Page images
PDF
EPUB

towards its investigation must accordingly be to ascertain the meaning of the symbols in which it is recorded. Then having learned its sounds, as they are thus represented, it will be possible to advance one step further, and inquire into the laws by which these are governed in their employment and mutations.

The symbols used in writing Hebrew are of two sorts, viz. letters (iis) and points (P). The number of the letters is twenty-two; these are written from right to left, and are exclusively consonants. The following alphabetical table exhibits their forms, English equivalents, names, and numerical values, together with the corresponding forms of the Rabbinical character employed to a considerable extent in the commentaries and other writings of the modern Jews.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

§3. There is always more or less difficulty in representing the sounds of one language by those of another. But this is in the case of the Hebrew greatly aggravated by its having been for ages a dead language, so that some of its

sounds cannot, now be accurately determined, and also by its belonging to a different family or group of tongues from our own, possessing sounds entirely foreign to the English, for which it consequently affords no equivalent, and which are in fact incapable of being pronounced by our organs. The equivalents of the foregoing table are not therefore to be regarded as in every instance exact representations of the proper powers of the letters. They are simply approximations sufficiently near the truth for every practical purpose, the best which can now be proposed, and sanctioned by tradition and the conventional usage of the best Hebraists.

ג

1. It will be observed that a double pronunciation has been, assigned to seven of the letters. A native Hebrew would readily decide without assistance which of these was to be adopted in any given case, just as we are sensible of no inconvenience from the various sounds of the English letters which are so embarrassing to foreigners learning our language. The ambiguity is in every case removed, however, by the addition of a dot or point indicating which sound they are to receive. Thus with a point in its bosom has the sound of b, unpointed that of the corresponding v, or as it is commonly represented for the sake of uniformity in notation, bh; is pronounced as g, unpointed had an aspirated sound which may accordingly be represented by gh, but as it is difficult to produce it, or even to determine with exactness what it was, and as there is no corresponding sound in English, the aspiration is mostly neglected, and the letter, whether pointed or not, sounded indifferently as g; is d, unpointed is the aspirate dh, equivalent to th in the; is k, unpointed its aspirate kh, perhaps resembling the German ch in ich, though its aspira tion, like that of 3, is commonly neglected in modern reading ; is p, unpointed is ph or f; is t, unpointed th in thin. The letter with a dot over its right arm is pronounced like sh, and called Shin; with a dot over its left arm is called Sin, and pronounced like s, no attempt being made in modern

usage to discriminate between its sound and that of t Samekh. Although there may anciently have been a distinc tion between them, this can no longer be defined nor even positively asserted; it has therefore been thought unnecessary to preserve the individuality of these letters in the notation, and both of them will accordingly be represented by s.

a. The double sound of the first six of the letters just named is purely euphonic, and has no effect whatever upon the meaning of the words in which they stand. The case of is different. Its primary sound was that of sh, as is evident from the contrast in Judg. 12: 6 of a shibboleth with sibboleth. In certain words, however, and sometimes for the sake of creating a distinction between different words of like orthography, it received the sound of s, thus almost assuming the character of a distinct letter, e. g. to break, to hope. That Sin and Samekh were distinguishable to the ear, appears probable from the fact that there are words of separate significations which differ only in the use of one or the other of these letters, and in which they are never interchanged, e. g. 2 to be bereaved, to be wise, to be foolish; to shut up; to look, to rule, to destroy. The close affinity between the sounds which they represent is, however, shown by the fact that is in a few instances written for , e. g. no Ps. 4:7 from x, y Eccles. 1:17 for . The original identity of and is apparent from the etymological connection between

to be drunken, to turn back;

to hire, a lip,

leaven and a vessel in which bread is leavened; ¬ to shudder, horrible, causing a shudder. In Arabic the division of single letters into two distinguished by diacritical points is carried to a much greater length, the alphabet of that language being by this means enlarged from twenty-two to twenty-eight letters

2. In their original power differed from t, and ≈ k from Pk, for these letters are not confused nor liable to interchange, and the distinction is preserved to this day in the cognate Arabic; yet it is not easy to state intelligibly wherein the difference consisted. They are currently pronounced precisely alike.

3. The letter has a stronger sound than the simple h, and is accordingly represented by hh; is represented by r, although it had some peculiarity of sound which we cannot at this day attempt to reproduce, by which it was allied to the gutturals.

4. For two letters, and, no equivalent has been given in the table, and they are commonly altogether neglected in pronunciation. is the weakest of the letters, and was probably always inaudible. It stands for the slight and involuntary emission of breath necessary to the utterance of a vowel unattended by a more distinct consonant sound. It therefore merely serves to mark the beginning or the close of the syllable of which it is a part, while to the ear it is entirely lost in the accompanying or preceding vowel. Its power has been likened to that of the smooth breathing (') of the Greeks or the English silent h in hour. On the other hand

had a deep guttural sound which was always heard, but like that of the corresponding letter among the Arabs is very difficult of utterance by occidental organs; consequently no attempt is made to reproduce it. In the Septuagint it is sometimes represented by 7, sometimes by the rough and sometimes by the smooth breathing; thus Tóμogga, b 'Hhi, pɔ̃rez'Aμɑhý. Some of the modern Jews give it the sound of ng or of the French gn in campagne, either wherever it occurs or only at the end of words, e. g. Sh'mang, T

gnāmōdh.

$4. The forms of the letters exhibited in the preceding table, though found without important variation in all existing manuscripts, are not the original ones. An older character is preserved upon the Jewish coins struck in the age of the Maccabees, which bears a considerable resemblance to the Samaritan and still more to the Phenician. Some of the steps in the transition from one to the other can still be traced. upon extant monuments. There was first a cursive tendency, disposing to unite the different letters of the same word, which is the established practice in Syriac and Arabic. This was followed by a predominance of the calligraphic principle, which again separated the letters and reduced them to their present rectangular forms and nearly uniform size. cursive stage has, however, left its traces upon the five letters

The

« PreviousContinue »