Hebrew equivalents of Arabic letters: changes undergone, etc.

Discussion in 'עברית (Hebrew)' started by DareRyan, Jan 12, 2006.

  1. DareRyan Senior Member

    Long Island, NY
    United States - English
    (Please correct my spelling, I have virtually no idea as to what I am doing.)

    Hello everyone! I am a beginner to the Hebrew language and I have a few simple basic and most likely stupid questions. The first and foremost is: What is the point of having letters that can make the same sound (Tet, Tav / Alef, Ayin / Vet, Vav etc.) Is there any pronunciation difference between these seemingly identical letters? The one I am having the most difficult is Alef vs. Ayin as, as far as I (A very mediocre student) am concerned, they are identical more or less [I have read that ayin is both silent and has a very slight gutteral sound from differing sources]. As I am sure the first word of this post has informed you, I am not exactly learned in this matter and any help is greatly appriciated!

    Thank you all for your help in advance

    BTW, How do I get Hebrew Characters to work? The top should read what I think is Shalom (Shin + Lamed + Vav + Mem)
  2. JLanguage Senior Member

    Georgia, US
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    No difference between tet and taf, or between alef and ayin. There are some speakers of Hebrew. particularly Arabs and Jews from Arabic countries, who pronounce the ayin gutterally. However, unless you plan to learn Arabic, don't bother with the ayin since most speakers of Hebrew pronounce it like alef.

    One thing that you will notice about Hebrew, is there are a number of letters and vowel symbols that are pronounced exactly the same in Israeli Hebrew. These are spelling conventions that are historical and don't have any effect on Israeli pronunciation.

    Additionally there is what is known as a dagesh, a dot that goes in the middle of letters to denote one of two things. A doubling of the consonant length (dagesh hazak), or a variant of a letter (dagesh kal). Historically ב,ג,ד,כ,פ,ת each had two variants - one with the dagesh and one without. But now there is only בּ,כּ,פּ, (bet, kaf, pe,) vs.ב,כ,פׂ (Vet, khaf, fe).

    Another thing which you must keep in mind is that only Hebrew liturgy, poetry, and children's books have vowels, while pretty much everything else does not. Thus you have to memorize the vowels.

    Shalom - שלום - שָׁלוֹם.

    English - Hebrew (vowelized) - Hebrew (unvowelized).
  3. DareRyan Senior Member

    Long Island, NY
    United States - English
    Is there any point to having letters like tav and tet if they are prounced the same? Is there any difference in their usage? For example, (I am sure this is a very ignorant statement) being as there are no vowels I would assume tav would be followed by an "Ah" sound if I saw it written and tet it's respective "eh". Is that completely wrong? It wouldn't surprise me.
  4. JLanguage Senior Member

    Georgia, US
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    Is there any point to having c stand for s and k, when both those letters are perfectly capable of representing their respective sounds? What about how s, can be s or can be z. Wh is pronounced the same as w (by most Americans, anyway). The list goes on and on. English spelling is entirely historical and together with French, we have the least phonetic orthography of any language based on the Latin alphabet. Hebrew spelling too is historical, preserving the pronunciation of ancient Hebrew, rather than Israeli Hebrew. What do you mean if you "tav" and "tet" written? If they are written as isolated letters than they should be pronounced the same way as freestanding letters are in English - by their names.
  5. DareRyan Senior Member

    Long Island, NY
    United States - English
    Thank you Jlanguage, this reply clears up a lot. I thought that unlike the English C, the hebrew characters Tet and Tav implied a subsequent vowel sound.
  6. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    It also might suffice to say that tet ט is generally used in foreign words introduced into Hebrew. The same thing happens with samech ס vs shin/sin ש in which samech is generally chosen for foreign words when a normal 's' sound is called for.

    Two examples:

    ooneeverseetah (university)
  7. amikama

    amikama sordomodo

    You are partly right: T is usually transliterated as ט (tet) whereas TH is transliterated as ת (tav).

    mathematics = מתמטיקה
    internet = אינטרנט
    Arthur = ארתור (but: Artie = ארטי)

    Here you are completely right :)
  8. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    If it helps, tet and tav have equivalents in Arabic that are pronounced differently. Perhaps tet and tav used to be pronounced differently but eventually meshed into a single pronunciation? Just a thought.

    As for alef and 'ain, I'm pretty sure that is in fact the case (they, too, have equivalents in Arabic): they used to be pronounced differently but are now pronounced identically by most speakers of Hebrew.

    Arabic has no "v" sound so I can't make the same comparison with vav and vet! :)
  9. amikama

    amikama sordomodo


    The original sound of vav (in ancient Hebrew) was apparently "w", similar to the Arabic و ;)
  10. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Interesting! And what about vet? Did it even exist back then?
  11. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Actually you can to an extent as far as the usage of vav is concerned. The Hebrew vav ו and the Arabic waaw و can both be used as vowels.

    The reason that vet does not work here is because bet and vet ב are the same letter so vet still corresponds to the Arabic baa ب . It does not correspond to the letter waaw. Consider:

    שבוע and اسبوع
    shavu'a and usbuu3

    כתיבה and كتابة
    ketiivah and kitaaba

    Here is a list of Hebrew-Arabic corresponding letters (that may not be obvious):

    ب = ב (both bet and vet)
    و = ו
    ح = ח
    ط = ט
    ك = כ
    ع = ע
    ف = פ (both pey and fey)
    ص = צ or ظ
    ق = ק
    س = ש or ش (both shin and sin)

    ث = שׁ (only shin, not sin)

    ت = ת

    All the other letters are the obvious corresponding ones.
  12. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    You are right. That's why I asked if "vet" has even always existed.

    I was aware of all of these, except that I did not realize צ could correspond to ظ.
  13. Pearl.Pearl New Member

    Hebrew Israel
    Just a side note
    It's not vet but Bet ב
    And whilst you can use Bet for both Vav and Bet sounds, You can not pronounce Vav instead of Bet

    Hello from Israel :)
  14. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English

    This must be another one you are not aware of. You made an unnecessary correction. (Hebrew) Shin = (Arabic) thaa2 is exactly what I meant.






  15. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Oops - I was misled by the parenthetical insertion, which I thought referred to the Arabic and not the Hebrew (even though the others obviously referred to the Hebrew). Therefore, I thought it was a typo.

    Thanks for the examples. You are right; this is another one I was not aware of.
  16. amikama

    amikama sordomodo

    There are still remnants of it in Hebrew:
    - The prefix "tri-" in Hebrew is -תלת (e.g. תלת-אופן = tricycle).
    - The words תמנון (octopus) and מתומן (octagon) are still written with ת, not ש.
  17. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I have changed the title of this thread to reflect the fascinating topics it has been addressing. This will help us with future searches. :)
  18. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    That is interesting. I did not know that. I will have to go back and update my list.:)

    I can't vouch for other dialects but in the Egyptian Arabic dialect (EAD) the 'th' sound of thaa2 ث becomes either a 't' sound or an 's' sound. For example:

    Three is thalaatha in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), but becomes talaata in the EAD. What's more, the word triangle, which comes from the same root, becomes musallas in ED (muthallath in MSA). In Hebrew triangle is משולש meshoolash which is very similar to the Arabic word, especially the EAD word. I find this stuff very fascinating.

    The word for two undergoes similar changes. In MSA it is ithnaan, but becomes itneen in EAD. Derived from that the word for secondary is thaanawi in MSA, but sanawi in EAD.
  19. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    In that list I made I forgot to include one thing. Along with ص and ظ , the letter ض is also represented by the Hebrew צ . So most of the Arabic emphatics are covered by the Hebrew tsade.


    land or country


  20. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
  21. מנחם Member

    English, Canada
    This is interesting. I know that I've seen Aramaic words, in the Talmud, which replace the traditional ש with the ת, much like what you have here. I'm surprised that these conventions have been preserved into Modern Hebrew. I would think that, for example, instead of using תלת, as a prefix meaning 'tri', one would use שלש.
  22. clevermizo Senior Member

    St. Louis, MO
    English (USA), Spanish
    Again browsing through some threads - for what it's worth, the secondary pronunciation (lenited pronunciations) of /b,g,d,k,p,t/ have existed for a long time - at least since the Mishnaic period (so, at least a couple thousand years :)). Before that, who knows, really. Some posit that [v] was pronounced as a bilabial, similar to the pronunciation of b,v in Spanish in between vowels. (Vowel context is actually the trigger for this in the first place in Hebrew). The rule makes all the stops of the set into fricatives.

    Interesting, the alleged soft pronunciation of t is th (as in think), and this has been preserved in the Ashkenazi tradition as (similar to tendencies in the Levant to pronounce etymological ث as س). I believe Yemeni Jews use [th].

    Tet and tav were pronounced distinctly at one time, in a similar fashion to the distinction between /t/ and /T/ in Arabic (pharyngealization or velarization). I'm not sure if Jews from Arab lands continue to do so; they very well may.

    Also, some posit that ayin and alef actually started to lose distinction a very long time ago in the Jewish Aramaic of the Levant (and thus,their Hebrew as well), and that actually the reason why Arabic-speaking Jews pronounce ayin at all today is because of Arabic influence, not as a retention of an original pronunciation.
  23. innertruth New Member

    The issue of different letters that modern Hebrew speakers pronounce the same way (as if they were not different ) is underestimated.
    Sure you can skip this aspect of Hebrew as almost everyone is doing today.
    However you will miss too much in terms of etymology, which determines which letters to use to write a word and how to understand the meaning of a word in a text you read.
    So try to get as much exposure as you can to Hebrewcorrectly pronounced.
    There is a speaker who pronounces lettersdifferently, so you can differentiate them.
    it's "Amnon Yitzhak", a Yemenite Israeli,with many Youtube videos (sometimes with English subs).
    Note :
    This guy's ideology is not my own.
    But you will find his pronunciation extremely helpful to you.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 20, 2012

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