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Vowels

Vowels

The present Hebrew vowel pointed system was implemented by the Masoretes between the 6th and 9th cent. Hebrew vowels can be categorized into three groups, long vowels, short vowels and vowels with matres lectionis. In modern pronunciation there is little difference between the long and the short vowels, though in ancient times the situation would have been different. The basic vowels and their pronunciation are displayed in the table below. Most of the vowel signs are placed below the consonant; the two exceptions are the long “o” and the long “u”, which appear after the consonant. The letter א is used as a sample letter to which each vowel is added.

 

Short Vowels

 

         Long Vowels

 

With Matres



Name




Name






A

אַ

patah

“father”

 

אָ

qamats

“father”

 

אָה

“father”

E

אֶ

segol

“peg”

 

אֵ

tsere

“peg”

 

אֵי | אֶ  

 “grey”| “peg”

I

אִ

hireq

“meet”

 

אִי

“meet”

 

O

אָ

qamets hatuph

“hot”

 

אֹ

holem

“hot”

 

אֹה / אוֹ

“hot”

U

אֻ

qibbuts

“boot

 

shureq

“boot

 

 

Observations

·         Though pronunciation of the five classes of vowels (A, E, I, O, and U) are all the same—irrespective of whether they are categorized as long, short or with matres lectionis—an exception arises with the long “e” together with a yod matres lectionis.

·         Some of the grammars—such as Weingreen (1959:4)—reflect a variation in the vowel pronunciations.

·         Long “i” and long “u” are always accompanied by matres lectionis, yod and waw respectively.

·         The long “a”, qamets and the short “o” qamets hatuph have the same symbol but differ in pronunciation, depending on the syllable type and accent position. In a closed and unaccented syllable the qamets hatuph is pronounced “o”, and in every other instance qamets is pronounced as a long “a”. In the word עָרְפָּ֫ה, for example, the first qamets is unaccented and the second is accented, therefore it is pronounced “Orpah”.

·         Even though the pronunciation of the long and short vowels is the same, recognizing them is important for accurate interpretation.

The list of vowels with matres lections presented here is not exhaustive, and a few other, much rarer, combinations are attested in biblical literature.
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