had a single vowel
of vowels is a major insufficiency of written Hebrew. Vowels could be often
reconstructed from syntax – but not always, as the debates about vowelization
of the words in the Bible show. Besides, even if vowels could be reconstructed,
omitting them is extremely unusual: Germanic languages, for example, could be
mostly read without vowels, yet vowels are written. Sumerian also recorded the
vowels implicitly in its syllables. People do not learn mathematics as a set of
axioms only, but also of theorems, though people can theoretically reengineer
theorems on demand. Similarly, we expect a descriptory system of written
language to be generally sufficient “as is,” without the need to analyze
syntax to decipher vowels of every word. No descriptory system could be fully
explicit, some processing is always required, and syntax must be considered; but
a descriptory system that relies on such analysis for all the words is
clearly not satisfactory.
could be reconstructed in IE-based languages even easier than in Hebrew because
of excessiveness of those languages. Yet, written languages beyond the Egyptian
and West Semitic differentiate vowels even in shorthand writing. To omit the
vowels is odd – unless vocalization was unessential or unambiguous.
was unambiguous: the language had a single vowel a, which later evolved
into other vowels according to syntactical accent. Differentiation
of vowels runs exactly along morphological differentiation.
creators of proto-Hebrew used the vowel only to pronounce consonants. Those
scholars understood that short indeterminate sound would not do: r(e) is
inconvenient, and d`b`r` sounds unpleasant. Using apostrophic sounds would have
caused irregularities of d`b``r (debeer instead of debere) type. No such problem
arises with long [a]; dabara is pleasant enough.
vocalizes each consonant with [a] without specifically marking that sound.
Hebrew, likewise, need not mark vowels: the only existing vowel a was
presumed for every consonant. When writing כ, the Hebrews actually meant [ca].
structure provided for clear pronunciation of consonants without blurring as in
CCV consonantal clusters or word-final consonants. Initially, each syllable was
pronounced distinctly with its own accent (dabarA,
da.ba.ra). As people became more fluent in speech, they pronounced words as a
whole, and accent naturally shifted to penultimate position (dabAra). Unaccented
final vowel shortened to indistinct shuruk (da-bAr-u), and was eventually lost (dabAr).
earliest Hebrew did not differentiate between parts of speech, and contained
only AA-stem (dabar). Later, phrases expanded to verb and object, and
syntactical accent appeared. A likely reason for the syntactic accent is VSO
pattern: stress in the VSO, as in constructus, tends to the last word, and verbs
have to be artificially accented to avoid their weakening and unclear
Syntactical accent had to be especially strong early in the language history as
the only way to differentiate between the same word denoting action or object.
Accordingly, the second vowel which already had morphological accent, acquired
additional accent in verbs because of the phrase’ intonation, catAv – catA:v
Thus appeared tzere.
appeared in imperatives. They differ from other tenses by forceful pronunciation,
intonational accent. Thus, catAv – catA:v! – catOv! – c`tO:v! Very strong
stress of imperatives extremely elongated the accented vowel, and reduced the
composite vowels do not survive in heavy or firmly closed syllables.
Unaspirated tav of verb’ suffixes was pronounced with leading stop which
firmly closed the preceding syllable, diber – dibar.ti, *canes - ni-cnas.
Patah derives from tzere in heavy accented syllables.
appeared from tzere [ai] in unaccented syllables.
In hiphil: hragEsh – arAgish – hirgish.
Masoretes mistook very distinct vocal schwa in word-beginning followed by
another schwa for short e sound. Recognizing that unaccented e
should become hirek, they introduced hirek in word-initial double schwa
combinations. That Masoretic development runs contrary to the LXX evidence.
appears in epenthesis when one vowel sound splits in two to break a cluster,
cotevt (tzere) – cotevet, calb – celev, dvarnu (kamatz) – dvarenu.
turns shuruk in unaccented syllables, cahOl – cahOlah – cahO.llah (post-tonic
gemination) – c`hu.llAh.
of the same mater lectionis for holam and shuruk shows that they were
interchangeable originally, like in the spoken Arabic today (Mohammed –
Masoretes put a point mark in waw for u between the point mark positions for o (up)
and i (down), corresponding to the u sound length between o and i. They
similarly marked kubbutz with a middle dot between the dots for holam and hirek.
Differentiating long and short shuruk and hirek is unwarranted. Matres lectionis (iod, waw) and the dot marks are interchangeable; neither matres lectionis consistently denote long vowels, nor the dot marks denote short vowels. Pedantic Masoretes who invented multitude of marks for every minute occasion surely would not mix long and short vowels. They did not distinguish them. The Masoretes simply left matres lectionis for hirek and shuruk where the Bible already had them, and entered dot marks elsewhere.
holam is the same sound whether marked by waw or dot. The Masoretes marked holam
with dot, and retained waw where it already was present in the text as mater
lectionis. Similarly, kamatz and hey-kamatz are the same long a.
hirek as dot means the shorter sound than hirek as iod is incidental. Hirek was
marked with mater lectionis iod before the Masoretes. They introduced hirek in
double-schwa environments, d’v’rei – divrei, n’c’tav – nichtav. All
such environments became closed syllables, and hirek there was distinctly short.
Since the Masoretes did not add matres lectionis, they marked the new–incidentally
shorter–hireks with dot.
vowels exist only in accented, open or semi-open (word-final) syllables.
closed accented syllables, kamatz turns patah, had.davar, hitlabbEsh.
in closed unaccented syllables shortens to kamatz-hatuf (short o).
of kamatz in open syllable as kamatz-hatuf before another o sound (kamatz-hatuf
or hatef-kamatz) is a phonetic phenomenon of assimilation, not predictive
Kamatz pronounced as o in words like hochma because מ, נ, ר do not agglutinate with nearby consonant, and force syllabification: ha-chmA, but hoc.mA.
in 3s paal verbs might imitate other conjugations and stems, or distinguish from
davar nouns. The patah might also appear because of pronoun, always employed
with 3s verbs. Secondary accent on pronoun reduces the main accent, *catev –
differentiation of vowels by length reflects chanting, and could not survive for
millennium in speech to be heard by the Masoretes.
was unnecessary in speech, and the Masoretes heard it in chanting, calb –
celev, cotevt – cotevet.
of vowels characterizes chanting. More than two simple long vowel sounds are
unpronounceable in Hebrew speech. Tzere and holam are long composite sounds ae
and au, each longer than kamatz. Words with tzere and holam lack vocal force for
kamatz, gadOl – [g’dOl]. In speech, kamatz in gadol is not nearly as long as
in davar – only in chanting.
of vowels in pausal positions characterizes chanting, not speech.
pronunciation of vowels is incorrect, and consequential to stress shift: davAr
–dAvar (Germanized) – dA:var (absence of the post-tonic gemination, like in
dAb.bar, caused elongation of the accented vowel in open syllable) – dOv’r (absence
of post-tonic gemination caused reduction of the post-tonic vowel).
vowel not protected by gemination is normally reduced, and the expected form is
dOv’r. Ashkenazim, faced with two identical kamatz letters in davar, had to
pronounce two similar sounds. A sound-alike counterpart to long [o] was short [o],
and dov’r – dOivor (iod as semi-stop prevents reduction of the second short
[o] into schwa).
of kamatz as long [a] is clear from the kamatz’ association with hey (e.g.,
suffix ca - ch) which cannot be possible read [o]. That Hebrew affix hey is
aleph in Aramaic further supports the kamatz as [a].
Ayn”waw,iod,ayn sub-classes of verbs show that the accent indeed pushes
forward. Normally unaccented suffix is accented in that sub-class, gartA,
because the accent cannot stay on the first vowel in verbs.
VSO pattern, nouns follow verbs. If the constructus-like concatenation took
place, then catAv –davar – catA-vdavar, and kamatz in open accented
syllable elongated to tzere.
form shows that the syntactical accent actually exists and causes accent
shift or—where the shift is impossible—elongation.
The form cotev has short o, reduced from long
a; the Masoretes mistook the hatef-kamatz sound for holam. Hebrew
words generally have two long vowels, and composite vowel ae – tzere
equals almost two long vowels, leaving little air for the first vowel of the
word. To pronounce cotev with clear long o, the o sound must be
semi-stressed, and would produce post-tonic gemination cOttEv.
consonants are weak, and final syllables are not firmly closed, thus cotev,
are exceptions of necessity. There
are the forms dvarה (kamatz, noun), shlemה (tzere, kamatz-tzere
participle), gdolה (holam, verb-derived adjective), ctuvה (shuruk,
passive participle), khulה (kubbutz, noun-derived adjective), ctivה
(hirek, verb-derived noun), dabrה (patah, dabbar noun), catvה (kamatz,
verb), dibrה (hirek), and also kirvה (hirek, noun), dubrה
(shuruk, verb), and just about every other vowel. Tzere in shlemה form
was preserved from reduction to hirek to distinguish the word from ctivה.
Thus epenthetic vowels before suffixes: tal-mi-de-cem, tal-mi-de-nu.
Resyllabification is another option to preserve long vowel, tal-mid -
Kamatz+shuruk make long [o]. Patah+shuruk make short [o].
can be closed with stop (gemination, dagesh hazak).
could be lost for syntactic reasons, e.g. col is employed in constructus
like col-dvarim, almost unaccented, and its kamatz sounds short [o], kamatz