I like to use word association, mind pictures, “sounds like”, music and silly sentences to remember Hebrew vocabulary, letters, vowels and spelling. These tips and tricks, known also as mnemonic devices, have been proven to assist people of all ages to lock details into their long term memory for total recall and use.
For example: Parachute Expert, My Dear Aunt Sally for mathematical order of operations (parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction). But I digress: Let's take a look at the Hebrew vowel points, or Niqqud.
Niqqud: נקוד or the plural would be Niqqudot: נקודות means “pointing, or dotting” This refers to the Masoretic codification of markings around 600 or 700 CE to preserve the authentic pronunciation of Hebrew in the diaspora. In order to maintain the Holiness of the Hebrew letters themselves, these dots, or Niqqud, are placed under, over or beside the letters. Hebrew letters themselves only represent consonants, the vowel sounds have to be supplied by the reader/speaker. When reading Hebrew, right to left, pronounce the consonant sound first, followed by the vowel sound.
E type vowels. What are called E type vowels have two different pronunciations in Biblical Hebrew. The “long” sound is EY, as in the English word: they. The “short” sound is EH, as in the English word: them. In addition, they are classified as long, short, or reduced for purposes of grammar and spelling. Here is the verse from our song: Sing to the tune of “twinkle twinkle little star”
E type vowels have two sounds
Long is “ey” and short is “eh”
Two with “yod” and also Tsere,
These are “long” and say “ey” in “they”
Segol and Chateph are shorter sound
“eh” in “them” in them are found!
Let's take each of these in turn:
Tsere: צרי This vowel is two horizontally lined up dots, like two little eyes looking at you! Tsere, THEY, are looking at you with their two little eyes! Tsere sounds like “THEY”. And the sound of the letter is like the “ey” in they.
Tsere Yod: צרי יוד. This vowel has the tsere immediately followed by the letter yod. The yod becomes part of the vowel sound, “ey”, and becomes a “consonantal vowel”, or a letter acting solely as a vowel. We see this in the qamets hey in the “a type vowels” also. (see last blog post for A-type vowel mnemonics!) Like Tsere, it sounds like the “ey” in they, and is a long vowel.
Segol yod: סגול יוד. This vowel is another combination vowel, with the segol immediately followed by the letter yod. Remember that ANY vowel utilizing an additional letter will be long. The additional letter here is י. Just remember the song: Two with “yod” and also Tsere, These are “long” and say “ey” in “they”.
The other E type vowels are considered short and have a different sound IN BIBLICAL HEBREW. In Modern Hebrew Sephardic pronunciation, there is no distinction, and all E type vowels are “eh” like in the English word “them.”
Segol: סגול This vowel is three small dots in a triangular arrangement, two on top and one below. When drawing a simple beach scene, these three dots are connected in a arcing v pattern to create those seagulls flying over the surf. They are short seagulls. Segol sounds like SEAGULL, and remembering that they are short seagulls reminds us that segol is a short vowel!
Chateph Segol: חטף סגול . This vowel is really just a variation of the segol, but it is exclusively used with the gutteral letters, and is considered “reduced” as a result. The word, chateph, means “hurried” or “snatched”.
Todah Raba, Thanks, for checking out my Hebrew Mnemonics on the Niqqud.
L'hitra'ot! See you!