Begadkefat (also begadkephat, begedkefet) is the name given to a phenomenon of spirantization affecting most plosive consonants of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic when they are preceded by a vowel and not geminated. The name is also given to similar cases of spirantization of post-vocalic plosives in other languages, for instance, in the Berber language of Djerba. Irish Gaelic has a similar system.
The phenomenon is attributed to the following consonants:
Spanish "soft b"
|daleth||ד||[d]||becomes||[ð]||English "th" as in "this"|
|kaph||כ||[k]||becomes||[x] ~ [χ]||German "hard ch" as in "Bach"|
Spanish "v" after "h"
|taw||ת||[t]||becomes||[θ]||English "th" as in "think"|
The name of the phenomenon is made up with these 6 consonants, mixed with haphazard vowels for the sake of pronunciation: BeGaDKePaT. The Hebrew term בֶּגֶ״ד כֶּפֶ״ת (Modern Heb. pronun. /ˌbeɡedˈkefet/) denotes the letters themselves (rather than the phenomenon of spirantization).
Begedkefet spirantization developed sometime during the lifetime of Biblical Hebrew under the influence of Aramaic. Its time of emergence can be found by noting that the Old Aramaic phonemes /θ/, /ð/ disappeared in the 7th century BC. It persisted in Hebrew until the 2nd century CE.[contradictory] During this period all six plosive / fricative pairs were allophonic.
In Modern Hebrew three of the six letters, ב (bet), כ (kaf) and פ (pe), each still denote a plosive – fricative variant pair; these variants are, however, no longer purely allophonic (see below). Although orthographic variants of ג (gimel), ד (dalet) and ת (tav) still exist, these letters' pronunciation always remains acoustically and phonologically indistinguishable.[note 1] In Yiddish, also ת (tav) can denote a fricative variant, which is [s].
- at the beginning of a word[note 2] or after a consonant (in which cases it is termed "dagesh qal"[note 3]),
- when the sound is – or was historically – geminated (in which case it is termed "dagesh ẖazaq", a mark for historical gemination in most other consonants of the language as well), and
- in some modern Hebrew words independently of these conditions (see below).
In Modern Hebrew
As mentioned above, the fricative variants of [ɡ], [d] and [t] no longer exist in modern Hebrew. (However, Hebrew does have the guttural R consonant /ʁ/ which is the voiced counterpart of /χ/ and often coincides with Mizrahi Hebrew's fricative variant of [ɡ] ḡímel as well as Arabic's غ ġayn, both of which are /ɣ/~/ʁ/. Modern Hebrew ר resh can still sporadically be found standing in for this phoneme, for example in the Hebrew rendering of Raleb (Ghaleb) Majadele's name.) The three remaining pairs /b/~/v/, /k/~/χ/, and /p/~/f/ still sometimes alternate, as demonstrated in inflections of many roots in which the roots' meaning is retained despite variation of begedkefet letters' manner of articulation, e.g.,
|• בוא ← תבוא||/bo/ → /taˈvo/||("come" (imperative) → "you will come"),|
|• שבר ← נשבר||/ʃaˈvaʁ/ → /niʃˈbaʁ/||("broke" (transitive) → "broke" (intransitive),|
|• כתב ← יכתוב||/kaˈtav/ → /jiχˈtov/||("he wrote" → "he will write"),|
|• זכר ← יזכור||/zaˈχaʁ/ → /jizˈkoʁ/||("he remembered" → "he will remember"),|
|• פנית ← לפנות||/paˈnit/ → /lifˈnot/||("you (f.) turned" → "to turn"),|
|• שפטת ← לשפוט||/ʃaˈfatet/ → /liʃˈpot/||("you (f.) judged" → "to judge "),|
|or in nouns:|
|• ערב ← ערביים||/ˈeʁev/ → /aʁˈbajim/||("evening" → "twilight"),|
|• מלך ← מלכה||/ˈmeleχ/ → /malˈka/||("king" → "queen"),|
|• אלף ← אלפית||/ˈelef/ → /alˈpit/||("a thousand" → "a thousandth"),|
|• אִפֵּר – אִפֵר||/iˈpeʁ/ – /iˈfeʁ/||("applied make up" – "tipped ash"),|
|• פִּסְפֵּס – פִסְפֵס||/pisˈpes/ – /fisˈfes/||("striped" – "missed"),|
|• הִתְחַבֵּר – הִתְחַבֵר||/hitχaˈbeʁ/ – /hitχaˈveʁ/||("connected" – "made friends (with)"),|
|• הִשְׁתַּבֵּץ – הִשְׁתַּבֵץ||/hiʃtaˈbets/ – /hiʃtaˈvets/||("got integrated" – "was shocked"),|
and consider, e.g.:
|•||לככב "to star", whose common pronunciation /lekaˈχev/ preserves the manner of articulation of each kaf in the word it is derived from: כּוֹכָב /koˈχav/ "a star" (first plosive, then fricative), as opposed to the prescribed pronunciation /leχaˈkev/, which regards the variation in pronunciation of kaf /χ/ ←→ /k/ as allophonic and determines its manner of articulation according to historical phonological principles; or:|
|•||similarly, לרכל "to gossip", whose prescribed pronunciation /leʁaˈkel/ is rejected, commonly pronounced /leʁaˈχel/, preserving the fricative manner of articulation in related nouns (e.g. רכילות /ʁeχiˈlut/ "gossip", רכלן /ʁaχˈlan/ "gossiper").|
This phonemic divergence might be due to a number of factors, amongst others:
- due to loss of consonant gemination in modern Hebrew, which formerly distinguished the stop members of the pairs from the fricatives when intervocalic – e.g. in the inflections:
• קפץ ← קיפץ /kaˈfats/ → /kiˈpets/, historically /kipˈpets/ ("jumped" → "hopped"), • שבר ← שיבר /ʃaˈvar/ → /ʃiˈber/, historically /ʃibˈber/ ("broke" → "shattered"), • שכן ← שיכן /ʃaˈχan/ → /ʃiˈken/, historically /ʃikˈken/ ("resided" → "housed"),
- due to the introduction, through foreign borrowings, of:
- • syllable-initial /f/ (e.g. פברק /fibˈʁek/ "fabricated"),
- • non-syllable-initial /p/ (e.g. הפנט /hipˈnet/ "hypnotized")
- • non-syllable-initial /b/ (e.g. פברק /fibˈʁek/ "fabricated"), ג׳וֹבּ /dʒob/ "job", קוּבּ /kub/ "cubic meter", פָּאבּ /pab/ "pub").
Apart from this partial phonemic distinction, common Israeli pronunciation no longer always concords with the original phonological principle "plosive variant after a consonant; fricative after a vowel", although this principle is still prescribed as standard by the Academy of the Hebrew Language, e.g.:
- The words מעבורת (ferry) and מעברות (refugee absorption camps), whose respective prescribed pronunciation is /maʕˈboʁet/ and /maʕbaˈʁot/, are commonly pronounced /ma.aˈboʁet/ and /ma.abaˈʁot/, replacing the consonant (/ʕ/) with a vowel (/a/), but still preferring the plosive variant /b/ to its fricative counterpoint /v/.
- Similarly, the words העפלה (which designates the illegal immigration by Jews to the British Mandate for Palestine, 1934-1948) and מעפילים (immigrants through this immigration), whose respective prescribed pronunciation is /haʕpaˈla/ and /maʕpiˈlim/, are commonly pronounced /ha.apaˈla/ and /ma.apiˈlim/, again replacing the consonant (/ʕ/) with the vowel (/a/), but still preferring the plosive variant /p/ to its fricative counterpoint /f/.
- Conversely, words like להכחיש (to deny) or מכחול (paintbrush), whose respective prescribed pronunciation is /lehaχˈħiʃ/ and /miχˈħol/, are commonly pronounced /lehakˈχiʃ/ and /mikˈχol/, preferring the plosive variant /k/ to its fricative counterpoint /χ/, although following vowels (respectively /a/ and /i/), due to the shifting of the original semitic pronunciation of the letter ח from /ħ/ to /χ/, rendering it identical to common Israeli pronunciation of the fricative variant of the letter כ.
- In modern Hebrew, the letter gimel modified by the diacritic geresh – ג׳ – is pronounced as the affricate [dʒ]; this, however, denotes a separate phoneme, not connected to the phenomenon of spirantization: compare e.g. גז /ɡez/ ("fleece") ←→ ג׳ז /dʒez/ ("jazz"); חג /χaɡ/ ("holiday") ←→ חג׳ /χadʒ/ ("the Hajj"). Conversely, dalet and tav with a geresh – ד׳ and ת׳ – respectively do denote the fricatives [ð] and [θ], however never as sounds in Hebrew words or even loanwords, but are rather used exclusively for the hebraization of foreign language texts or the transliteration of foreign names. Also these modern Hebrew variants have nothing to do with the phenomenon of spirantization.
- In non-Modern Hebrew texts, begedkefet letters at the beginning of a word preceded by a vowel are sometimes written without a dagesh and therefore pronounced as fricatives, e.g. "אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ פְרִי־עֵץ" (/aʃer bo fri ʕets/, Genesis 1, 29), but not always – e.g. "עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי" (/ʕose pri/, Genesis 1, 11 and 1, 12)
- In modern Hebrew ktiv menuqad, the dagesh qal is marked also in the three begedkefet letters which can no longer denote a fricative variant – ג ([ɡ]), ד ([d]) and ת ([t]) – conserving the masoretic niqqud tradition.
- See for instance: Werner Vycichl, "Begadkefat im Berberischen", in: James and Theodora Bynon (eds.), Hamito-Semitica, London 1975, pp. 315-317.
- Or perhaps Hurrian, but this is unlikely, c.f. Dolgoposky 1999, pp. 72-73.
- Dolsopolsky 1999, p. 72.
- Dolgopolsky 1999, p. 73.
- Mechon Mamre Online Bible