Yemenite Hebrew

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Yemenite Hebrew (Hebrew: עִבְֿרִיתֿ תֵּימָנִיתֿ ‘iḇrīṯ tēmānīṯ, Arabic: العبرية اليمنيةal-‘ibriyyah al-yamaniyyah), also referred to as Temani Hebrew, is the pronunciation system for Biblical and liturgical Hebrew traditionally used by Yemenite Jews. Yemenite Jews brought their language to Israel through immigration. Their first organized immigration to the region began in 1882.

It is believed by some scholars that its phonology was heavily influenced by spoken Yemeni Arabic. Yet, according to other scholars as well as Rabbis including Rabbi Yosef Qafih and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Temani Hebrew was not influenced by Yemenite Arabic, as this type of Arabic was also spoken by Yemenite Jews and is distinct from the liturgical Hebrew and the conversational Hebrew of the communities.[1] Among other things, Rabbi Qafih notes that the Yemenite Jews spoke Arabic with a distinct Jewish flavor, inclusive of pronouncing many Arabic words with vowels foreign to the Arabic language, e.g., the קמץ and צירי.[2] Hence, pronunciation of Yemenite Hebrew was not only uninfluenced by Arabic, but it influenced the pronunciation of Arabic by the Jews, despite the Jewish presence in Yemen for over a millennium.

Among the dialects of Hebrew preserved into modern times, Yemenite Hebrew is regarded as one of the forms closest to Hebrew as used in ancient times, particularly Tiberian Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew. This is evidenced in part by the fact that Yemenite Hebrew preserves a separate sound for every consonant - except for ס sāmeḵ and שׂ śîn, which are both pronounced /s/,[3] but which had already merged in ancient times, as evident in the spelling variants in the Dead Sea Scrolls.[4]

Distinguishing features[edit]

  • There are double pronunciations for all six bəgadkəpat letters: gímel without dāḡēš is pronounced غ /ɣ/ like Arabic ġayn, and dāleṯ without dāḡēš is pronounced ذ /ð/ as in "this".
  • The pronunciation of tāv without dāḡēš as ث /θ/ as in "thick" is shared with other Mizrahi Hebrew dialects such as Iraqi.
  • Vāv is pronounced /w/ as in Iraqi Hebrew and as و in Arabic.
  • Emphatic and guttural letters have nearly the same sounds, and are produced from deep in the throat, as in Arabic; the voiceless pharyngeal fricative of ḥêṯ Hebrew: ח is equivalent to the Arabic character ح /ħ/, while ʻáyin Hebrew: ע is ع /ʕ/. The Sefardic pronunciation of ח and ע, however, is of a weaker nature.
  • There is no distinction between the vowels paṯaḥ and səḡôl all being pronounced /æ(ː)/ like Arabic fatḥa (this feature may reflect Arabic influence, but is also found in old Babylonian Hebrew, where a single symbol was used for all three). A šəwâ nāʻ, however, is identical to a חטף פתח and חטף סגול.
  • Šəwâ nāʻ follows Tiberian conventions: /i/ before yôḏ, assimilated to the vowel of a following guttural consonant (ʼālep̄, , ḥêṯ, ʻáyin), and /æ/ elsewhere.
  • Qāmeṣ gāḏôl is pronounced /ɔː/, as in Ashkenazi Hebrew. The Yemenite pronunciation for קמץ גדול and קמץ קטן is identical.
  • Final with mappîq (a dot in the centre) has an aspirated sound, generally stronger sounding than the regular . אַלַף with a dagesh (a dot) - a rare occurrence - is pronounced, e.g., the word וַיָּבִיאּוּ in Genesis 43:26.[5]
  • A semivocalic sound is heard before paṯaḥ gānûḇ (paṯaḥ coming between a long vowel and a final guttural): thus rûaḥ (spirit) sounds like rúwwaḥ and sîaḥ (speech) sounds like síyyaḥ. (This is shared with other Mizrahi pronunciations, such as the Syrian.)

Yemenite pronunciation is not uniform, and Morag has distinguished five sub-dialects, of which the best known is probably Sana'ani, originally spoken by Jews in and around Sana'a. Roughly, the points of difference are as follows:

  • In some dialects, ḥōlem (long "o" in modern Hebrew) is pronounced /øː/ (anywhere from non-rhotic English "er" to German o-umlaut), while in others it is pronounced /eː/ like ṣêrệ. (This last pronunciation is shared with Lithuanian Jews.)
  • In some dialects, gímel with dāḡēš is pronounced like English "j" /dʒ/, and qôp̄ is pronounced /ɡ/. In others, gímel with dāḡēš is /ɡ/, and qôp̄ is Classical Arabic uvular ق /q/. (This reflects the difference between the Sana'ani and Adeni dialects of Yemeni Arabic.)
  • Some dialects (e.g. Sharab) do not differentiate between bêṯ with dāḡēš and without. This is in accordance with most of Mizrahi Hebrew.
  • Sana'ani Hebrew primarily places stress on the penultimate syllable, as in Ashkenazi Hebrew.

History[edit]

Yemenite Hebrew may have been derived from, or influenced by, the Hebrew of the Geonic era Babylonian Jews: the oldest Yemenite manuscripts use the Babylonian rather than the Tiberian system of vowel symbols, and which is believed to antedate the Tiberian vowel system.[6] In certain respects, such as the assimilation of paṯaḥ and səġūl, the current Yemenite pronunciation fits the Babylonian notation better than the Tiberian. It does not follow, as claimed by some scholars, that the pronunciation of the two communities was identical, any more than the pronunciation of Sephardim and Ashkenazim is the same because both use the Tiberian symbols. In fact there are certain characteristic scribal errors, such as the confusion of ḥōlam with ṣêrệ, found only or mainly in the Yemenite manuscripts[citation needed], indicating that the assimilation of these two vowels was always a Yemenite peculiarity, or else a local variant within the wider Babylonian family, which the Yemenites happened to follow. It should be noted that these sounds are only identical in a minority of Yemenite Jews (e.g. the Sharabi Yemenite Jews), as opposed to that of the Sana'ani pronunciation which most Yemenite Jews use.

The following chart shows the seven vowel paradigms found in the Babylonian supralinear punctuation, which are reflected to this day by the Yemenite pronunciation of Biblical lections and liturgies, though they now use the Tiberian symbols. For example, there is no separate symbol for the Tiberian səġūl and the pataḥ, and amongst Yemenites they have nearly the same phonetic sound.[7]

vowels with ב Supralinear--qamas.jpg Supralinear--patah.jpg Supralinear--sere.jpg Supralinear--mobile shewa.jpg Supralinear--holam.jpg Supralinear--hiraq.jpg Supralinear--shuraq.jpg
Tiberian
equivalent
qameṣ[8] paṯaḥ,
segūl
ṣerê[9] shewā mobile
(šĕwā naʻ)[10][11]
ḥōlam[12] ḥiraq šūraq,
qubbūṣ
value /o/ /a/ /ei/ /ĕ/ /äu/ /i/ /u/

Strict application of Mobile Shewā[edit]

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and Rabbi Jacob Saphir have praised the Yemenites in their correct pronunciation of the Hebrew language.[13] To this day they read the biblical lections and liturgies according to what is prescribed for Hebrew grammar, being meticulous to pronounce the mobile šĕwā Hebrew: שוא נע in each of its changing forms. While most other communities will also adhere to the rule of mobile šĕwā whenever two šĕwās are written one after the other, as in Hebrew: יִכְתְּבוּ, most have forgotten its other usages.

Mobile shĕwā

Aharon Ben-Asher, in his treatise on the proper usage of Hebrew vowels and trope symbols, writes on the šĕwā: “[It is] the servant of all the letters in the entire Scriptures, whether at the beginning of the word, or in the middle of the word, or at the end of the word; whether what is pronounced by the tongue or not pronounced, for it has many ways… However, if it is joined with one of four [guttural] letters, א ח ה ע, its manner [of pronunciation] will be like the manner of the vowel of the second letter in that word, such as: בְּֽהֹנוֹת ידיהם ורגליהם (Jud. 1:7) = bohonoth; מתי פתים תְּֽאֵהֲבוּ פתי (Prov. 1:22) = tei’eihavu; עיניו לְֽחֵלְכָה יצפנו (Ps. 10:8) = leiḥeiləkhah; שריה רְֽעֵלָיָה מרדכי (Ezra 2:2) = reiʻeiloyoh.”[14]

Mobile shewa (shĕwā-jiʻya)

Regarding the mobile šĕwā and its usage amongst Yemenite Jews, Israeli grammarian, Shelomo Morag, wrote: [15] “The pronunciation of the šĕwā mobile preceding א, ה, ח, ע, or ר in the Yemenite tradition is realized in accordance with the vowel following the guttural; quantitatively, however, this is an ultra-short vowel. For example, a word such as Hebrew: וְחוּט is pronounced wuḥuṭ. A šĕwā preceding a yōḏ is pronounced as an ultra-short ḥīreq: the word Hebrew: בְּיוֹם is pronounced biyōm. This is the way the šĕwā is known to have been pronounced in the Tiberian tradition.”

Other examples of words where the mobile šĕwā in the same word will take-up the phonetic sound of the vowel assigned to the adjacent guttural letter,[16] or where a mobile šĕwā preceding the letter yod (י) will take up the phonetic sound of the yod, can be seen in the following:

  • (Gen. 48:21) Hebrew: וְהֵשִׁיב = weiheishiv
  • (Gen. 49:30) Hebrew: בַּמְּעָרָה = bamoʻoroh
  • (Gen. 50:10) Hebrew: בְּעֵבֶר = beiʻeiver
  • (Exo. 7:27) Hebrew: וְאִם = wi’im
  • (Exo. 20:23) Hebrew: מִזְבְּחִי = mizbiḥī
  • (Deut. 11:13) Hebrew: וְהָיָה = wohoyoh
  • (Psalm 92:1-3)

מִזְמוֹר שִׁיר לְיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת. טוֹב לְהֹדוֹת לַה' וּלְזַמֵּר לְשִׁמְךָ עֶלְיון. לְהַגִּיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ בַּלֵּילוֹת

(vs. 1) liyom -- (vs. 2) lohodoth -- (vs. 3) lahağīd

The above rule applies only to when one of the four guttural letters (אחהע), or a yod (י) or a resh (ר) follows the mobile šĕwā, but does not apply to the other letters which, in their case, the mobile šĕwā is always read as a short-sounding pataḥ.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Rav Kook's Orah Mishpat question regarding Kiryat Sh'ma "וביחוד למי שמשנה ממבטא התימני המוחזק אצלם מדורות הראשונים שהוא המדויק שבמבטאים כמפורסם שבודאי אסור לעשות כן".
  2. ^ "מסורות הגייה ושליטת העברית בקרב יהודי תימן" in Rabbi Yosef Qafih's Collected Papers, volume 2, pages 943-946 (Hebrew). Following is a relevant portion thereof: טענה זו אמנם אפשרית באופן תיאורי ואפשר להשליכה לא רק כאן אלא גם בכל מקום אחר, אלא שהיא מצד מהותה טענה מאוד תלוּשה וזקוּקה היא לבסיס כל שהוּא שתחול עליו, אחרת, הרי היא נשארת מרחפת ללא תנוחה ודינה להתנדף ולהעלם, כי כל ממש אין בה. כל שכן כאשר אנו מוצאים כדמות ראיה לאידך גיסא, כלומר, במצאנו בניב העברית של יהוּדי תימן דבר שאינו בשפת הסביבה, יש בכך משוּם הוכחה שמסורת זו שמרה על כלילוּתה וסגוּלותיה הייחוּדית. ננסה להדגים בשני מישורים, במישור הסימניות, כלומר, האותות, ובמישור התנוּעות. האות פ הדגוּשה, הברה זו אינה מצוּיה בשפה הערבית ואין דוברי הערבית מסכּינים לבטאה, וכאשר מזדמנת להם אות זו במלים משפה זרה, מחליפים אותה באות ב. ואילוּ היהוּדים מבטאים אותה בקלוּת ומבחינים היטב בינה לבין כל הברה אחרת הדומה לה, כדרך שהם מבחינים היטב בשאר כל אותות בגד כפת הדגוּשות והרפוּיות. שניה לה האות ב הרפוּיה. גם הברה זו אינה מצוּיה בשפה הערבית ויהוּדי תימן מבטאים אותה בקלוּת וּללא כל מאמץ, ואילוּ הערבים כאשר מזוּמנת להם הברה זו בציטוט משפה זרה מבטאים אותה כאות פ הרפוּיה המצוּיה בלשונם — כי לא הסכּינוּ לה. שתי אלה ודומיהם שׂמים לאַל לדעתי את הטענה, כי הבחנת יהוּדי תימן בין ג רפוּיה ודגוּשה באה להם מן הערבית, למרות שבעלי טענה זו אין להם תחליף ייחוּדי להברות אלה, כי אילוּ היה ממש בטענת ההשפּעה הערבית, איכה נשתמרוּ להם ליהודי תימן הברות עבריות יחוּדיות אלה, אמור מעתה מציאוּתם של הברות בלעדיות כגון אלה מקשים ומכבידים על תחוּלתה של טענת ההשפּעה הזרה.
  3. ^ S. Morag, 'Pronunciations of Hebrew', Encyclopaedia Judaica XIII, 1120-1145
  4. ^ Elisha Qimron, The Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Harvard Semitic Studies 29, 1986:29. However, the precise pronunciation of the phoneme /s/ in the Dead Sea Scrolls requires a reexamination of Hebrew, Punic, and Greek.
  5. ^ As is heard in the recording of Aharon Amram's cantillation (mms://media.jvod.info/Nosach/Aharon_Amram/PARACHA/1_10_7_miketz.mp3 [which begins with verse 24]).
  6. ^ The Targum of Isaiah – with supralinear punctuation (ed. J.F. Stenning), Oxford 1949, Introduction (pp. ix–x)
  7. ^ Shelomo Morag, Ha-Ivrit she-be-fi Yehude Teman (Hebrew as pronounced by Yemenite Jews), Academy of the Hebrew Language: Jerusalem 1963, pp. 92-99; 119-120 (Hebrew)
  8. ^ The Yemenite pronunciation of this vowel is like the Ashkenazic pronunciation thereof or like the ḥolam in the Sefardic pronunciation (Rabbi Kapach, Collected Papers volume 2, page 931). According to an ancient Judeo-Arabic work on Hebrew grammar, Maḥberet Ha-Tīğān, the sound of the qameṣ is made by "clinching the mouth and holding it." See: Maḥberet Kitrei Ha-Torah (ed. Yoav Pinhas Halevi), chapter 5, Benei Barak 1990, p. 19 (Hebrew). In the Babylonian supralinear punctuation there is no separate symbol for the shĕwā qameṣ; rather, the one symbol as shown here is used for both the qameṣ and the shĕwā qameṣ (ḥataf qameṣ).
  9. ^ The Yemenite pronounciation of this vowel has no English equivalent; it is like the sefardic pronunciation thereof.
  10. ^ This symbol is used strictly as a mobile Shewā (Heb. שוא נע), unlike the Shewā quiescens (Heb. שוא נח) which has no symbol in the Babylonian supralinear punctuation. The mobile Shewā as a symbol is used to differentiate in eight major grammatical entities in Hebrew prescriptive linguistics. For example, whenever a Shewā appears at the beginning of a word, it renders the vowel a mobile vowel, as in the Hebrew word "floating" (meraḥef / מְרַחֵף), or as in לְפָנָי (lefanai) or שְׁמַע (shema) (Deut. 6:4); or whenever a diacritical vertical line known as a Ji'ya / גִּעְיָה (lit. "bleating" or "bellowing") would normally appear next to a Shewā. For example, in the words הַֽמְקַנֵּ֥א אַתָּ֖ה לִ֑י, (Num. 11:29), the Shewā beneath the Hebrew character mim becomes a mobile Shewā because of the Ji'ya (small vertical line) beneath the Hebrew character he. In all these cases the Shewā gives an audible sound to the letter, as in a short "a" or short "e", and is not mute. Likewise, whenever a Shewā appears in the middle of a word and the letter has a diacritical point within it (i.e., dagesh), as in the pe of מִפְּנֵיכֶם (Lev. 18:24), it too will become a mobile Shewā (na / נָע) - with some exceptions, e.g., the word אֶתּרוֹג according to the Yemenite tradition - as will a word that has two Shewā's written one after the other, as in the word רַעְמְסֵס (Exo. 12:37), or in the word ּוַיִּשְׁמְעו (Gen. 3:8), etc. the first Shewā is resting (mute), while the second Shewā is a mobile Shewā. Another instance of where the Shewā becomes mobile is when it comes directly after a long vowel sound, such as the long vowel of either yod or ḥiraq, as in יְחִֽידְֿךָ (Gen. 22:2), giving it the sound of yeḥīdhəkha, etc., or as in the long vowel of waw or ḥolam, as in the words הוֹלְכִֿים, יוֹדְֿעִים, מוֹכְֿרִים, נוֹפְֿלִים, לוֹמְדִֿים, and יֹאכְֿלוּ, etc. (hōləkhīm, yōdəʻīm, mōkhərīm, nōfelīm, lōmedhīm and yōkhe), or as in the verse שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים תִּתֶּן לְךָ (Deut. 16:18), “shōfəṭīm wa-shōṭərīm titen ləkha.” The symbol is also used in the Babylonian supralinear punctuation to denote a Shewā and Pataḥ that are written together in the Tiberian vowel system, or a Shewā and Segūl that are written together in the Tiberian vowel system, as in the words אֲנִי and אֱמֶת. See: Maḥberet Kitrei Ha-Torah (ed. Yoav Pinhas Halevi), chapter 5, Benei Barak 1990, pp. 20, 22-23, 31 (Hebrew). See also נקוד, טעמים ומסורת בתימן by Rabbi Yosef Qafih in Collected Papers, volume 2, page 931.
  11. ^ Israeli grammarian, Shelomo Morag, has written more extensively about the mobile Shewā, saying: “[In the Babylonian tradition], the sign of the šĕwā is used only as an indication of the mobile šĕwā (Heb. שוא נע), whereas the šĕwā quiescens (Heb. שוא נח) is not indicated at all. This method is the most common in Yemenite manuscripts which are punctuated in the Babylonian system, and it goes without saying that there is an advantage in it, since it invariably acquaints the reader with the šĕwā’s innate nature, whether it is a šĕwā quiescens or a mobile šĕwā. Thus, for example, we see that the šĕwā is mobile in the letter mim (מ) of the intensive (middle) form of the [active] verb construction, piʻel (Heb. פִּעֵל), in a word such as 'הַמְּכַבֶּה' [= ‘he that extinguishes’] (Mishnah Shabbat 7:2).” Meaning, one sign distinguishes it from the šĕwā quiescens. See: Mishnah - Seder Mo'ed - with a commentary by Maimonides in Arabic, Yemenite MS., edited by Yehuda Levi Nahum, Holon 1975, p. 19 (Hebrew); The 'šĕwā' in the Traditional Yemenite Pronunciation of Hebrew, Jerusalem 1957 (Hebrew). Note that the spelling "הַמְּכַבַּה" (with the דגש) is in accordance with the vowelization of Rabbi Yosef Amar, in his edition of the Babylonian Talmud vocalized in the Yemenite pronunciation, s.v., Shabbat 29b and 73a; תלמוד בבלי בניקוד תימני, מסכת שבת, דף כט ב ודף עג א. However, "הַמְכַבֶּה אֶת הַנֵּר" (Shabbath 2:5) appears (without the דגש in המכבה) in שיח ירושלם חלק ראשון (fourth edition 5761, p. קכ) and תכלאל שיבת ציון (part 1, 5712, p. קו) alike.
  12. ^ Abraham Z. Idelsohn (1882 – 1938) wrote in his momentous work, Phonographierte Gesänge und Aussprachsproben des Hebräischen der jemenitischen, persischen und syrischen Juden, Vienna 1917, concerning the differences in pronunciation between the Jews of Ṣanʻā’ and the Jews of the provinces in Yemen: “…The difference subsists in the vowel [ḥolam] וֹ, [which] in Ṣanʻā’ is äu <like in Häuser, very close to oy in Yiddish, without accentuating too much the "i" of "oy">, [and] in the Provinces is ä <like in mächtig, or the French è, like the first "e" when saying Esther in Hebrew>. Furthermore, the consonant [‘ayin] "ע" [in] Ṣanʻā’ = ‘, [but in the] Provinces is י (yod) <transcription of ij with the "j" audible>; also א and ע they pronounce the same way. (Analogies can also be found in the Yemenite Arabic). Moreover, the [dotted] גּ in Ṣanʻā’ is dj <pronounced like the French "j" which is like the English "g" in Geneva>, [but] in the provinces it is like "g" <as in "go">.”
  13. ^ Preface to Siddur Tefillat Kol Pe (ed. Rabbi Avraham al-Nadaf), Tel-Aviv 1960, pp. 7-8 (Hebrew); Jacob Saphir, Iben Safir (vol. 1), Lyck 1866, pp. 53b-54a (in PDF pp. 121-122) (Hebrew)
  14. ^ Aharon Ben-Asher, Sefer midiqduqei ha-ṭaʻamim, p. 12 (in PDF p. 53). In the original Hebrew: סדר שוא, המשרתת לכל האותיות בכל המקרא בראש התיבה ובאמצע התיבה ובסוף התיבה ואשר תצא בלשון ואשר לא תצא. כי הרבה דרכים יש לה[...] אבל אם תצטרף עם אחד מן ארבעה אותיות אחה"ע יהיה דרכה על דרך נִקּוד האות השני שבתיבה, כמו בְּֽהֹנות ידיהם ורגליהם (שופטים א', ז,) עד מתי פתים תְּֽאֵהבו פתי (משלי א', כ"ב) עיניו לְֽחֵלכה יצפנו (תהלים י', ח') שריה רִֽעֵליה מרדכי (עזרא ב', ב,).
  15. ^ Shelomo Morag, The Samaritan and Yemenite Tradition of Hebrew (published in: The Traditions of Hebrew and Aramaic of the Jews of Yemen - ed. Yosef Tobi), Tel-Aviv 2001, pp. 220-221
  16. ^ The four guttural letters, according to Rabbi Saadia Gaon (882-942 CE) in his Judeo-Arabic commentary on Sefer Hayeṣirah (chapter 4, paragraph 3), and Yonah ibn Ǧanāḥ (c. 990 – c. 1050) in his Sefer HaRiqmah, are aleph (א), (ה), ḥet (ח) and ‘ayin (ע), and which sounds are produced from the depth of the tongue with the opening of the throat.

References[edit]

  • Sáenz-Badillos, Angel (1996). A History of the Hebrew Language. trans. John Elwolde. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-55634-1. 
  • S. Morag, 'Pronunciations of Hebrew', Encyclopaedia Judaica XIII, 1120–1145
  • Morag, Shelomo (1963). Ha-Ivrit she-be-fi Yehude Teman (Hebrew as pronounced by Yemenite Jews). Jerusalem: Academy of the Hebrew Language. 
  • Yeivin, I., The Hebrew Language Tradition as Reflected in the Babylonian Vocalization: Jerusalem 1985 (Hebrew)

Further reading[edit]

  • מסורות הגייה ושליטת העברית בקרב יהודי תימן (Hebrew) in Rabbi Yosef Qafih's Collected Papers, volume 2, pages 943-946.
  • מלמדי תינוקות ודרכי הלימוד (Hebrew), beginning on page 50 in Halichoth Teiman (1963).
  • נקוד, טעמים ומסורת בתימן (Hebrew) in Rabbi Yosef Qafih's Collected Papers, volume 2, pages 931-936.
  • אלף בי (Hebrew): A popular Yemenite alaph bei book.
  • השירה והלחנים בתפילת יהודי תימן (Hebrew) in Rabbi Yosef Qafih's Collected Papers, volume 2, pages 958-960.

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