samekh Samekh Samekh.svg
Ayin ע ע ע Hebrew letter Ayin handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Ayin Rashi.png Ayin Ayin Ayin.svg
Pe פ פ פ Hebrew letter Pe handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Pe-nonfinal Rashi.png Pe Pey Pe0.svg
Final Pe ף ף ף Hebrew letter Pe-final handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Pe-final Rashi.png
Tsadi צ צ צ Hebrew letter Tsadik handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Tsadik-nonfinal Rashi.png Sade Tzadi Sade 1.svg, Sade 2.svg
Final Tsadi ץ ץ ץ Hebrew letter Tsadik-final handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Tsadik-final Rashi.png
Qof ק ק ק Hebrew letter Kuf handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Kuf Rashi.png Qof Quf Qoph.svg
Resh ר ר ר Hebrew letter Resh handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Resh Rashi.png Res Resh Resh.svg
Shin ש ש ש Hebrew letter Shin handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Shin Rashi.png Sin Shin Shin.svg
Tav ת ת ת Hebrew letter Taf handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Taf Rashi.png Taw Tof Taw.svg

Yiddish symbols[edit]

Symbol Explanation
װ ױ ײ ײַ These are intended for Yiddish. They are not used in Hebrew[d].
בֿ The rafe (רפה) diacritic is no longer regularly used in Hebrew. In masoretic manuscripts and some other older texts the soft fricative consonants and sometimes matres lectionis are indicated by a small line on top of the letter. Its use has been largely discontinued in modern printed texts. It is still used to mark fricative consonants in the YIVO orthography of Yiddish.

Numeric values of letters[edit]

Main article: Hebrew numerals

Hebrew letters are used to denote numbers, nowadays used only in specific contexts, e.g. denoting dates in the Hebrew calendar, denoting grades of school in Israel, other listings (e.g. שלב א׳, שלב ב׳ – "phase a, phase b"), commonly in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) in a practice known as gematria, and often in religious contexts.

letter numeric value letter numeric value letter numeric value
א 1 י 10 ק 100
ב 2 כ 20 ר 200
ג 3 ל 30 ש 300
ד 4 מ 40 ת 400
ה 5 נ 50 ך 500
ו 6 ס 60 ם 600
ז 7 ע 70 ן 700
ח 8 פ 80 ף 800
ט 9 צ 90 ץ 900

The numbers 500, 600, 700, 800 and 900 are commonly represented by the juxtapositions ק״ת, ר״ת, ש״ת, ת״ת, and ק״תת respectively. Adding a geresh ("׳") to a letter multiplies its value by one thousand, for example, the year 5769 is portrayed as ה׳תשס״ט, where ה represents 5000, and תשס״ט represents 769.

Transliterations and transcriptions[edit]

The following table lists transliterations and transcriptions of Hebrew letters used in Modern Hebrew.

Clarifications:

  • For some letters, the Academy of the Hebrew Language offers a precise transliteration that differs from the regular standard it has set. When omitted, no such precise alternative exists and the regular standard applies.
  • The IPA phonemic transcription is specified whenever it uses a different symbol from the one used for the regular standard Israeli transliteration.
  • The IPA phonetic transcription is specified whenever it differs from IPA phonemic transcription.

Note: SBL's transliteration system, recommended in its Handbook of Style,[7] differs slightly from the 2006 precise transliteration system of the Academy of the Hebrew Language; for "צ" SBL uses "" (≠ AHL ""), and for בג״ד כפ״ת with no dagesh, SBL uses the same symbols as for with dagesh (i.e. "b", "g", "d", "k", "f", "t").

Hebrew letter Standard
Israeli
transliteration
regular
[8]
standard
Israeli
transliteration
precise
[8]
IPA phonemic
transcription
IPA phonetic
transcription
א
consonantal, in
initial word
positions
none[A1] [ʔ]
א
consonantal, in
non initial word
positions
' ʾ /ʔ/
א
silent
none[A2]
בּ b
ב v
גּ g g
ג
ג׳ ǧ[B1][9] /d͡ʒ/
דּ d d
ד
ה
consonantal
h
ה
silent
none[A3]
ו
consonantal
v w
וּ u
וֹ o [] or [ɔ̝]
ז z
ז׳ ž[B2][9] /ʒ/
ח [C1] /x/ or /χ/ [χ]
dialectical
[ħ]
ט t
י
consonantal
y /j/
י
part of hirik male
(/i/ vowel)
i
י
part of tsere male
(/e/ vowel or
/ei/ diphthong)
e é /e/ or /ej/ [] or [e̞j]/
כּ, ךּ[10] k
כ, ך kh[C2] /x/ or /χ/ [χ]
ל l
מ, ם m
נ, ן n
ס s
ע
in initial or final
word positions
none[A4] ʿ only in initial
word position
[ʔ]
dialectical
/ʕ/
ע
in medial
word positions
' ʿ /ʔ/
dialectical
/ʕ/
פּ[D] p
פ, ף f
צ, ץ ts /t͡s/
צ׳, ץ׳ č[B3][9] /t͡ʃ/
ק k q
ר r [ʀ] or [ʁ]
dialectical
[r] or [ɾ]
שׁ sh š /ʃ/
שׂ s ś
תּ t t
ת
Notes

A1^ 2^ 3^ 4^ In transliterations of modern Israeli Hebrew, initial and final ע (in regular transliteration), silent or initial א, and silent ה are not transliterated. To the eye of readers orientating themselves on Latin (or similar) alphabets, these letters might seem to be transliterated as vowel letters; however, these are in fact transliterations of the vowel diacritics – niqqud (or are representations of the spoken vowels). E.g., in אִם ("if", [ʔim]), אֵם ("mother", [ʔe̞m]) and אֹם ("nut", [ʔo̞m]), the letter א always represents the same consonant: [ʔ] (glottal stop), whereas the vowels /i/, /e/ and /o/ respectively represent the spoken vowel, whether it is orthographically denoted by diacritics or not. Since the Academy of the Hebrew Language ascertains that א in initial position is not transliterated, the symbol for the glottal stop  ʾ  is omitted from the transliteration, and only the subsequent vowels are transliterated (whether or not their corresponding vowel diacritics appeared in the text being transliterated), resulting in "im", "em" and "om", respectively.

B1^ 2^ 3^ The diacritic geresh – "׳" – is used with some other letters as well (ד׳, ח׳, ט׳, ע׳, ר׳, ת׳), but only to transliterate from other languages to Hebrew – never to spell Hebrew words; therefore they were not included in this table (correctly translating a Hebrew text with these letters would require using the spelling in the language from which the transliteration to Hebrew was originally made). The non-standard "ו׳" and "וו" [e1] are sometimes used to represent /w/, which like /d͡ʒ/, /ʒ/ and /t͡ʃ/ appears in Hebrew slang and loanwords.

C1^ 2^ The Sound /χ/ (as "ch" in loch) is often transcribed "ch", inconsistently with the guidelines specified by the Academy of the Hebrew Language: חם /χam/ → "cham"; סכך /sχaχ/ → "schach".

D^ Although the Bible does include a single occurrence of a final pe with a dagesh (Book of Proverbs 30, 6: "אַל-תּוֹסְףְּ עַל-דְּבָרָיו: פֶּן-יוֹכִיחַ בְּךָ וְנִכְזָבְתָּ."), in modern Hebrew /p/ is always represented by pe in its regular, not final, form "פ", even when in final word position, which occurs with loanwords (e.g. שׁוֹפּ /ʃop/ "shop"), foreign names (e.g. פִילִיפּ /ˈfilip/ "Philip") and some slang (e.g. חָרַפּ /χaˈrap/ "slept deeply").

Pronunciation[edit]

The descriptions that follow are based on the pronunciation of modern standard Israeli Hebrew.

Letters א בּ ב ג גּ ג׳ ד דּ ד׳ ה ו וּ וֹ וו , ו׳
(non-standard)[e2]
ז ז׳ ח ט י
IPA [ʔ], [b] [v] [ɡ] [d͡ʒ] [d] [ð] [h~ʔ], [v]~[w] [u] [o̞] [w] [z] [ʒ] [χ]~[ħ] [t] [j]
Letters ‏ִי כּ ךּ
[10]
כ ך ל מ ם נ ן ס ע פּ פ ף צ ץ צ׳ ץ׳ ק ר שׁ שׂ תּ ת ת׳
IPA [i] [k] [χ] [l] [m] [n] [s] [ʔ]~[ʕ], [p] [f] [t͡s] [] [k] [ʁ]~[r] [ʃ] [s] [t] [θ]

Shin and sin[edit]

Further information: Shin (letter)

Shin and sin are represented by the same letter, ש, but are two separate phonemes. They are not mutually allophonic. When vowel diacritics are used, the two phonemes are differentiated with a shin-dot or sin-dot; the shin-dot is above the upper-right side of the letter, and the sin-dot is above the upper-left side of the letter.

Symbol Name Transliteration IPA Example
שׁ (right dot) shin sh /ʃ/ shop
שׂ (left dot) sin s /s/ sour

Historically, left-dot-sin corresponds to Proto-Semitic *ś, which in biblical-Judaic-Hebrew corresponded to a voiceless alveolar lateral fricative /ɬ/, as is evident in Greek transliteration of Hebrew words such as Balsam (בֹּשֶׂם) (the ls - 'שׂ') as is evident in the Targum Onkelos.[citation needed] Rendering of proto-semitic *ś as /ɬ/, is still evident in the Soqotri language.[citation needed]

Dagesh[edit]

Main article: Dagesh

Historically, the consonants ב beth, ג gimel, ד daleth, כ kaf, פ pe and ת tav each had two sounds: one hard (plosive), and one soft (fricative), depending on the position of the letter and other factors. When vowel diacritics are used, the hard sounds are indicated by a central dot called dagesh (דגש), while the soft sounds lack a dagesh. In modern Hebrew, however, the dagesh only changes the pronunciation of ב beth, כ kaf, and פ pe, and doesn't affect the name of the letter. The differences are as follows:

Name With dagesh Without dagesh
Symbol Transliteration IPA Example Symbol Transliteration IPA Example
beth בּ b /b/ bun ב v /v/ van
kaf [10]כּ ךּ k /k/ kangaroo כ ך kh/ch/x /χ/ loch
pe פּ p /p/ pass פ ף f/ph /f/ find

In other dialects (mainly liturgical) there are variations from this pattern.

  • In some Sephardi and Mizrahi dialects, bet without dagesh is pronounced [b], like bet with dagesh
  • In Syrian and Yemenite Hebrew, gimel without dagesh is pronounced [ɣ].
  • In Yemenite Hebrew, and in the Iraqi pronunciation of the word "Adonai", dalet without dagesh is pronounced [ð] as in "these"
  • In Ashkenazi Hebrew, tav without dagesh is pronounced [s] as in "silk"
  • In Iraqi and Yemenite Hebrew, and formerly in some other dialects, tav without dagesh is pronounced [θ] is in "thick"

Identical pronunciation[edit]

In Israel's general population, many consonants have the same pronunciation. They are as follows:

Letters Transliteration Pronunciation (IPA)
א
Alef*
ע
Ayin*
not
transliterated
Usually when in medial word position:
/./
(separation of vowels in a hiatus)
When in initial or final word position, sometimes also in medial word position:
silent
alternatingly
' or /ʔ/
(glottal stop)
ב
Bet (without dagesh)
ו
Vav
v /v/
ח
Het
כ
Kaf (without dagesh)
kh/ch/h /χ/
ט
Tet
ת
Tav
t /t/
כּ
Kaf (with dagesh)
ק
Qof
k /k/
ס
Samekh
שׂ
Sin (with left dot)
s /s/
צ
Tsadi*
תס
Tav-Samekh*
and תשׂ
Tav-Sin*
ts/tz /ts/
צ׳
Tsadi (with geresh)
טשׁ
Tet-Shin*
and תשׁ
Tav-Shin*
ch/tsh (chair) //

* Varyingly

Ancient Hebrew pronunciation[edit]

Some of the variations in sound mentioned above are due to a systematic feature of Ancient Hebrew. The six consonants /b ɡ d k p t/ were pronounced differently depending on their position. These letters were also called BeGeD KeFeT letters /ˌbɡɛdˈkɛfɛt/. The full details are very complex; this summary omits some points. They were pronounced as plosives /b ɡ d k p t/ at the beginning of a syllable, or when doubled. They were pronounced as fricatives /v ɣ ð x f θ/ when preceded by a vowel (commonly indicated with a macron, ḇ ḡ ḏ ḵ p̄ ṯ). The plosive and double pronunciations were indicated by the dagesh. In Modern Hebrew the sounds and have reverted to [d] and [ɡ], respectively, and has become [t], so only the remaining three consonants /b k p/ show variation. ר resh may have also been a "doubled" letter, making the list BeGeD KePoReS. (Sefer Yetzirah, 4:1)

Vowels[edit]

Matres lectionis[edit]

Main article: Mater lectionis

א alef, ה he, ו vav and י yod are letters that can sometimes indicate a vowel instead of a consonant (which would be, respectively, /ʔ/, /h/, /v/ and /j/). When they do, ו and י are considered to constitute part of the vowel designation in combination with a niqqud symbol – a vowel diacritic (whether or not the diacritic is marked), whereas א and ה are considered to be mute, their role being purely indicative of the non-marked vowel.

Letter Name
of letter
Consonant
indicated
when letter
consonantal
Vowel
designation
Name of
vowel designation
Indicated
Vowel
א alef /ʔ/ ê, ệ, ậ, â, ô
ה he /h/ ê, ệ, ậ, â, ô
ו vav /v/ וֹ ḥolám malé ô
וּ shurúq û
י yud /j/ ‏ִי ḥiríq malé î
‏ֵי tseré malé ê, ệ

Vowel points[edit]

Niqqud is the system of dots that help determine vowels and consonants. In Hebrew, all forms of niqqud are often omitted in writing, except for children's books, prayer books, poetry, foreign words, and words which would be ambiguous to pronounce. Israeli Hebrew has five vowel phonemes, /i e a o u/, but many more written symbols for them:

Name Symbol Israeli Hebrew
IPA Transliteration English
example
Hiriq Hebrew Hiriq.svg [i] i mandi
Zeire Hebrew Zeire.svg [], ([e̞j] with
succeeding yod)
e, (ei with
succeeding yod)
men, main
Segol Hebrew Segol.svg [] e men
Patach Hebrew Patah.svg [ä] a father
Kamatz סָ [ä], (or []) a, (or o) father
Holam Haser Hebrew Holam.svg [] o over
Holam Male וֹ [] o over
Shuruk Hebrew Equal Shuruk.svg [u] u moon
Kubutz Hebrew Backslash Qubuz.svg [u] u moon

Note 1: The symbol "ס" represents whatever Hebrew letter is used.
Note 2: The pronunciation of zeire and sometimes segol – with or without the letter yod – is sometimes ei in Modern Hebrew. This is not correct in the normative pronunciation and not consistent in the spoken language.[11]
Note 3: The dagesh, mappiq, and shuruk have different functions, even though they look the same.
Note 4: The letter ו (vav) is used since it can only be represented by that letter.

Meteg[edit]

Main article: Meteg

By adding a vertical line (called Meteg) underneath the letter and to the left of the vowel point, the vowel is made long. The meteg is only used in Biblical Hebrew, not Modern Hebrew.

Sh'va[edit]

Main article: Sh'va

By adding two vertical dots (called Sh'va) underneath the letter, the vowel is made very short.

Name Symbol Israeli Hebrew
IPA Transliteration English
example
Shva Tilde Schwa.svg [] or apostrophe, e,
or nothing
h as pronounced in herb
Reduced Segol Hataf Segol.svg [] e men
Reduced Patach Hataf Patah.svg [ä] a father
Reduced Kamatz
סֳ
[] o father

Comparison table[edit]

Vowel comparison table [12]
Vowel Length
(phonetically not manifested in Israeli Hebrew)
IPA Transliteration English
example
Long Short Very Short
ָ ַ ֲ [ä] a spa
ֵ ֶ ֱ [] e temp
וֹ ָ
[dubious ]
ֳ
[dubious ]
[] o Congo
וּ ֻ n/a [u] u soon
‏ִי ִ [i] i ski
Note I: By adding two vertical dots (sh'va) ְ
the vowel is made very short.
Note II: The short o and long a have the same niqqud.
Note III: The short o is usually promoted to a long o
in Israeli writing for the sake of disambiguation
Note IV: The short u is usually promoted to a long u
in Israeli writing for the sake of disambiguation

Gershayim[edit]

Main article: Gershayim

The symbol ״ is called a gershayim and is a punctuation mark used in the Hebrew language to denote acronyms. It is written before the last letter in the acronym. Gershayim is also the name of a note of cantillation in the reading of the Torah, printed above the accented letter.

Sounds represented with diacritic geresh[edit]

Main articles: Geresh and Hebraization of English

The sounds [t͡ʃ], [d͡ʒ], [ʒ], written "צ׳", "ג׳", "ז׳", and [w], non-standardly sometimes transliterated וו or ו׳[e3], are often found in slang and loanwords that are part of the everyday Hebrew colloquial vocabulary. The apostrophe-looking symbol after the Hebrew letter modifies the pronunciation of the letter and is called a geresh. (As mentioned above, while still done, using ו׳ to represent [w] is non-standard; standard spelling rules allow no usage of ו׳ whatsoever[e4]).

Hebrew slang and loanwords
Name Symbol IPA Transliteration Example
Gimel with a geresh ג׳ [d͡ʒ] ǧ[9] ǧáḥnun [ˈd͡ʒaχnun] גַּ׳חְנוּן
Zayin with a geresh ז׳ [ʒ] ž[9] koláž [koˈlaʒ] קוֹלַאז׳
Tsadi with a geresh צ׳ [t͡ʃ] č[9] čupár (treat) [t͡ʃuˈpar] צ׳וּפָּר
Vav with a geresh
or double Vav
וו or ו׳(non standard)[e5] [w] w awánta (boastful act) [aˈwanta] אַוַּנְטַה

The pronunciation of the following letters can also be modified with the geresh diacritic, the represented sounds are however foreign to Hebrew phonology, i.e., these symbols only represent sounds in foreign words or names when transliterated with the Hebrew alphabet, and never loanwords.

Transliteration of non-native sounds
Name Symbol IPA Arabic letter Example Comment
Dalet with a geresh ד׳ [ð] Dhāl (ذ)
Voiced th
Dhū al-Ḥijjah (ذو الحجة)‎ ד׳ו אל-חיג׳ה * Also used for English voiced th
* Often a simple ד is written.
Tav with a geresh ת׳ [θ] Thāʼ (ﺙ)
Voiceless th
Thurston ת׳רסטון
Ḥet with a geresh ח׳ [χ] Khāʼ (خ) Sheikh (شيخ)‎ שייח׳ * Unlike the other sounds in this table, the sound [χ] represented by ח׳ is indeed a native sound in Hebrew; the geresh is however used only when transliteration must distinguish between [χ] and [ħ], in which case ח׳ transliterates the former and ח the latter, whereas in everyday usage ח without geresh is pronounced [ħ] only dialectically but [χ] commonly.
Resh with a geresh ר׳ or ע׳ [ʁ] Ghayn (غ) Ghajar (غجر) ר׳ג׳ר Sometimes an ʻayin with a geresh (ע׳) is used to transliterate غ – inconsistently with the guidelines specified by the Academy of the Hebrew Language

A geresh is also used to denote acronyms pronounced as a string of letters, and to denote a Hebrew numeral. Geresh also is the name of one of the notes of cantillation in the reading of the Torah, but its appearance and function is different.

Religious use[edit]

The letters of the Hebrew alphabet have played varied roles in Jewish religious literature over the centuries, primarily in mystical texts. Some sources in classical rabbinical literature seem to acknowledge the historical provenance of the currently used Hebrew alphabet and deal with them as a mundane subject (the Jerusalem Talmud, for example, records that "the Israelites took for themselves square calligraphy", and that the letters "came with the Israelites from Ashur [Assyria]");[13] others attribute mystical significance to the letters, connecting them with the process of creation or the redemption. In mystical conceptions, the alphabet is considered eternal, pre-existent to the Earth, and the letters themselves are seen as having holiness and power, sometimes to such an extent that several stories from the Talmud illustrate the idea that they cannot be destroyed.[14]

The idea of the letters' creative power finds its greatest vehicle in the Sefer Yezirah, or Book of Creation, a mystical text of uncertain origin which describes a story of creation highly divergent from that in the Book of Genesis, largely through exposition on the powers of the letters of the alphabet. The supposed creative powers of the letters are also referenced in the Talmud and Zohar.[15][16]

The four-pronged Shin

Another book, the 13th-century Kabbalistic text Sefer HaTemunah, holds that a single letter of unknown pronunciation, held by some to be the four-pronged shin on one side of the teffilin box, is missing from the current alphabet. The world's flaws, the book teaches, are related to the absence of this letter, the eventual revelation of which will repair the universe.[17] Another example of messianic significance attached to the letters is the teaching of Rabbi Eliezer that the five letters of the alphabet with final forms hold the "secret of redemption".[17]

In addition, the letters occasionally feature in aggadic portions of non-mystical rabbinic literature. In such aggada the letters are often given anthropomorphic qualities and depicted as speaking to God. Commonly their shapes are used in parables to illustrate points of ethics or theology. An example from the Babylonian Talmud (a parable intended to discourage speculation about the universe before creation):

Why does the story of creation begin with bet?... In the same manner that the letter bet is closed on all sides and only open in front, similarly you are not permitted to inquire into what is before or what was behind, but only from the actual time of Creation.

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Hagigah, 77c

Extensive instructions about the proper methods of forming the letters are found in Mishnat Soferim, within Mishna Berura of Yisrael Meir Kagan.

Mathematical use[edit]

In set theory letter aleph is used to mark infinite cardinality of a set, for example "number" of all natural numbers is \aleph_0. Similarly beth is used for infinite ordinals. See aleph number and beth number.

Unicode and HTML[edit]

The Unicode Hebrew block extends from U+0590 to U+05FF and from U+FB1D to U+FB4F. It includes letters, ligatures, combining diacritical marks (niqqud and cantillation marks) and punctuation.[3] The Numeric Character References is included for HTML. These can be used in many markup languages, and they are often used in Wiki to create the Hebrew glyphs compatible with the majority of web browsers.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

a^ "Alef-bet" is commonly written in Israeli Hebrew without the maqaf (מקף, "[Hebrew] hyphen"), אלפבית עברי, as opposed to with the hyphen, אלף־בית עברי.

b^ The Arabic letters generally (as six of the primary letters can have only two variants) have four forms, according to their place in the word. The same goes with the Mandaic ones, except for three of the 22 letters, which have only one form.

c^ In forms of Hebrew older than Modern Hebrew, כ״ף, בי״ת and פ״א can only be read b, k and p, respectively, at the beginning of a word, while they will have the sole value of v, kh and f in a sofit (final) position, with few exceptions.[10] In medial positions, both pronunciations are possible. In Modern Hebrew this restriction is not absolute, e.g. פִיזִיקַאי /fiziˈkaj/ and never /piziˈkaj/ (= "physicist"), סְנוֹבּ /snob/ and never /snov/ (= "snob"). A dagesh may be inserted to unambiguously denote the plosive variant: בּ = /b/, כּ = /k/, פּ =/p/; similarly (though today very rare in Hebrew and common only in Yiddish) a rafé placed above the letter unambiguously denotes the fricative variant: בֿ = /v/, כֿ = /χ/ and פֿ = /f/. In Modern Hebrew orthography, the sound [p] at the end of a word is denoted by the regular form "פ", as opposed to the final form "ף", which always denotes [f] (see table of transliterations and transcriptions, comment[D]).

d^ However, וו (two separate vavs), used in Ktiv male, is to be distinguished from the Yiddish ligature װ (also two vavs but together as one character).

e1^ e2^ e3^ e4^ e5^ The Academy of the Hebrew Language states that both [v] and [w] be indistinguishably represented in Hebrew using the letter Vav.[18] Sometimes the Vav is indeed doubled, however not to denote [w] as opposed to [v] but rather, when spelling without niqqud, to denote the phoneme /v/ at a non-initial and non-final position in the word, whereas a single Vav at a non-initial and non-final position in the word in spelling without niqqud denotes one of the phonemes /u/ or /o/. To pronounce foreign words and loanwords containing the sound [w], Hebrew readers must therefore rely on former knowledge and context.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ancient Scripts.com: Old Hebrew
  2. ^ A History of the Hebrew Language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. 1993. ISBN 0-521-55634-1. 
  3. ^ a b c Chart of Hebrew glyphs at unicode.org
  4. ^ a b Unicode names of Hebrew characters at fileformat.info.
  5. ^ a b Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
  6. ^ Kaplan, Aryeh. Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation. pp. 8, 22.
  7. ^ Resources for New Testament Exegesis – Transliteration Standards of The SBL Handbook of Style
  8. ^ a b c d Transliteration guidelines by the Academy of the Hebrew Language, November 2006
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Transliteration guidelines preceding 2006-update, p. 3 Academy of the Hebrew Language
  10. ^ a b c d e "ךּ" is rare but exists, e.g. last word in Deuteronomy 7 1 (דברים פרק ז׳ פסוק א׳) in the word "מִמֶּךָּ" – see תנ״ך מנוקד, דברים פרק ז׳. There is a single occurrence of "ףּ", see this comment[D].
  11. ^ Laufer, Asher (2008). Chapters in Phonetics and Phonetic Transcription. Jerusalem: Magnes. pp. 207–211. ISBN 978-965-493-401-5. 
  12. ^ Hebrew lessons for Christians
  13. ^ Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 21b
  14. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Pesach 87b, Avodah Zarah 18a.
  15. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot 55c
  16. ^ Zohar 1:3; 2:152
  17. ^ a b The Book of Letters. Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock. 1990
  18. ^ "Transliteration Rules" (PDF).  issued by the Academy of the Hebrew Language.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]

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