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 Yemenite Rabbis such as 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 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/,[2] but which had already merged in ancient times, as evident in the spelling variants in the Dead Sea Scrolls.[3]

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 the same sounds as in Arabic, so ḥêṯ ح = ח /ħ/ and ʻáyin ע is ع /ʕ/.
  • There is no distinction between the vowels paṯaḥ, səḡôl and šəwâ nāʻ, 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).
  • 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.
  • Final with mappîq (a dot in the centre) has an aspirated sound, generally stronger sounding than the regular . Conversely, words in Hebrew which are written with the final (without the mappîq) are abruptly cut short,[citation needed] as when one holds his breath.
  • 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.


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. In certain respects, such as the assimilation of paṯaḥ and səḡôl, 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 ḥōlem 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.


  1. ^ Rav Kuk's Orah Mishpat question regarding Kiryat Shma "וביחוד למי שמשנה ממבטא התימני המוחזק אצלם מדורות הראשונים שהוא המדויק שבמבטאים כמפורסם שבודאי אסור לעשות כן"
  2. ^ S. Morag, 'Pronunciations of Hebrew', Encyclopaedia Judaica XIII, 1120-1145
  3. ^ 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.


  • 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)

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