The Observant Astronomer

The passing scene as observed by an observant Jew, who daylights as an astronomer.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Hashem echath

This evening I was discussing with some others the halacha regarding keriah shema that one is to ensure that the final dalet in "echad" is not pronounced as a "reish". One way to look at this is just as an orthographic caution lest the similarity between the two letters lead one to proclaim "Hashem acher" (Hashem is other) rather than one.

But I got to speculating about another interpretation of this law, especially in conjunction with the adjacent halachah that one is to draw out the dalet even longer than the preceeding chet. On the face of it, this seems strange. To draw out a fricative like a chet is easy, but how do you draw out a stop like a dalet? Further, we are warned not to pronounce it like a dalet with a dagesh.

So, as I said, I got to wondering. Is it possible that in ancient Hebrew an undageshed dalet was a fricative in the same way as beis-veis, pay-fay, kaf-chaf, and tav-sav? If so, then presumably it was a voiced dental fricative, perhaps /th/ as in "then". In such case, the tongue placement isn't so far off that of reish, and it might actually have been a practical mistake in pronunciation they were warning against, not just orthographic confusion. Similarly, the warning against pronouncing it with a dagesh makes more sense.

There is probably nothing new in this suggestion. After all, dalet is one of the six בגדכפ״ת letters, of which four still have the stop/fricative variants indicated by a dagesh. If gimmel and dalet were once similar, then we have three voiced/unvoiced pairs of such letters: the labials beis and pay, the dentals dalet and tav, and the gutterals gimmel and kaf.


Blogger Menuval said...

This suggestion is in one of the sephardic siddurim. I'll see if I can find it.

5:51 p.m., December 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are correct. From here:

In Hebrew and Aramaic the non-emphatic stops b, p, d, t, g, k become fricatives (pronounced v, f, dh, th, gh, kh, respectively) after vowels unless they are doubled

8:02 a.m., December 13, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bingo . . . one of my rabbis is also a linguist, and he claims that every daled without a dagesh was originally pronounced more like a "th" (how else would the halacha make sense?). He says that he does not pronounce that way at all -- except for that very daled of which you speak.

9:36 a.m., December 14, 2005  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

The traditional Oriental way to pronounce the soft daleth is /dh/ (like the TH in the English word "that"). This is how I pronounce the letter when leyning or reciting the Shema`.

The traditional Ashkenazzic way (which, sadly, is almost entirely lost today) to pronounce the soft daleth is as the sound /z/ (as in the word "Zoboomafoo"). This is how I pronounce the letter when I am reciting prayers other than the Shema`.

1:35 p.m., December 14, 2005  
Blogger The Observer said...

Thanks everyone for the responses.

Now the Temanim pronounce the dageshed gimmel as roughly a "j", and the soft one as "g". So, what sound did the soft one use to have and which is the correct version of the hard one? I.e. what does a /gh/ sound like?

1:46 p.m., December 14, 2005  
Blogger Lipman said...

Interstingly, the Iraqi tradition has lost the d/dh difference, except for the eHawdh of the Shma. (I do that, too. If you try to fulfil the mitzve with a regular d, you'll only get a red head.)

Nevertheless, the admonition to read D(h), not R, is purely graphical.

1:49 p.m., December 14, 2005  
Blogger Lipman said...

gimel: soft one like a French r, hard one like a "regular" r.

This j thing is a matter of much dispute among the Yemenite traditions, but there is no doubt that the above is the older pronunciation. (In certain Yememite and other pronunciations, the quf is shifted to a "regular" g, while the g is pronounced j. Both phaenomena are known from Arabic dialects as well.)

1:53 p.m., December 14, 2005  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

It looks like Lipman made a typo.

It seems that the phoneme /g/ (gimel) was originally pronounced [g] (hard G, like English "get") when hard, and [γ] (soft G, like Spanish "agua" or Arabic لغة "lugha" similar to French R) when soft.

2:15 p.m., December 14, 2005  
Blogger Lipman said...

Yes, thanks.

2:21 p.m., December 14, 2005  
Blogger D.C. said...

I was in an Egyptian beit kenesset in Brooklyn this past Shabbat, and they definitely distinguished (at least during keri'at ha-Torah) between gimel and ghimel.

This was also the first time that I've heard the tsibbur shout out a correction when a chataf pattach was mistakenly read as a regular pattach.

10:15 a.m., December 15, 2005  

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