Your Brain is Green
Of all the brain types, yours has the most balance. You are able to see all sides to most problems and are a good problem solver. You need time to work out your thoughts, but you don't get stuck in bad thinking patterns. You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, philosophy, and relationships (both personal and intellectual).

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Hebrew for Dummies, Introduction Part 2: the Aleph-Bet

The Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 letters, all consonants.  It lacks some sounds in English, and to be confusing*, several letters have the [apparent] same sound.  Moreover, several letters have a different form which is used only when that letter is the last in a word.  Several letters also change their sound -- when written with vocalization [vowels], this is represented by a dot [dagesh] in the letter.  In "everday" usage, the letter isn't written with this dot, but is understood.  In the next installment, when I discuss the origins of Hebrew and how it differs from Indo-European languages, this will become clearer [I hope].

When I was a child, my father taught me a simple substitution code that I could use for writing secrets to my girlfriends.  It worked like this: first, make 3 tic-tak-toe grids.  Above the second, put a dot.  Above the third, put an X. Then fill in the grids with the ABC, so:

The "code" consisted of using the shape of the box the letter was in, so:

Think of the Hebrew alphabet as a kind of code; don't look for correspondences with the Latin alphabet [btw, the Cyrillic Russian alphabet actually borrowed some Hebrew letters directly]  Lots of Hebrew texts like to begin with suggesting that you remember that an aleph was originally the sign for the horn of an ox, or something like that. [My father, noting the stylized aleph Egged uses on its buses, said it looked like and X, and he then thought it must sound like X, which it doesn't]  Forget all that crap.  Aleph [א ]has no sound; it holds an empty place for a vowel sound.  Ayin [ע], OTOH, does, but it is very difficult for Ashkenazim to pronounce [although they can hear it].  It is a deep gutteral sound rather as if you are intending to retch.  Mizrachim are amused at this inability -- even after 35 years my tomatoes [agvaniyot with an ayin] sound like my airplanes [avironim with an aleph] and I consistently misspell words like tomato.  [Mizrachim confuse aleph with heh, but we'll get to that].  The distinction between aleph and ayin is important, however, as we'll see.

Bet and vet -- the former with a dot, the latter without, are the same letter, which is why a rav can be a rabbi ["my rav" literally].  Slight vowel changes make it a rebbe.  We'll get to that, too.  There is another letter with a "v" sound: vav.  They aren't interchangeable.

Gimel is a hard "g".  Easy enough. Except that there isn't any "j" [like in "jury"] in Hebrew, and it is needed when transliterating and for some loan words.  The solution has been to use "gimel-apostrophe" ['ג ], not to be confused with a tzadi-apostrophe, which does duty as an English "ch".  The apostrophe can also be confused with a yod, unfortunately [י]

Daled takes the sound of "d".  No ambiguity there.

Heh can be either an "h" sound or silent if at the end of a word.  For some reason, Mizrachim have trouble vocalizing heh at the beginning of a word, and husband Yitzhak, who laughes at my agvaniot, writes "halacha" as "alacha" with an aleph.  An Israeli boyfriend in New York liked to tell me "is 'ot" in the summer.  At the time, I found that very surprising, since the syllable "ha" at the beginning of a word is the definite article "the", so obviously Israelis can pronounce it.

Vav is, as I noted above, "v".  But, when written with a dot next to it, it is the vowel "oo"; with a dot above it, the vowel "oh", and isn't part of the root of the word.  It is only part of the root when used as a consonant.  You'll see what I mean when we get to roots.  Also, since Hebrew has no W, two vavs [without any dots anywhere] have come to substitute for a W [double "oo", you see]

Het, or chet, [ח] is one of two letters that Scots and Germans can pronounce easily; it is the "ch" of "loch", but can be a trial for the unpracticed English tongue.  The other is "chaf" [כ] without a dot, but they actually have slightly different sounds.  You will notice the difference particularly if you hear a Yemenite pronounce them, but for all intents and purposes, Ashkenazim pronounce them identically.  They aren't interchangeable, however.  When het is at the end of a word, it is pronounced "ach", as in "patuach!" ["It's open!" -- פתוח]

OK, by now your brain is spinning, so let's leave it for today.  We've got a long way to go, still.

*Vet-vav, tet-taf, kaf-koof, peh-feh, sin-samech.  But they ARE different from one another, as we will see.

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