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Pronominal Suffixes

(3,242 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
Pronominal suffixes may be attached to nouns to express the genitive, to prepositions, and to verbs to express the direct object or, sporadically, other case relations. The following are the most common forms of the pronominal suffixes occurring on singular nouns ending in consonants in the standard Tiberian tradition of Biblical Hebrew, as well as on some prepositions and some plural nouns ending in ת/-וֹת ֹ  - ōṯ: וֹ- - ō 3ms הּ ָ  - - å̄h 3fs ךָ- - ḵå̄ 2ms ךְ ֵ  - - ēḵ 2fs י ִ  - - ī 1cs ם ָ  - å̄m 3mpl ן ָ  - å̄n 3fpl כֶם- - ḵεm 2mpl כֶן- - ḵεn 2fpl נוּ ֵ  - - ēnū 1cpl Examples: בִּנְךָ binḵå̄ ‘your (ms) so…

Shewa: Pre-Modern Hebrew

(7,536 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
The shewa sign (ְ) in the Tiberian reading tradition of Biblical Hebrew had two types of phonetic realization, viz. (i) a short vowel (referred to below as ‘vocalic shewa’) or (ii) zero (referred below to as ‘silent shewa’). In the Tiberian Masoretic literature (Masoretic Treatises) it is stated that vocalic shewa binds the letter to the syllabic unit of the letter that follows it, whereas a silent shewa separates it from the following letter. The word תִּסְפְּר֖וּ ‘you (m) shall count’ (Lev. 23.16), for example, was considered to have been composed of two prosodic units, viz. תִּסְ–פְּרוּ tis-pə…

Morphology in the Medieval Karaite Grammatical Tradition

(3,653 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
In the Middle Ages the Karaites developed a tradition of Hebrew grammatical thought that differed in some fundamental ways from the system of Hebrew grammar that was adopted by contemporary Rabbanite grammarians. The corpus of Karaite grammatical texts that have come down to us can be classified broadly into two main groups, which we shall refer to respectively as the early tradition and the tradition associated with the grammarian ʾAbū al-Faraj Hārūn (Grammarians: Karaite). 1. The Early Tradition The main source of our knowledge for the early tradition of Karaite grammat…

Biblical Hebrew: Linguistic Background of Masoretic Text

(8,291 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
The Hebrew texts of the Bible were composed at various periods before and after the Babylonian exile (581 B.C.E.), a few archaic passages being dated by some scholars to as early as the second half of the 2nd millennium B.C.E. The earliest biblical manuscripts are found among the Qumran scrolls, which date from the 3rd century B.C.E. to the 1st century C.E. The printed editions that are in use today are based on a form of text found in medieval manuscripts that derives from a school of scholars …

Masoretic Treatises

(4,621 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
Masoretic notes, written in Aramaic, were added to the margins of medieval Tiberian Bible manuscript codices. These were intended as an aid for the correct written transmission of the Masoretic text, relating to a variety of issues such as the orthography of words, qere and ketiv, differences between Masoretes, etc. They existed in a short version known in later scholarship as Masora Parva, which was written in the side margins, and a longer version known as Masora Magna, which was written in the upper and lower margins. The notes must have been added to the manuscripts …

Pretonic Lengthening: Biblical Hebrew

(3,210 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
Pretonic lengthening refers to a process in the historical development of Hebrew whereby a short vowel in an open syllable before the main stress was lengthened, e.g., יָק֫וּם yå̄qū́m < *yaqū́m ‘he rises’. Various explanations have been given for pretonic lengthening (Blau 2010:125–129). Some have attributed it to stress, arguing either that the syllables that are now pretonic originally bore the main stress (Goetze 1939:443) or that the lengthening arose due to the effect of secondary stress (Sarauw 1939:66). Brockelmann (1908–…

Aspiration: Pre-Modern Hebrew

(1,069 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
The term ‘aspiration’ refers to the flow of air that accompanies the release of a consonant. In the world’s language this occurs in particular after unvoiced stops, but is also attested with other types of consonants. In pre-modern Hebrew there is evidence that the unvoiced non-emphatic stops k, p, and t were pronounced with aspiration. This is seen in the Greek transcriptions of Hebrew in the Hexapla of Origen (ca. 185–254 C.E.), in which the letters kaf, pe, and taw are transcribed by the Greek letters χ, φ, θ, respectively, not only where the Masoretic traditions have a fricativ…

Transcription into Arabic Script: Medieval Muslim Sources

(1,369 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
A number of transcriptions of Hebrew words into Arabic script are found in medieval Muslim Arabic sources. These are mainly, but not exclusively, proper names. The Hebrew words occur in works relating to Jewish history, chronology, and scripture (usually in polemical contexts). The authors referred to in this entry are al-Yaʿqūbī (d. 897/8), al-Kirmānī (d. 1021), al-Bīrūnī (d. 1048), Saʿīd ibn Ḥasan (an Egyptian Jew who converted to Islam in 1298) and Ibn Khaldūn (d. 1406). Some transcriptions of proper names that are found in the sources appear to be based closely on t…

Vowel Length: Biblical Hebrew

(2,946 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
The length of vowels represented by the vowel signs in Tiberian Biblical Hebrew is largely predictable from syllable structure and the placement of stress. Vowels are pronounced long when they are either (i) in a stressed syllable or (ii) in an open unstressed syllable. Elsewhere the vowel is pronounced short. Examples: מֶ֫לֶךְ [ˈmεːlεχ] ‘king’, יִשְׁמַ֫ע [jiʃˈmaːʕ] ‘he hears’, חָכְמָ֫ה [ḥɔχˈmɔː] ‘wisdom’, הַה֫וּא [haːˈhuː] ‘that’, מִח֫וּץ [miːˈḥuːṣ] ‘outside’. In the orthography short [u] is predominantly represented by qibbuṣ, e.g., יֻקַּ֫ם [yuqˈqaːm] ‘he will be avenged’, b…

Reduction of Vowels: Biblical Hebrew Reading Traditions

(2,029 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
The phonetic reduction of vowels results in various changes in their quality as a result of weakening due to changes in factors such as stress, duration, and position in the word. This typically involves the loss of height and roundness, and a tendency towards centralization. It often results in the merger of the quality of vowel phonemes. The term ‘vowel reduction’ is sometimes used in the literature also to refer to the complete elision of a vowel. The development of vowels into shewa should be regarded as a case of total reduction, since a shewa, whether silent or vocalic, is phonolog…

Compensatory Lengthening

(2,829 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
The term compensatory lengthening refers to the lengthening of a vowel as a substitution for the loss of a consonantal segment in the historical development of the language. The most common context in which this has taken place is when a guttural (laryngeal and pharyngeal) consonant or resh loses its gemination and a preceding short vowel is lengthened in compensation for this, e.g., בֵּרֵךְ bērēḵ < * birrēḵ ‘he blessed’. The process has been interpreted as a means of maintaining the prosodic structure of the word by the spreading of the vowel to occupy the mora…

Grammarians: Karaite

(4,508 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
In the Middle Ages Karaite grammarians developed systems of Hebrew linguistic thought that differed in some fundamental ways from those that were adopted by the Rabbanite grammarians. The corpus of Karaite grammatical texts that have come down to us can be classified broadly into two main traditions, which we shall refer to respectively as the early tradition and the tradition associated with the grammarian ʾAbū al-Faraj Hārūn. 1. The Early Tradition The main source of our knowledge for the early tradition of Karaite grammatical thought is an extant grammatical tex…

Ketiv and Qere

(3,667 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
The Aramaic terms כְּתִיב kəṯīḇ ‘written’ and קְרֵי qərē ‘read’ (henceforth ketiv and qere) are used in the medieval Tiberian Masoretic sources (Masora, Tiberian; Masoretic Treatises) to refer, respectively, to the biblical consonantal text and the reading tradition reflected by the vocalization signs. The Tiberian Masoretic Text of the Bible consists of various components, two of the core ones being the consonantal text and the vocalization signs (Khan 2012). The consonantal text became fixed in the Second Temple Period and the form that…

Biblical Hebrew: Pronunciation Traditions

(8,154 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
Hebrew is generally thought to have ceased to be a spoken vernacular around the beginning of the 3rd century C.E. This coincides with the end of the Tannaitic period in rabbinic tradition. The surviving Hebrew texts that are datable to before this date would, therefore, have been written when Hebrew was still spoken. This includes the books of the Hebrew Bible, Qumran literature, Tannaitic rabbinic literature, documents, and epigraphy. There are references to the use of Hebrew as a vernacular in…

Root: Medieval Karaite Notions

(2,447 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
According to the medieval Karaite grammarians the base of the process of the derivation of a word was not an abstract root, but rather a concrete structural form consisting of both consonants and vowels. Such a theory of derivational morphology was developed in the early Karaite tradition of grammatical thought in the 10th century, the main extant source for which is the grammatical work of ʾAbū Yaʿqūb Yūsuf ibn Nūḥ known as the דקדוק Diqduq. According to Ibn Nūḥ the forms that serve as bases of derivation belong to various linguistic categories. The imperative form i…

Guttural Consonants: Masoretic Hebrew

(3,052 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
The guttural consonants א ʾ ( ʾalef), ה h ( he), ח ( ḥet), and ע ʿ ( ʿayin) have a number of distinctive properties in the medieval biblical pronunciation traditions, which are reflected by the various vocalization systems. In the Tiberian reading tradition these consonants were clearly distinguished in pronunciation, א ʾ being a laryngeal stop, ה h a laryngeal fricative, ח an unvoiced pharyngeal fricative, and ע a voiced pharyngeal fricative. In the Karaite manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible in Arabic script they were transcribed by Arabic ʾalif, hāʾ, ḥāʾ, and ʿayn respectively (Transcr…

Epenthesis: Biblical Hebrew

(1,941 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
Epenthesis in phonology refers to the addition of a sound that does not exist in the underlying representation of a word in order to repair an illicit combination of sounds at the phonetic level. Generally epenthetics are ignored by rules of stress placement and syllable weight (Syllable Structure: Biblical Hebrew). The most common epenthetic vowel in the Tiberian Reading Tradition of Biblical Hebrew was the vocalic shewa. This is a short vowel that generally had the quality of [a], but in some cases became assimilated to the quality of following sounds. At an…

Vocalization, Babylonian

(6,877 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
The term Babylonian vocalization is used to refer to a group of related systems of vocalization that were developed in medieval Babylonia (corresponding broadly to modern Iraq). It was used mainly in medieval biblical manuscripts, but is attested also in manuscripts of other types of Hebrew texts, in particular rabbinic texts and piyyuṭ. This type of vocalization came to the attention of modern scholarship in the middle of the 19th century, when Abraham Firkovitch discovered a number of Biblical manuscripts containing it in Chufut Kale (Crimea). T…

Transcriptions into Arabic Script: Medieval Karaite Sources

(4,760 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
In the 10th and 11th centuries C.E. many Karaite scribes in the Middle East used Arabic script not only to write the Arabic language but also to write the Hebrew language. Such Hebrew texts in Arabic transcription were predominantly Hebrew Bible texts. These were sometimes written as separate manuscripts containing continuous Bible texts. Some manuscripts in Arabic script contain collections of Biblical verses for liturgical purposes. Arabic transcriptions of verses from the Hebrew Bible or indi…


(3,312 words)

Author(s): Khan, Geoffrey
A gaʿya is a short vertical sign that is written under words in Tiberian Masoretic Bibles. The term is used in the early Masoretic sources (vocalized גַּעְיָה gaʿyå̄ and גִּיעְיָה giʿyå̄). It later came to be known as the מֶתֶג meteg, a term that was introduced by Yequtiʾel ha-Naqdan (first half of the 13th century) (ed. Gumpertz 1958) and is still widely used today. The gaʿya is part of the accent system and is generally only marked in manuscripts that have accent signs, but omitted in those that have only vocalization signs. The gaʿya sign is written beneath the consonant, generally to …
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