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.
O type vowels. What are called o type vowels have just one pronunciation in Biblical Hebrew. The sound is OH as in Okay or yellow! 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”
O type vowels, they come next:
Cholem and Chateph Qamets
Qamets Chatuph and cholem Vav
Which are short and which are long???
Sure, we'll learn e-ven-tual-ly
These are tricky as can be!
Let's take each of these in turn:
Cholem: חולם: is a single dot above the letter. This is the only vowel that occurs over the letter. That single dot can occur over a letter (cholem) beside a vav (shurek) or under the letter (chireq). To keep these straight, I say that a single dot on your head (take your index finger here, and point to your head) makes you say: “OH!” and a poke in the side (now take your index finger and poke your side) makes you say: “OO!”, and a poke on your toochus makes you say: “EE!” The cholem (and the cholem vav) are both long.
Chateph Qamets: חטף קמץ: This niqqud looks like the little T under the letter (qamats), and has the two verticle dots to the right of it (sheva). It looks like we are having two biscuits with our "tea"! OH! How nice! When we see the biscuits by our "tea" we say "OH!" because we are so surprised to have biscuits with our "tea". As we have learned with the other reduced vowels, it is to be used only under gutterals: א ,ע ,ה ,ח ,ר alef, ayin, hey, chet and sometimes resh. This is a "reduced" vowel. Chateph means “hurried”. Even though it LOOKS like an “a” type vowel, we have to remember it still says: “OH! Two little biscuits with my 'tea'", and I guess we need to “hurry” eating it.
Qametz Chatuph: קמץ חטוף This niqqud also looks like the little T (qamats), but it is the short “o type” vowel. Well, it is "tea"...Remember with qamats we said that COMMENTS sounds like qamats, and that there should be NO COMMENTS about my tea! The chet on chatuph looks like a top hat. Chatuph sounds like AH, TWO! I know, crazy, but stick with me here...So picture two gentlemen in their top hats, drinking tea: they say "OH!" because the tea is exceptionally GOOD! How nice. This is why I say these vowels are tricky!! One way to tell whether it is Chametz Chatuph or qamats: If it is in closed, Unaccented syllable, it is the qametz chatuph. There has to be a short “OH” vowel, and this is it! *
Cholem vav : חולם וו : This is just the full vowel spelling for cholem. It is the single dot over a vav. It will appear directly to the left of the consonant it sounds with. By the way, cholem and cholem vav are interchangeable spellings. You will see the same word spelled each way. It still sounds the same. It still means the same thing. If a vowel has a letter as part of it, it is always long. Remember: a single dot on your head (take your index finger here, and point to your head) makes you say: “OH!” and a poke in the side (now take your index finger and poke your side) makes you say: “OO!”, and a poke on your toochus makes you say: “EE!”
L'hitra'ot! See you!
*Some texts will have the qametz chatuph darker, or with a more enlongated verticle line. If there are cantillation accents, the meteg will accompany a qamats. (Meteg = short, verticle line to the left of the niqqud). So if you don't see meteg, it is qametz chatuph.