Talk:Tiberian vocalization

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I suggest, regarding the title of this entry, that "Tiberian" not be called a "Hebrew language" at all, but rather a written system developed for the vocalisation of Biblical Hebrew.

If so, then perhaps it should be merged with niqqudot. Note that that article right now is very incomplete, as it constrains to the pronunciation of Standard Hebrew without mentioning the Tiberian system that was developed. - Gilgamesh 08:32, 11 Aug 2004 (UTC)

There is a chance of an alternative modern Hebrew academy forming

Invitation on Youtube to those speaking Yemenite to join to together in rebeling againist Present modern Hebrew, and that Professions join a group which goal is to

Use Biblical, 'Adeni Yemenite Hebrew, & Sa'ani Yemenite Hebrew, Samaritan Hebrew . The dream that we can form a academy to revive the true biblical Hebrew of ʾAḇrāhām & patriarch of peoples of Yiśrāʾēl, Yišmāʿêl, ʾĔḏôm & the Leshon Ha-Kodesh from -- YaH'WuH ha·'Elo·hah′ --as the backbone of a new modern true Hebrew. Any interested please reply. Rules are at present being recorded on standard improved transliterating. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:33, 8 January 2008 (UTC)


I just wanted to confirm the name niqqudot. I would have thought Nequdot, no? Am I mistaken? jnothman talk 13:57, 13 November 2005 (UTC)

You're right. There are two different words: ‎נְקֻדּוֹת‎ nəquddot 'dots' (the ‎plural of nəqudda) and ‎נִקּוּד‎ niqqud '(the act of) dotting'. (Obviously I just ‎used a mixed sort of transcription to try to make the point clear. In the ‎Tiberian pronunciation style they're [naquddóːθ], [niqqúːð]; in Israeli Hebrew ‎‎נקודות [nekudót], ניקוד [nikúd].)‎


There is currently a single source for this pronunciation approach. It is not clear to an outside nonexpert reader (such as myself) if this is widely accepted among scholars or a single individual's opinion. It seems to present the individual's personal research. Has this article been published in a scholarly publication? If not, it's not clear it satifies WP:SOURCE policy. This subject is not my area, just want to make sure this article is appropriately sourced, and also that it appropriately assesses the viewpoint's notability and reliability as WP requires. I can't can't tell from the article. Additional sources, especially sources directed at a lay rather than a scholarly audience, as well as dissenting views if any, would be appreciated. --Shirahadasha 19:32, 27 August 2006 (UTC)

The gist of the article is common knowledge to people in the field. There aren't even any points of dispute on the basic history. As time goes on I'm sure people will add basic refs. to some books or articles. Perhaps the most convenient link would be to the articles at the Aleppo Codex website. 06:40, 28 August 2006 (UTC)

Writing style or pronunciation style?[edit]

First, I'll define my terms. By the phrase "pronunciation style", I refer to the fact that some people will pronounce a word one way, and others will pronounce it another way. (For example, people from Boston will call the city "Bah-stn", but others will call it "Baw-stn".) By the phrase "writing style", I refer to the fact that some people will write a word one way, and others will write it another way. (For example, "color" and "colour".)

Does "Tiberian" refer to one, or the other or both? On the one hand, the "Jewish Languages" box in this article lists Tiberian as a dialect, alongside Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Yemenite, and others. I understand this to be the same as what I've called a "pronunciation style". Similarly, throughout Wikipedia, there are many articles which offer "Tiberian" as an alternate pronunciation. For example, the article about Moses begins:

Moses or Moshe (Hebrew: מֹשֶׁ, Standard Mošə Tiberian Mōšeh; ...

The use of Latin characters ( Mošə and Mōšeh ) clearly implies that we're not talking about a style of writing Hebrew. (They didn't use Latin characters in Tiberias!)

On the other hand, most of what appears in this article describes Tiberian as a system of how to put Hebrew sounds on paper, that is, a way of transcribing phonetic sounds. For example at this link [1], IPA is contrasted with other ways of communicating the proper way to pronounce "Al-Qaeda". If this is a correct way of understanding "Tiberian", then it does not refer to a local dialect of how words were pronounced in Tiberias, but rather it refers to the invention of a set of nikud and symbols which are used to show how to pronounce Hebrew words. But if that's the case, then what is "Tiberian" in contrast to? Were there other, competing writing styles? (Other than the obvious consonant-only version of written Hebrew?) --Keeves 12:45, 21 September 2006 (UTC)

It is very hard to draw analogies to English, and they are not likely to be accurate. This is especially because in semitic languages there are no formal vowel-letters.
To be precise: This article discusses a complex set of symbols that were created in order to preserve an extremely detailed oral textual tradition (yes, there is such a thing) for how to read the Hebrew Bible. This tradition preserved an exact way of pronouncing each and every word in the Bible, as well as detailed information on syntax (how to group words and divide sentences) and further information on letters (i.e. how words should be spelled in the written text, which did not contain the then-new set of symbols for vowels and cantillation).
There were indeed other competing systems of pronunciation, such as the Babylonian, for which competing sets of written symbols were developed. Some details of spelling differed between them as well.
As for Moses, what you have is the Hebrew word with the Tiberian vowel symbols, followed by a transliteration of how those symbols are rendered in modern Hebrew pronunciation, followed by a further transliteration of the Tiberian pronunciation they were originally conceived to represent. (I personally think the transliterations in this particular case are both redundant and slightly inaccurate.) Dovi 13:57, 21 September 2006 (UTC)
If I understand you correctly, you're saying that Babylon was not only a place where other Semitic languages were found, but the Hebrew language was spoken differently there than in Tiberias. If this is accurate, then I would think that it is rather meaningless for so many dozens of articles to show the Tiberian pronunciation without contrasting it with the Babylonian pronunciation. If you agree with me (and I suspect you do, given your comment about "redundant and inaccurate"), then I'd like to invite other Wikipedians to add the Babylonian pronunciations to these articles. And if no one is able or willing to do so, then I would volunteer to remove these Tiberian pronuciations from so many articles. What do you and others think? Thanks! --Keeves 14:21, 21 September 2006 (UTC)

Correct. The "eastern" Jews of the Babylonian diaspora (as opposed to the "western" Jews in the Land of Israel) employed a parallel system of pronunciation for the biblical text, and developed a complementary set of written symbols for it. That doesn't mean it is "meaningless" to show Tiberian alone, since historically it was far more influential, and is much more widely studied to this very day.
As for whether it should be removed, I can see both keeping it (why get rid of good information?) or removing it (modern Hebrew transliteration should be enough). I have no strong opinion either way, but I do remember that a couple of years ago there was some major controversy about this, and what remains is apparently the compromise that was reached.
Happy Rosh Hashanah to all! May we all be blessed with a new year of peace and success. Will return after the holiday. Dovi 15:38, 21 September 2006 (UTC)
And we don't actually know what the Babylonian pronunciation was. It may have been like present day Yemenite Hebrew, but that has peculiarities (such as the assimilation of holam to tzere) that do not correspond to anything in the Babylonian notation. --Sir Myles na Gopaleen (the da) (talk) 09:43, 15 July 2009 (UTC)

New information[edit]

Aldozamudio 20:31, 1 December 2006 (UTC)Aldo Hi, I added some new information on the subject concerning Bibliography, phonetics (examples and IPA), the situation in our days. I added them as separate subjects and didn't mess up with what was already extant. Hope you like it.

The name[edit]

I propose moving this page to Tiberian Hebrew. It's not just a vocalization, it is (as the opening sentence says) a tradition of pronouncing Hebrew. It's not a separate language, though, so the original name of Tiberian Hebrew language is not good. Any thoughts/objections? —Angr 11:06, 10 June 2007 (UTC)

It's not a simple thing to define or entitle, because it is a system of written symbols that were designed to convey a very specific oral tradition of pronunciation, but which over time became read by all oral traditions of pronunciation for Hebrew, each of them interpreting the written signs in a way that made internal sense within their own oral system. Is that a tradition of pronouncing Hebrew? A vocalization? A language ("Tiberian Hebrew")? To be quite honest, I find the selection of a clear and accurate title for this to a rather complicated proposition... :-) Dovi 17:32, 10 June 2007 (UTC)
Well, that's why I think Tiberian Hebrew is the best name for it: that name doesn't try to define it as anything more than what's obvious. It's Hebrew, and it's Tiberian in origin. —Angr 19:57, 10 June 2007 (UTC)
I agree with Angr. I would move it myself but I'm not quite sure how to do that when the link to Tiberian Hebrew is a redirect to Tiberian vocalization and I want to reverse the redirect direction until a new page discussing the actual vocalization itself is created (see comment in next section). Benwing (talk) 08:38, 30 May 2009 (UTC)

name should be Tiberian Hebrew[edit]

The name of this page should be 'Tiberian Hebrew' or 'Tiberian Hebrew Dialect' or something like that. This page is obviously describing a particular dialect, not a particular writing system. 'Tiberian vocalization' is the name of a writing system and includes its origin, its use in representing different pronunciation systems of Hebrew (Sephardic, Askhenazic, Yemenite, original Tiberian, etc.). Benwing (talk) 08:36, 30 May 2009 (UTC)

חנינא (talk) 23:38, 6 July 2009 (UTC)

Well actually it's both. The article sets out to describe, first, the known rules of the Tiberian writing system and then, conjecturally, the reconstructed pronunciation that presumably underlies those rules. "Vocalization" appears to cover both bases. --Sir Myles na Gopaleen (the da) (talk) 09:32, 15 July 2009 (UTC)

mobile vs. quiet shwa[edit]

As a linguist, I'm somewhat skeptical that the actual Tiberian Hebrew dialect on which the vocalization system was based actually had such a complicated system for determining whether a shva was pronounced or silent as is described here. In particular, the system described here is at least partly phonemic in that it depends in some cases on the presence of methegs, which were clearly not considered a basic, obligatory part of the system, unlike the niqqud themselves. Native religious linguists of the sort who are interested in recording down the proper pronunciation of a liturgical language tend to be very exacting in describing down to the last detail all that isn't completely predictable (i.e. phonemic), and in other respects, the Masoretes seem to be equally exacting; hence it seems extremely puzzling to me that they would deliberately create a sign that was ambiguous as to two different phonemes (i.e. no vowel and a pronounced shwa), even if the occurrence or not of the pronounced variant was largely predictable -- compare the use of dagesh lene, which is largely predictable.

The only sensible conclusion I can make is that, despite the apparent historical evidence and the conclusions of the bulk of current writers, the actual Tiberian Hebrew dialect must have had a completely non-phonemic vocal shva, whose occurrence was due to an automatic process of epenthesis in certain well-defined scenarios (e.g. between two consonants at the beginning of a word; between the second and third of three consonants in the middle of a word, including when the first two were actually a geminate consonant; between two identical consonants when written as two letters with a shva between them). Given the desired precision of the Tiberian Masoretes, it seems highly unlikely to me that they would allow rules such as "vocal after vowels /e/, /o/, /ɔ/ except in certain well-known closed syllables" (which indicates at least a questionably phonemic distinction) or even worse "in consonants that expect a dagesh forte but don't actually take one" (which definitely indicates a phonemic distinction and requires a good knowledge of complex hebrew morphology and all the many places where dagesh forte would be expected to occur based on the structure of the word).

I suspect that the historical evidence is pointing to a related but different, and presumably rather more common, as well as more conservative, dialect/pronunciation that did preserve, at least partly, the original etymological distinction of vocal shvas that were derived from short vowels in some unstressed, open syllables (as still preserved in e.g. Classical Arabic) and quiet shvas that were derived from original lack of vowel between consonants. Presumably, in the particular local dialect that led to Tiberian Hebrew, the vocal shva phoneme disappeared as a phoneme and instead because an automatic process, similar to how in the same dialect the original distinction between long a ("kamatz gadol") and short o ("kamatz katan") merged into a single low-mid back vowel. I also suspect that a number of the researchers working on reconstructing the Tiberian pronunciation are lacking in proper training in modern linguistic theory (esp. in phonology and historical linguistics) and/or are working from sources that were created before the requisite theory in phonology and historical linguistics was even developed (e.g. Gesenius's famous Hebrew Grammar), and are unaware of this fact. This should not be as surprising as it sounds -- working in an area like this requires extensive knowledge of Ancient Hebrew and Jewish History and such, so it's more likely that researchers in this area have a solid background in Judaic Studies augmented by some basic linguistic background. Also, I've seen a number of books about Ancient Hebrew and other old languages that make lots of elementary linguistic mistakes -- Joel Hoffman's In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language is a particularly severe example, where his whole thesis that the Masoretes "didn't know what they were doing" is predicated on a number of elementary linguistics-based logical errors.


Benwing (talk) 09:24, 30 May 2009 (UTC)

Your linguistics-based assumptions about Tiberian shva are essentially identical with the "belief" expressed in Joüon's classic Hebrew grammar as updated early this decade by Muraoka. Unfortunately, instead of providing instances of how this worked in practice, the grammar moves on to (falls back on?) Levita's traditional rules for identifying shva na`! חנינא (talk) 13:29, 5 July 2009 (UTC)

Truly very interesting. Unfortunately the Wikipedia:No original research principle dictates that, regardless of what anyone here thinks about your ideas, they may only be integrated into a Wikipedia article if you have them published by a reliable source first. Dan 22:00, 6 July 2009 (UTC)

In what way does the Joüon-Muraoka grammar constitute original research? חנינא (talk) 23:38, 6 July 2009 (UTC)
Sorry Hanina for the lack of clarity, I was referring to Benwing, not you. Dan 09:24, 7 July 2009 (UTC)
Oh, I see, no prob, don't mention it.חנינא (talk) 02:14, 9 July 2009 (UTC)

As I reconstruct the history, it is as follows.

The sheva symbol must originally have been invented to represent the indistinct sound "uh". This is shown by its shape: in the Tiberian symbols, adding a dot underneath always denotes flattening or retraction, so sheva is the half-way point between hiriq and qubbutz. (Similarly, qamatz is a flattened form of patach and segol is a flattened form of tzere.)

Then, in certain words (like "divre", "kitve", "li-vne"), this sound drops out though still written, like the first "i" in British English "medicine". We know that it is the remnant of a vowel, because it represents a contraction of a vocalized form ("devarim", "ketavim", "bene"), because of the evidence of cognate languages and because the following consonant does not take dagesh. In these instances sheva is phonemically vocal but phonetically silent, like the final e in French feminines: I call this evanescent sheva.

But as in these instances the symbol appears to represent the absence of a vowel, it is soon coopted to cover instances of a true zero vowel, as in "midbar", where there never was a vowel and the following consonant does take dagesh. In other words the Masoretes needed a symbol corresponding to Arabic "sukun" and this was the nearest they could find. (Interestingly, in many prints of the Aramaic Targums, the sheva symbol is only used for vocal or evanescent sheva, and unvocalized consonants are written with no sign at all.)

So it is really not so odd that the same symbol should represent both the indistinct vowel and no vowel: "bene" and "vne" (in "li-vne") are etymologically the same word and it is only the surrounding context that causes the vowel to be sometimes pronounced and sometimes not. The same ambiguity happens through the reverse process in English, where in words like "schism" and "able" the indistinct vowel is present though not written. The very word "sheva" reflects the same ambiguity: it obviously comes from "shav'" ("in vain"), so could equally mean "the nothing vowel" (the vowel without qualities!) or "no vowel".

A further complication is the fact that, like the indistinct vowel in English, each instance of the indistinct vowel etymologically represents one or other of the full vowels, and reverts to it when one is deliberately speaking with emphasis. The hataf symbols were used, inconsistently, to show which vowel this would have been (for example, in the Aleppo Codex every vocal sheva is denoted by hataf patach), though this use now only survives in the vicinity of the gutturals. Hence the fact that, in Sephardic sources as late as 1914, there are elaborate rules for which vowel ought to be used in pronouncing vocal sheva ("i" when before yod, matching the following vowel when before a guttural, "e" otherwise) though these appear seldom if ever to have been observed in practice. --Sir Myles na Gopaleen (the da) (talk) 09:17, 15 July 2009 (UTC)

On the contents of the article[edit]

Hi. I'm glad finally some people had the time and were in the mood to criticize the article. It has barely had any changes since I wrote it back by the end of 2006. I know I have transgressed many of Wikipedia's norms, but I did so for many reasons (not that you should agree with me). I'm an Industrial Designer by trade, and have been studying Hebrew for some 8-9 years. And I was a bit disappointed when I saw the article was merely an explanation of the name in the title, rather than a language oriented explanation. I wrote the article more or less as it is right now, in order to:

- Show people there is more to Tiberian Hebrew than regular grammars teach.

- Get some experts attention to see if anyone would be able to clear any non sense I wrote.

- Get my knowledge on the subject organized.

- Give people a clear (I know it isn't clear in this present version) idea on how the Hebrew Bible was pronounced by the Masoretes.

But I stopped making any modifications at this site. I have been working on the article any time I have, understand or find anything new on the subject. That version is in my computer, awaiting completion and is much more readable. I am no linguist so I really don't fully understand what you mean, Benwing. I once read on an article by Geoffrey Khan that if the sign for sheva had a dual realization, it most probably had just one function, and that it was a zero vowel, since it cannot form a syllable on its own. How can we incorporate that into the article? And how can we explain (either by reconciling or contrasting) that Medieval treatises make explicit statements and take great pains on recording how a single sign was pronounced as zero or as a vowel? It would be great to write on that too, but my lack of knowledge in that subject prevents me from venturing into writing anything on this section (codas, epenthesis, assimilation, etc. are too cumbersome for me at this moment). I apologize for any misunderstanding, misinformation I have written in the article either by a lack of knowledge, understanding or a lack of reliable sources. Aldozamudio (talk) 17:00, 13 July 2009 (UTC)Aldozamudio

Hey Aldozamudio, I for one enjoyed reading the article. The way I see it, Wikipedia tries to present a coherent account of what reliable sources have published on any given matter. It's not its task to filter out the "right" information from the "wrong": if different, even conflicting interpretations, theories and points of view were published by respectable sources, then they should all be represented here, with references to these sources. Dan 23:05, 14 July 2009 (UTC)

Palestinian vocalization[edit]

"Palestinian vocalization" seems to be a well established term in the scholarly literature; see [2]. "Eretz Yisrael vocalization", on the other hand, isn't. +Angr 10:16, 17 July 2009 (UTC)

I stand corrected. Dan 23:38, 17 July 2009 (UTC)


I like much of the rewrite. But I think that the introduction underemphasizes that what we have here is not just a kind of pronunciation but rather a detailed system of vocalization for the biblical text. Vocalization includes not just the vowels and their orthographic signs, but rather the entire oral tradition of reading/chanting the biblical text, which indeed includes vowels but also stresses (primary and secondary) and sytax (cantillation). All of these elements are interrelated and influence each other at times. The central aim of the masoretes was to commit an ancient oral tradition of how to vocalize the biblical text (every word of it) in writing. The system they created indeed contains within itself a tradition of how to pronounce Hebrew, and that is very important too, but it is certainly not the entire story. Dovi (talk) 18:31, 22 July 2009 (UTC)

The phonetic value of waw and resh[edit]

Was waw [w] or [v] in Tiberian vocalization? And, was resh [r] or [ʀ]? I noticed that in this article they are [v] and [ʀ]. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Phyong (talkcontribs) 06:06, 11 December 2010 (UTC)

Hi, in fact, at least in Tiberian Hebrew, waw was pronounced both ways. In an article by Geoffrey Khan (and based on some grammatical treatises as Mishael Ben Uzziel's Kitab al-Khilaf, the Book of Differences between Ben Asher and Ben Naphtali), he states that the regular pronunciation for waw was [v], but near some vowels such as [u] (and [o]), it was pronounced [w]. As for resh, experts agree that it was a "velarized, uvularized or emphatic" consonant, but they do not agree as to how it was articulated exactly. Khan, again, states that it was regularly pronounced as [ʀ], and near [d], [t], etc... as an emphatic [r] (that is, as a rolling r in Spanish, Italian, Scottish English, but, with the back part of the tongue nearer to the palate). Ilan Eldar, on the other hand, states that it was pronounced always as [ʀ], but with different durations.Aldozamudio (talk) 14:01, 22 December 2010 (UTC)Aldozamudio

Obtuse String of Words[edit]

"The explicit statements found in books of grammar near the 10th and 11th Centuries C.E., such as: The Sefer haQoloth of Moshe ben Asher (published by N. Allony), Diqduqé hata'amim of Aaron ben Moses ben Asher; the anonymous works entitled Horayath haQoré (G. Khan and Ilan Eldar attribute it to the Karaite Abu Alfaraj Harun), the Treatise on the Schwa (published by Kurt Levy from a Genizah fragment in 1936), and Ma'amar haschewa (published from Genizah material by Allony); the works of medieval Sephardi grammarians, such as Abraham Ibn Ezra, Judah ben David Hayyuj."

The main predicate/verb of this word string is unclear. This word string needs to be clarified; perhaps broken into smaller sentences. Is this basically what was meant?
"The statements found in books of grammar (such as the Sefer haQoloth) AND the anonymous works entitled Horayath ATTRIBUTE it to the Karaite Abu."?

I will suggest the start of a revision, if this is what was meant:

There are explicit statements atributing the Tiberian vocalization to the Karaite Abu Harun. These explicit statements are found in four types of literature: 1) medieval books of gramma , 2) the Horayhath haQoré, 3) a Genizah fragment, and 4) medieval Sephardi grmmarians. The medieval books of grammar were written in the 10th and 11th centuries A.D, such as The Sefer haQoloth of Moshe ben Asher (published by N. Allony. I leave it to the original author to clarify the rest of this Byzantine convoluted word string.EnochBethany (talk) 16:58, 19 January 2011 (UTC))


I am going to split this article. It isn't right to have a discussion of Tiberian Hebrew consonant values in an article with "vocalization" in its title. It makes more sense for this article to discuss the orthographic system that Tiberian Hebrew used, and have a separate Tiberian Hebrew article to discuss the phonology. (I recognize that there is some overlap but this still seems more sane.) Mo-Al (talk) 16:53, 30 June 2011 (UTC) Subscript text

Examples in Tiberian_vocalization#Vowel_diacritics[edit]

Giving the examples with alef in Tiberian_vocalization#Vowel_diacritics is not such a good idea since alef cannot carry a shva. So the example alef with shva given in the 2nd table is actually impossible. This precise (impossible) example may or may not be traditional, so it may be a "mistake" or at least a poor decision of the editor who contributed it, or it may be something they just picked up from a traditional grammar, I don't know, they would have to say. But certainly, in general, traditional Hebrew grammar has not been averse to giving impossible examples: for example the decision to give the verbal paradigms on the root pa'al (slavisly imitated from Arabic grammar) was an extremely poor decision for Hebrew since the medial ayin of that root is a letter that is problematic in Hebrew, e.g. it cannot take dagesh hazaq, so actually the paradigm pi'el with dagesh hazaq on the ayin (!) is grammatical nonsense that traditional Hebrew grammar has been happy with for centuries. A real pi'el form formed from the pa'al root would be pe'el with no dagesh hazaq. In the last fifty years or so (some) grammars have started giving those examples on the root qatal which is clearly a much better idea. But the traditional names have remained the commonly used terminology and Hebrew speakers will continue to call the second binyan (paradigm) pi'el forever. Signed: Basemetal (write to me here) 01:21, 31 January 2013 (UTC)