Vowels in Hebrew
Hebrew vowel symbols
- The sound "a" : qamatz : « ָ » , pata'h « ַַ » , 'hataf pata'h « ֲ »
- The sound "é" : ségol : « ֶ » , tséré : « ֵ » , shéva « ְ »
- The sound "i" : 'hiriq : « יִ », 'hiriq : « ִ » , youd « י »
- The sound "o" : 'holam : « ֹ » , « וֹ » , 'hataf qamatz « ֳ »
- The sound "ou" : shourouq : « וּ » , qouboutz « ֻ » .
- The qamatz קָמָץ « ָ »produces the vowels « a » and « o »
- The pata’h פַתָח « ַ » produces the vowels « a »
- The tséréh צֵירֵה « ֵ » produces the vowels « é » and « è »
- The ségol סֶגוֹל « ֶ » produces the vowels « é » and « è »
- The 'hiriq חִירִק « ִ » produces the vowels « i »
- The 'holam חוֹלַם « ֹ » produces the vowels « o »
- The 'holam vav חוֹלַם וַו « וֹ » produces the vowels « o »
- The qouboutz קֻבִּוּץ « ֻ » produces the vowels « ou »
- The shourouq שׁוֹרוֹק « וּ » produces the vowels « ou »
- The shéva shéva שְׁוָא « ְ » produces a vowel silence,
or a vowel « é » and « è »
- The 'hataf pata’h חֲטַף־פּתָח « ֲ » produces the vowel « a »
- The 'hataf qamatz חֲטַף־קָמָץ « ֳ » produces the vowel « o »
- The 'hataf Ségol חֲטַף־סֶגוֹל « ֱ » produces the vowel « é » and « è »
The « Mater lectionis » are consonants that function as vowels
The א, the ה, the ו, the י,to which we can add the ע
are consonants which can be identified with vowels by their use.
Even though the vowel system of the Massoretic text was added later, the initial way to indicate the presence of vowels was by using 3, and later 4, consonants that could be seen as vowels. These letters are known as "Mater lectionis," a term that literally means "mother of reading" in Latin. The first three letters used were the « ה », the « ו » and the « י ». To which was added later the « א »
So today, we consider that there are 4 “Mater lectionis”. However, the pronunciation of the "ע" having been simplified in modern usage, we consider that the "ע" can also be integrated into the list of "Mater lectionis" since its role today is essentially to carry the vowel .
Le א, le ה, le ו, le י, le ע
א : The « Alèph » is primarily pronounced by the accompanying vowel. Most commonly "a," but it can also be "e," "i," "o," "u," depending on the context. It doesn't have its own sound and is considered a consonant, but its primary function is indeed to carry the vowel since it has no inherent consonantal sound, except for separating sounds between syllables..
ה : The « Hé » has a slight consonantal sound, like an aspirated "h," as in English. Similarly, it primarily carries vowels, often "a" but also other vowel sounds.
ו : The « Vav »is unique because it can function as both a vowel and a consonant. This duality likely evolved later, as it was primarily "o" and "u." Nowadays, it can sound like "o," "u," or the consonant "v" depending on the context.
ע : The « Ayin » was originally a guttural letter, pronounced from the throat. In modern Hebrew, it's often simplified by acting as a sound separator between syllables, similar to "Aleph," and being assigned a vowel. It's essentially a vowel now.
י :The "Youd" is similar to the French "y" as it can function as the vowel "i" or as a consonant "y," as in the French word "Yeux".
of Shéva ( ְ )
The Shva that indicates the absence of a vowel is not marked at the end of a word, except for the final Khaf and sometimes the Tav.
There is a Shva under the Lamed ל, but not under the Dalet ד, because it's at the end of the word.
On the other hand, with the word :
Mélèkh : מֶלֶךְ
There is a Shva under the final Khaf. There's always a Shva under this letter.
What is called a silent "e" is an "é" or a slightly pronounced "e" .
The rule can sometimes be random due to the evolution of modern Hebrew, which adapted to needs and often freed itself from cumbersome rules.
For example, in classical Hebrew, the rule for the silent "e" is that it's pronounced at the beginning of a word but not at the end of a word. In modern Hebrew, it's different. Generally, Israelis don't bother with these details. A Shva indicates the absence of a vowel simply. Unless common sense suggests that it wouldn't sound good and it's better to pronounce it to be audible and understood.
Médabèr : מְדַבֵּר
Here, the Shva under the Mem is pronounced because it would be a bit awkward to the ear and not very practical to pronounce.
So, when to pronounce or not to pronounce the Shva?
Silent or Pronounced Shva
Well, the Shva is pronounced when it's at the beginning of a word or at the beginning of a syllable. And conversely, it's silent when it closes a syllable.
When Two Shvas Follow Each Other
And when two Shvas follow each other, the first one is silent and the second one is pronounced. Why? Simply because the first one closes a syllable, and the second one opens the next syllable.
of Qamatz ( ָ )
In some cases, the Qamatz is pronounced "o".
Kol or Khol : כָּל ou כָל
The word Kol means "everything". The o, in this case, is pronounced like the "o" of a bowl.