Glossary: Pronunciation

h¹b
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  Shofar A Glossary of
Unfamiliar Terms
Ten Commandments Tablets  
    Compiled from numerous source documents
by
Ari Levitt*
ThM, ThD, DMin, MBA, CNHP
 
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Abbreviations Used In This Glossary

abbr. = abbreviated

alt. = alternate

Ar. = Aramaic

esp. = especially

Gr. = Greek

Heb. = Hebrew

lit. = literally

n. = noun

pl. = plural

pron. = pronounced

prop. = properly

sg. = singular

usu. = usually

v. = verb

Yid. = Yiddish

Transliteration/Pronunciation GuideBooks of the BibleProper NamesTribes of IsraelThe Mishnah

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Use this “Jump Bar” to directly to any letter of the AlephBet
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Appendix Pronunciation [More]

Transliterating the Hebrew AlephBet

There are no real “official rules” for transliterating Hebrew words into the English alphabet. Since each “transliterator” does the transliteration the way his/her ear hears it, and the individual’s native tongue exerts considerable influence on the process, the reader will find numerous different transliterations of the same Hebrew word. Jews from Eastern Europe will pronounce words considerably differently from Jews in Northern Africa, and in the United States we have Jews from all over the world, so it won't do much good to ask an American Jew for a definitive answer. Here is an old story that helps illustrate the problem.

A man on an airplane bound from San Francisco to Honolulu turns to his neighbor (who happens to be wearing a kippa [yarmulke] in my version of the story) and says, “Excuse me, but is the name of our destination pronounced ‘Ha-wah-ee’ or ‘ha-vah-ee?’” The neighbor replies, “I believe that the correct pronunciation is ‘ha-vah-ee.’ The man thanks his neighbor, and the neighbor replies, “You are most certainly velcome!”

There are 22 consonants in the Hebrew AlephBet. Six of those letters are used with a dot, called a dagesh, when the letter appears at the beginning of a word. For two of those letters, there is barely any difference in pronunciation; for the other four, the dagesh “hardens” the pronunciation. An additional five letters assume a “final” form when used at the end of the word. You should also be aware that Hebrew pronunciation, and therefore transliteration, is different between the Sephardic and the Ashkenazi speakers. The different forms, pronunciations, and transliterations are shown in the following table. Additionally, the letters of the alphabet are used for numerals. The numeric value is also shown on the following table.

In our glossary we have followed the conventions used by David Stern in the Complete Jewish Bible, which is an effort to present the words as they are pronounced in modern Israel. Vowels are pronounced as boldfaced in the following words: father, aisle, bed, need, neigh, whey, marine (when accented on the last syllable) or invest (when not accented), obey, rule. As for consonants, “ch” and “kh” are always pronounced as the German pronunciation of Johann Sebastian Bach; “g” is always hard, as in give. Other consonants are more or less as their English counterparts.

Ashkenazic (German and eastern European) pronunciations common in English-speaking countries often shift “a” sounds towards “o,” turn some “t’s” into “s’s,” and accent the next-to-last syllable where the Israelis accent the last syllable; for example, Shab•bos instead of Shab•bat; Mo•shi•ach instead of Ma•shi•ach; Tal•lis instead of Tal•lit.

Dots separate syllables unless hyphens of apostrophes do the job already. Accented syllables are printed in boldface. Except where an asterisk (*) follows the word, the pronunciation shown for Hebrew and Aramaic is that used in Israel, where at least 90% of all words are accented on the last syllable; many of the exceptions, in which the next-to-last syllable is accented, end with “ch,” with a vowel followed by “a,” or with “e” in the last syllable.

Printed
Form(s)
Word-
End
Form
Name of
Letter
Translit-
eration
Numerical
Value
Pronunciation
a   ah-leph 1 The guttural stop alef a is represented by an apostrophe (’) before a vowel, except at the beginning of a word. It is sounded by very briefly stopping the breath by closing the throat; for example, Natan’el is pronounced Nah•tahn•’ell, not Nah•tah•nell.

B

b

 

bet, beth, beit


vet, veth, veit

b


v

2 like boy with the dagesh

like vacation without the dagesh

G or g   gee-mel       g 3 Always hard, never a j-sound (there is no “j” sound in either Hebrew or Aramaic). Thus the “g” in “Gezer” is pronounced as in “get,” not as in “gem.”
D or d   dah-leth d 4 like dog or David, with or without the dagesh
h   heh h 5 like hello — at the end of a word it is usually silent, as in English “Hurrah!”
w   vahv / wahw v / w 6 Pronounced as a “v” or “w” (as in Hawaii or Havaii ) when used as a consonant, or as “oo” when used as a vowel
z   zah-yin z 7 like zebra
x   heth kh / ch 8 Always pronounced as the “ch” in the German pronunciation of Johann Sebastian Bach. To assist the reader, I usually (though certainly not always) use “kh” to avoid the “charge” sound.
j   teth t 9 like top
y   yod / yud y 10 like yell

K

 


k

 

kahf

 


khaf

k

 


kh

 

20

like kennel with a dagesh

 

 

“kh” is used tp represent the letter kaf (k) when it’s a “soft” kaf (with no dagesh). It sounds like the “ch” in “Johann Sebastian Bach” or the Scottish “Loch Ness,” never as in chase or Charlie.

l   lah-med l 30 like love
m ~ mem m 40 like mom
n ! nun n 50 like none
s   sah-mekh s 60 like silly
[   ay-yin

70

The stronger guttural stop ‘ayin [ is pronounced closer to the hard “g” sound, as in give, and is represented by a reverse apostrophe (‘) before or after a vowel.
P
p
@

peh


feh

p


f

80

like papa with the dagesh

 

like father without the dagesh

c # tsah-dee ts 90 like the “ts” in “tsetse fly.”
q   kofh q, k 100 like king or Qumran
r $ resh r 200 like run
X
v
 

seen


sheen

s


sh

300

like soda with a dagesh on the left or with no dagesh

 

like shine with a dagesh on the right

t or T   tav / taw t 400 like top (Ashkenazic pronunciation treats “tav” differently than Israeli [Sephardic] pronunciation — a “tav” at the end of a word will be pronounced “s” by Ashkenazim, who pronounce Shabbat Shab-bes, not Shab-bat.)
      a   as in father (fah-ther) or Adam (ah-dahm), thus Gad is pronounced “gahd” like “god”
      ai   a long-i sound  like high or pie, as in aisle — Haggai (hah-guy),
El Shaddai (el shah-die)
      e   a short-e sound as in bed — “er” sounds like “air,” not like “ur” as in father — Hesed (heh-sehd), Peretz (peh-retz)
      ee   long-e as in feed — Sheetim (shee-teem)
      ei   a long-a sound like “day” as in weigh or main (ot a long-i or long-e
sound) — ‘Ein-Gedi (‘ain-geh-dee), Beit-Lechem (bait-leh-chehm)
      i

 

  when accented, pronounced long-e as in marine — when not accented, pronounced short-i as in “invest” — in last syllable, always pronounced long-e even if not accented  — cohanim (ko-hah-neem), Migdal (mig-dahl), Gershuni (gehr-shoo-nee)
      o   long-o like boat as in “so” or as in more or door —
Gat-Rimmon (gaht-rim-moan), Dor (door)
      u   an “oo” sound, like boot or rule — Hizkiyaho (hiz-kee-yah-hoo),
Beit-Tzur (bait-tzoor)

Page last updated on Wednesday, 03 August 2016 11:21 AM
(Updates are generally minor formatting or editorial changes.
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