Hebrew Syllables

I though it’d be useful to do some Hebrew revision before tackling the corresponding aspect of Aramaic grammar. So here’s some revision on syllables, shewas and daghesh in Hebrew.

Basics

Every syllable begins with a consonant (no syllables begin with vowels) and has one vowel.

There are two types of syllables: open and closed. Open syllables consist of a consonant and a vowel (c-v), closed syllables consist of two consonants and one vowel (c-v-c).

The general rule of thumb is that when a syllable is unaccented, open syllables take long vowels and closed ones take short vowels. [I imagine it as though in a closed syllable, the vowel is squashed between two consonants, and therefore doesn’t have much room and so is short. Conversely, in an open syllable, the vowel has lots of space and so can stretch out and be long.] In an accented syllable the rule is revered (i.e. open = short; closed = long).

Syllable Classes

  • tonic – the accented syllable of a word (usually the final syllable).
  • pretonic – the syllable occuring before the tonic.
  • propretonic – the syllable occuring before the pretonic.

I was never taught those three classes when I first learnt Hebrew. They may seem a little obvious/stupid initially, but they really help when it comes to changes in vowel pointing (plurals, construct state etc.)

Daghesh

A daghesh lene (i.e. hardening the sound of a begadkephat letter) does not affect syllabification

A daghesh forte (i.e. doubling a consonant) does affect syllabification since the daghesh represents another consonant in the word.

How do you tell if a daghesh in a begadkephat letter is lene or forte? If the daghesh is preceded by a vowel, then it is forte. If the daghesh is preceded by a consonant it is lene.

Shewa

Silent shewas do not affect syllabification. Vocal shewas do. How do you tell?

If preceded by a short vowel, the shewa as acting to end a closed syllable, and is therefore silent.

If not preceded by a short vowel, the shewa is vocal.

Two consecutive shewas: the first is silent, the second vocal.

Gutturals (א ע) cannot take vocal shewas, but they can take silent ones. Composite shewas are always vocal.

One thought on “Hebrew Syllables

  1. Pingback: Aramaic Syllabification « Greek and Hebrew

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