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Accent placement 

Accent places in Hebrew words are easily recognizable; neither Sephardic or Ashkenazic pronunciation is completely correct. The first is Arabicized, the second – Germanized.

Dagesh hazak is a stop, generally post-tonic. Thus, we can be sure of davAr, dAbbar, hitlAbbesh (the Masoretes heard Arabicized hitlabbEsh, thus long composite tzere), and hAmmilOn.

Dagesh hazak in piel, the emphatic stem, marks strongly accentuated second syllable: dabar – da.bbEr!        

The Masoretes put hirek in word-initial double schwa. Schwa is unaccented, and the only possible accentuation is n`z`cAr – nizcAr.

       Hebrew nouns are initial-stress-derived. Syntactical accent moved the accent in nouns backward, thus the haial stem and segholates. Very few nouns retained the ancient accent, davAru – davAr.


Hebrew verbs are accented on even syllables, catAvtihA, w’cAtavtI, hictIva, hitlAbbesh. Nouns are accented on even syllables counted backward, in the direction of syntactic accent, hAyyal, cal’b. Schwas formed syllables, and cal’b is accented on the second (even) syllable from the end.

Such accent placement created awkward contagious stresses in phrases, catAv sIfr. Case suffixes changed the stress pattern, catAv safAru.

Diphthongs pull stress because they count as two syllables, one vowel sound per syllable.


Accent remained on the last syllable in verbs in all forms (2fs FT, 3p PT) but those with nun and tav infixes (1-2s, 1p PT, 2-3fp FT). That difference relates to peculiarity of nun and tav sounds. In antiquity, both had strong natural stop.[1] Accent on final syllable would have created uncomfortable clusters, *ticht’vnA.[2]

The Masoretes heard tav already aspirated. They added dagesh kal to preserve tav as stop consonant and to avoid post-tonic reduction of naked vowel, *ca-tAvth-a – ca-tAvth’.

Final mem and nun must be pronounced distinctly, and the final syllable of 2p sounds c’tav–[tE-m]. Distinct pronunciation of the final consonant caused the accent shift. Also, tem syllable is sufficiently heavy, and does not form a cluster: c’tav-tEm, not hard-to-pronounce *c’ta-vtEm.


Accent shifted in wayyiqtols because of the secondary stress on the prefix, wAyyomEr - wayyOmer. Post-tonic gemination in the first, not the second root consonant shows that the original accentuation was wAyyomEr.

    Hirek in closed syllable is short,[3] and stressing it (wayyIctov) is counterintuitive.[4] Many wayyiqtOls retain the original accent.


    Suffix vowels in initial-stress nouns were weak, davArca – davArc’ – davarc. The unpleasant final cluster was colloquially broken with epenthesis, d’varec or d’varac, thus –ac/-ec suffixes in the Secunda.

Cantors semi-stressed suffixes to clearly pronounce them, davArcA. By the time of the Masoretes, the accent had shifted in chanting and reduced pro-pretonic vowel, d’varchA.


In a very careful notation, the Masoretes specified intonation, but not accent. They also unusually diversified the vowels’ length. That suggests pitch accent, more pronounced in chanting.   


[1] Open accented syllables need not be closed by gemination or iod, if followed by nun which has natural stop: talmideichem, but talmidenu. When nun’s stop weakened, iod appeared in speech, talmideinu.

[2]  Nouns solved that clustering with epenthesis, d’varenu. Strong syntactic accent of verbs would have squeezed out weak epenthetic vowel.

[3] Word-final consonants are weak, and final syllables are only semi-closed, and allow for long hirek, margIsh.

[4] Accented hirek must be long. To do that, the hirek syllable must be open, wayyI-chtov. The final syllable becomes heavy (ccvc) and pulls accent.