Loss of Semitic sounds in Hebrew

I wonder why is that ayin(ʕ) , or het (ħ) , or tet (ṭ) is no longer pronounced in modern hebrew , but only rarely by mizrahi jews ?

Ayin is now pronounced like aleph , a vowel , and het is pronounced as ch/kh like khaf, and tet is a simple T like Tav, and of course qof is like a kaf (k) ...

As far as I know Eliezer Ben Yehuda based modern herbew on ashkenazi and sephardic hebrew, and so it had those sounds when the language was revived.

So and how did hebrew change that much ?

December 7, 2016


Another letter that changed is the resh. Anyways, I think this is because of the founders effect, the first speakers had trouble pronouncing these letters and so it shifted. Personally, I love the Mizrahi accent.

December 8, 2016

i can't read international phonetics :(

June 25, 2019

Speaking of loss of Semitic sounds is nonsense, all languages evolve. Arabic is not anymore closer to original Proto-Semitic than Hebrew. Arabic has many pharyngealized stops and fricatives and a pharyngeal approximant, and these are a peculiarity of the how the language evolved in the Arabian peninsula in antiquity. It is extremely unlikely that Proto-Semitic had such sounds, it is far more likely that in place of those it had ejective sounds like those found in the Ethiopic languages.

There are also many misconceptions, some I see being repeated in the comments here that Hebrew pronunciation is due to German or whatever, it certainly isn't. Ashkenazi Jewish Hebrew pronunciation is far removed from Israeli Hebrew, largely due to such pronunciation having low prestige and actively being avoided.

Some ways that Hebrew is closer to Proto-Semitic than Arabic:

1.) Guttural resh. This is not from Europe as it is a sound pronounced further back in the throat than any European pronunciation of r sounds. Instead it is found also in Baghdad Jewish pronunciation, existed already in Tiberian Hebrew and there is indirect evidence of it in second temple era Hebrew and is in all likelihood a survival of the original pronunciation. There is also evidence of other ancient Semitic languages such as Akkadian having this guttural R sound. It is in Arabic that the sound shifted to a dental trill not vice versa.

2.) Hard gimmel, in Arabic this has softened to a j sound which certainly isn't the pronunciation in ancient Semitic languages.

3.) Velar pronunciation of Quf. In ancient Hebrew it would have been ejective as well and also typically pronounced with rounded lips. Although it has lost its ejective character and rounding, its position as velar remains. In contrast in standard Arabic it also lost its ejective character but via this becoming instead a movement to a uvular position.

4.) Affricative pronunciation of tzadi. This is not due to German and is closer to original Proto-Semitic than Arabic where it has become a pharyngealized fricative instead of remaining an affricate. The affricative pronunciation survives in many Hebrew pronunciation traditions including Ethiopic proving its not of European origin. Originally it would have been ejective as well as affricative as in Ethiopic.

5.) Hard p, in Arabic this has softened to f in all cases with the original Semitic p disappearing in Arabic.

May 25, 2018

Colin, I'm curious how linguists know how ancient Near Eastern and Middle Eastern languages sounded and if they're just speculating or are rather sure of the sounds.

January 31, 2019

Its always speculation as we can't go back in time and hear people. But its educated speculation based on consideration of evidence in current pronunciations, known laws of phonetic change, historical spelling especially in transliteration etc.

January 31, 2019

Good question, I've always wondered why Hebrew has a few sounds that have two letters.

December 7, 2016

What do you mean? like foreign sounds with geresh?

December 8, 2016

For example, ט and ת

January 3, 2017

Oh now It Yeah I wonder about sin and samekh the same way...

January 4, 2017

My recollection of the academic theory on ט/ת and ש/ס is that they reflected differences in spelling between Israel and Judah during the biblical era, but I’d want to read up more on this before stating it definitively.

Other cases are a little more complicated. The tendency for a B sound to morph to a V sound (as does ב) mid-word is common in many languages, as is the initial P to a final F (Hebrew even denotes this one with פ and ף).

Getting back to the ב having a V sound in the middle or end of words, yes, this looks confusing to a beginner because the ו also has a V sound, but only at the beginning of words! So both letters are necessary for the V. It should be noted that in biblical times, the ו had a W sound, and may have shifted to a V in the diaspora due to the Germanic influence. So historically the ו might have had a similar sound at the beginning and middle of words, I.e. a W sound. This particular issue gets heated because of the religious aspects of not pronouncing the Tetragrammaton (the biblical name for the deity) out loud.

As for all the KH sounds, I guess the more the merrier! כ ך ה ח ק

April 26, 2019

Was ב ever pronounced w?

June 5, 2019

Nope. ב is a totally different letter than ו. The fact that both letters can have a “V” sound today is something of a coincidence.

June 5, 2019

How and why - you've got to think who the first Modern Hebrew speakers were. They were mostly Jews from Russia and Poland and that area whose first language was Yiddish. Obviously they would pronounce any language the way they know how. :)

It's true that modern Hebrew follows the Sepharadi pronounciation, in that we say "shabbat" and not "shabbos" for example. But the vast majority of speakers in the beginning came from Europe.

December 8, 2016

Wasn't there an old sound with? a pictograph shaped like a rope that got absorbed into ?ג

June 5, 2019

Modern Hebrew was not established on purely sepharadic prounouciation, cultrally, accents shifted with israels current mizrachi majority ( versus ashkenazic) As well as the limited absorbtion of arabic into the venacular ( as opposed to the former , yiddish for slang etc)

April 21, 2017

Modern Hebrew was based off of near east jewish ( often mislabeled "sepharadc") prounounciation as the zionist founders sought to distance themselves from the Eastern European accent and yiddish language in general. So thats were the general pronouciation comes from, Jews from Arabic countries accent's. Ironically the spelling and syntax of modern hebrew is a direct decendant of Yiddish as all European zionists spoke it . This might explain why MH is so different in terms of vowels and constants sounding differantly

April 23, 2017

The statement that modern Hebrew spelling and syntax is from Yiddish is completely false. Yiddish spelling uses letters for vowels, for example ayin for e sounds and always uses bet for hard b and vav always for v etc etc. Modern Hebrew formal spelling follows the conventions of late Biblical Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew. There are no changes to traditional use of letters in words and only occasional use of "mothers of reading" as was present already in ancient times. Informally people may lean to using ktiv male which includes more "mothers of reading" similar to Arabic conventions.

Modern Hebrew syntax has its roots in late Talmudic, prayer book and poetic Hebrew and differs substantially from Yiddish which is basically German syntax, compare translation of English "I gave the book to you."

Yiddish: איך געגעבן די בוך צו איר = I [past tense-marker]-gave-[verb marker] the book to you.

vs Modern Hebrew: נתתי לך את הספר = Gave-I(past tense first person suffix) to(dative prefix)-you(second person suffix) [accusative preposition] the(definite prefix)-book.

January 31, 2019
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