Dictionary and translator for handheld
New : sensagent is now available on your handheld
A windows (pop-into) of information (full-content of Sensagent) triggered by double-clicking any word on your webpage. Give contextual explanation and translation from your sites !
With a SensagentBox, visitors to your site can access reliable information on over 5 million pages provided by Sensagent.com. Choose the design that fits your site.
Improve your site content
Add new content to your site from Sensagent by XML.
Crawl products or adds
Get XML access to reach the best products.
Index images and define metadata
Get XML access to fix the meaning of your metadata.
Please, email us to describe your idea.
Lettris is a curious tetris-clone game where all the bricks have the same square shape but different content. Each square carries a letter. To make squares disappear and save space for other squares you have to assemble English words (left, right, up, down) from the falling squares.
Boggle gives you 3 minutes to find as many words (3 letters or more) as you can in a grid of 16 letters. You can also try the grid of 16 letters. Letters must be adjacent and longer words score better. See if you can get into the grid Hall of Fame !
Change the target language to find translations.
Tips: browse the semantic fields (see From ideas to words) in two languages to learn more.
|Biblical Hebrew, Classical Hebrew|
|שְֹפַת כְּנַעַן, יְהוּדִית, (לְשוֹן) עִבְרִית, לְשוֹן הַקֹּדֶש|
Siloam Inscription at Istanbul Archaeological Museum
|Spoken in||Kingdom of Israel (united monarchy)
Kingdom of Judah
Kingdom of Israel (Samaria)
Global (as a liturgical language for Judaism)
|Extinct||developed into Mishnaic Hebrew after the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70|
|Writing system||Proto-Canaanite / Phoenician alphabet
Biblical Hebrew (Hebrew: עברית מקראית), also called Classical Hebrew (Hebrew: עברית קלאסית), is the archaic form of the Hebrew language, a Canaanite Semitic language spoken in the area known as Canaan between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Biblical Hebrew is attested from about the 10th century BC, and persisted through the Second Temple period (ending in AD 70). Biblical Hebrew eventually developed into Mishnaic Hebrew, which was spoken until the 2nd century AD. Biblical Hebrew is best-attested in the Hebrew Bible, a document which reflects various stages of the Hebrew language in its consonantal skeleton, as well as a vocalic system which was added later, in the Middle Ages. There is also some evidence of regional dialectal variation, including differences between Biblical Hebrew as spoken in the northern Kingdom of Israel and in the southern Kingdom of Judah.
Biblical Hebrew has been written with a number of different writing systems. The Hebrews adopted the Phoenician script around the 12th century BC, which developed into the Paleo-Hebrew script. This was retained by the Samaritans, who use the descendent Samaritan script to this day. However the Aramaic script gradually displaced the Paleo-Hebrew script for the Jews, and it became the source for the modern Hebrew alphabet. All of these scripts were lacking letters to represent all of the sounds of Biblical Hebrew, though these sounds are reflected in Greek and Latin transcriptions of the time. These scripts originally only indicated consonants, but certain letters, known as matres lectionis, became increasingly used to mark vowels. In the Middle Ages various systems of diacritics were developed to mark the vowels in Hebrew manuscripts; of these, only the Tiberian system is still in wide use.
Biblical Hebrew possessed a series of "emphatic" consonants whose precise articulation is disputed, likely ejective or pharyngealized. Earlier Biblical Hebrew possessed three consonants which did not have their own letters in the writing system, but over time they merged with other consonants. The stop consonants developed fricative allophones under the influence of Aramaic, and these sounds eventually became marginally phonemic. The pharyngeal and glottal phonemes underwent weakening in some regional dialects, as reflected in the modern Samaritan Hebrew reading tradition. The vowel system of Biblical Hebrew changed dramatically over time and is reflected differently in the ancient Greek and Latin transcriptions, medieval vocalization systems, and modern reading traditions.
Biblical Hebrew had a typical Semitic morphology, placing triconsonantal roots into patterns to form words. Biblical Hebrew distinguished two genders (masculine, feminine), three numbers (singular, plural, and uncommonly dual). Verbs were marked for voice and mood, and had two conjugations which may have indicated aspect and/or tense (a matter of debate). The tense or aspect of verbs was also influenced by the conjugation ו, in the so-called waw consecutive construction. Default word order was verb–subject–object, and verbs inflected for the number, gender, and person of their subject. Pronominal suffixes could be appended to verbs (to indicate object) or nouns (to indicate possession), and nouns had special construct forms for use in possessive constructions.
The earliest written sources refer to Biblical Hebrew by the name of the land in which it was spoken: שפת כנען 'the language of Canaan' (see Isaiah 19:18). The Hebrew Bible also shows that the language was called יהודית 'Judaean, Judahite' (see, for example, 2 Kings 18:26,28). In the Hellenistic period Greek writings use the names Hebraios, Hebraïsti (Josephus, Antiquities I, 1:2, etc.), and in Mishnaic Hebrew we find עברית 'Hebrew' and לשון עברית 'Hebrew language' (Mishnah Gittin 9:8, etc.). The origin of this term is obscure; suggested origins include the Biblical Eber, the ethnonyms Ḫabiru, Ḫapiru, and ˁApiru found in sources from Egypt and the near east, and a derivation from the root עבר 'to pass' alluding to crossing over the Jordan river. Jews also began referring to Hebrew as לשון הקדש 'the holy tongue' in Mishnaic Hebrew.
The term Classical Hebrew may include all pre-medieval dialects of Hebrew, including Mishnaic Hebrew, or it may be limited to Hebrew contemporaneous with the Hebrew Bible. The term Biblical Hebrew refers to pre-Mishnaic dialects (sometimes excluding Dead Sea Scroll Hebrew). The term 'Biblical Hebrew' may or may not include extra-Biblical texts, such as inscriptions (e.g. the Siloam inscription), and generally also includes later vocalization traditions for the Hebrew Bible's consonantal text, most commonly the early-medieval Tiberian vocalization.
The archeological record for the prehistory of Biblical Hebrew is far more complete than the record of Biblical Hebrew itself. Early Northwest Semitic (ENWS) materials are attested from 2350 BC to 1200 BC, the end of the Bronze Age. The Northwest Semitic languages, including Hebrew, differentiated noticeably during the Iron Age (1200–540 BC), although in its earliest stages Biblical Hebrew was not highly differentiated from Ugaritic and Amarna Canaanite.
Hebrew developed during the latter half of the second millennium BC between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, an area known as Canaan. The Israelite tribes established a kingdom in Canaan at the beginning of the first millennium BC, which later split into the kingdom of Israel in the north and the kingdom of Judah in the south after a dispute of succession. The earliest Hebrew writing yet discovered was found at Khirbet Qeiyafa and dates to the 10th century BC.
The kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC. The kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BC, its higher classes exiled and the first Temple destroyed. Later the Persians made Judah a province and permitted Jewish exiles to return and rebuild the Temple. In this period of turmoil, the Hebrews were greatly influenced by Aramaic. Aramaic became the common language in the north, in Galilee and Samaria. Hebrew remained in use in Judah; however the returning exiles brought back Aramaic influence, and Aramaic was used for communicating with other ethnic groups during the Persian period. Alexander conquered Judah in 332 BC, beginning the period of Hellenistic (Greek) domination. During the Hellenistic period Judea became independent under the Hasmoneans, but later the Romans ended their independence, making Herod the Great their governor. One Jewish revolt against the Romans led to the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 , and the second Bar-Kochba revolt in AD 132–135 led to a large departure of the Jewish population of Judea.
Biblical Hebrew after the Second Temple period evolved into Mishnaic Hebrew, which ceased being spoken and developed into a literary language around AD 200. Hebrew continued to be used as a literary and liturgical language in the form of Medieval Hebrew, and Hebrew began a revival process in the 19th century, culminating in Modern Hebrew becoming the official language of the State of Israel. Currently, Classical Hebrew is generally taught in public schools in Israel, and Biblical Hebrew forms are sometimes used in Modern Hebrew literature, much as archaic and Biblical constructions are used in Modern English literature. Since Modern Hebrew contains many Biblical elements, Biblical Hebrew is fairly intelligible to Modern Hebrew speakers.
The primary source of Biblical Hebrew material is the Hebrew Bible. Biblical Hebrew is meagerly attested from epigraphic materials, and the Hebrew in these materials differs little from the variety of Hebrew in the Hebrew Bible. The damp climate of Palestine caused the rapid deterioration of papyrus and parchment documents, in contrast to the dry environment of Egypt, and the survival of the Hebrew Bible may be attributed to scribal determination in preserving the text through copying. No manuscript of the Hebrew Bible dates to before 400 BC, although two silver rolls (the Ketef Hinnom scrolls) from the 7th or 6th century BC show a version of the priestly blessing. Vowel and cantillation marks were added to the older consonantal layer of the Bible between 600 CE and the beginning of the 10th century.[nb 1] The scholars who preserved the pronunciation of the Bibles were known as the Masoretes. The most well-preserved system that developed, and the only still used is the Tiberian vocalization, but both Babylonian and Palestinian vocalizations are also attested. The Palestinian system was preserved mainly in piyyutim, which contain Biblical quotations.
As a Northwest Semitic language, Hebrew shows the shift of initial */w/ to /j/, a similar independent pronoun system to the other Northwest Semitic languages (with third person pronouns never containing /ʃ/), some archaic forms, such as /naħnu/ 'we', first person singular pronominal suffix -i or -ya, and /n/ commonly preceding pronominal suffixes. Case endings are found in Northwest Semitic languages in the second millennium BC, but disappear almost totally afterwards. Mimation is absent in singular nouns, but is often retained in the plural, as in Hebrew.
The Northwest Semitic languages formed a dialect continuum in the Iron Age (1200–540 BC), with Phoenician and Aramaic on each extreme. Hebrew is classed with Phoenician in the Canaanite subgroup, which also includes Ammonite, Edomite, and Moabite. Moabite might be considered a Hebrew dialect, though it possessed distinctive Aramaic features. Although Ugaritic shows a large degree of affinity to Hebrew in poetic structure, vocabulary, and some grammar, it lacks some Canaanite features (like the Canaanite shift and the shift */ð/ > /z/), and its similarities are more likely a result of either contact or preserved archaism.
Hebrew underwent the Canaanite vowel shift, where Proto-Semitic /aː/ tended to shift to /oː/, perhaps when stressed. Hebrew also shares with the Canaanite languages the shifts */ð/ > /z/, */θʼ/ and */ɬʼ/ > /sʼ/, widespread reduction of diphthongs, loss of intervocalic /h/, and assimilation of non-final /n/ to the following consonant. Typical Canaanite words in Hebrew include: גג 'roof' שלחן 'table' חלון 'window' ישן 'old (thing)' זקן 'old (person)' גרש 'expel'. Morphological Canaanite features in Hebrew include the masculine plural marker -ם, first person singular pronoun אנכי, interrogative pronoun מי, definite article ה- (appearing in the first millennium BC), and third person plural feminine verbal marker ת-.
As Biblical Hebrew evolved from Proto-Semitic it underwent a number of consonantal mergers, parallel with those in other Canaanite languages.[nb 2] There is no evidence that these mergers occurred after the adaptation of the Hebrew alphabet.[nb 3]
Biblical Hebrew as preserved in the Hebrew Bible is composed of multiple linguistic layers. The consonantal skeleton of the text is the most ancient, while the vocalization and cantillation are later additions reflecting a later stage of the language. These additions were added after AD 600; Hebrew had already ceased being used as a spoken language around AD 200. Biblical Hebrew as reflected in the consonantal text of the Bible and in extra-Biblical inscriptions may be subdivided by era.
The oldest form of Biblical Hebrew, Archaic Hebrew, is found in poetic sections of the Bible and inscriptions dating to around 1000 BC, the early Monarchic Period. This stage is also known as Old Hebrew or Paleo-Hebrew, and is the oldest stratum of Biblical Hebrew. The oldest known artifacts of Archaic Biblical Hebrew are various sections of the Tanakh, including the Song of Moses (Exodus 15) and the Song of Deborah (Judges 5). Biblical poetry uses a number of distinct lexical items, for example חזה for prose ראה 'see', כביר for גדול 'great'. Some have cognates in other Northwest Semitic languages, for example פעל 'do' and חָרוּץ 'gold' which are common in Canaanite and Ugaritic. Grammatical differences include the use of זה, זוֹ, and זוּ as relative particles, negative בל, and various differences in verbal and pronominal morphology and syntax.
Later pre-exilic Biblical Hebrew (such as is found in prose sections of the Pentateuch, Nevi'im, and some Ketuvim) is known as 'Biblical Hebrew proper' or 'Standard Biblical Hebrew'. This is dated to the period from the 8th to the 6th century BC. In contrast to Archaic Hebrew, Standard Biblical Hebrew is more consistent in using the definite article ה-, the accusative marker את, distinguishing between simple and waw-consecutive verb forms, and in using particles like אשר and כי rather than asyndeton.
Biblical Hebrew from after the Babylonian exile in 587 BC is known as 'Late Biblical Hebrew'. Late Biblical Hebrew shows Aramaic influence in phonology, morphology, and lexicon, and this trend is also evident in the later-developed Tiberian vocalization system.
Qumran Hebrew, attested in the Dead Sea Scrolls from ca. 200 BC to AD 70, is a continuation of Late Biblical Hebrew. Qumran Hebrew may be considered an intermediate stage between Biblical Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew, though Qumran Hebrew shows its own idiosyncratic dialectal features.
Dialect variation in Biblical Hebrew is attested to by the well-known shibboleth incident of Judges 12:6, where Jephthah's forces from Gilead caught Ephraimites trying to cross the Jordan river by making them say שִׁבֹּ֤לֶת ('ear of corn') The Ephraimites' identity was given away by their pronunciation: סִבֹּ֤לֶת. The apparent conclusion is that the Ephraimite dialect had /s/ for standard /ʃ/. As an alternative explanation, it has been suggested that the proto-Semitic phoneme */θ/, which shifted to /ʃ/ in most dialects of Hebrew, may have been retained in the Hebrew of the trans-Jordan.[nb 4] However, there is evidence that the word שִׁבֹּ֤לֶת had initial consonant */ʃ/ in proto-Semitic, contradicting this theory.
Hebrew as spoken in the northern Kingdom of Israel, known also as Israelian Hebrew, shows phonological, lexical, and grammatical differences from southern dialects. The Northern dialect spoken around Samaria shows more frequent simplification of /aj/ into /eː/ as attested by the Samaria ostraca (8th century BC), e.g. ין (= /jeːn/ < */jajn/ 'wine'), while the Southern (Judean) dialect instead adds in an epenthetic vowel /i/, added halfway through the first millennium BC (יין = /ˈjajin/).[nb 5] The word play in Amos 8:1–2 כְּלוּב קַ֫יִץ... בָּא הַקֵּץ may reflect this: given that Amos was addressing the population of the Northern Kingdom, the vocalization *קֵיץ would be more forceful. Other possible Northern features include use of שֶ- 'who, that', forms like דֵעָה 'to know' rather than דַעַת and infinitives of certain verbs of the form עֲשוֹ 'to do' rather than עֲשוֹת. The Samaria ostraca also show שת for standard שנה 'year', as in Aramaic.
The guttural phonemes /ħ ʕ h ʔ/ merged over time in some dialects. This was found in Dead Sea Scroll Hebrew, but Jerome attested to the existence of contemporaneous Hebrew speakers who still distinguished pharyngeals. Samaritan Hebrew also shows a general attrition of these phonemes, though /ʕ ħ/ are occasionally preserved as [ʕ].
|Qoph||ק||ࠒ||[q] or [kʼ]|
The earliest Hebrew writing yet discovered, found at Khirbet Qeiyafa, dates to the 10th century BC. The 15 cm x 16.5 cm (5.9 in x 6.5 in) trapezoid pottery sherd (ostracon) has five lines of text written in ink written in the Proto-Canaanite alphabet (the old form of the Phoenician alphabet). The tablet is written from left to right, indicating that Hebrew writing was still in the formative stage.
The Israelite tribes who settled in the land of Israel adopted the Phoenician script around the 12th century BC, as found in the Gezer calendar (c. 10th century BC). This script developed into the Paleo-Hebrew script in the 10th or 9th centuries BC. The Paleo-Hebrew alphabet's main differences from from the Phoenician script were "a curving to the left of the dowstrokes in the 'long-legged' letter-signs... the consistent use of a Waw with a concave top, [and an] x-shaped Taw."[nb 6] The oldest inscriptions in Paleo-Hebrew script are dated to around the middle of the 9th century BC, the most famous being the Mesha Stele in the Moabite language (which might be considered a dialect of Hebrew). The ancient Hebrew script was in continuous use until the early 6th century BC, the end of the First Temple period. In the Second Temple Period the Paleo-Hebrew script gradually fell into disuse, and was completely abandoned among the Jews after the failed Bar Kochba revolt. The Samaritans retained the ancient Hebrew alphabet, which evolved into the modern Samaritan alphabet.
By the end of the First Temple period the Aramaic script, a separate descendant of the Phoenician script, became widespread throughout the region, gradually displacing Paleo-Hebrew. The oldest documents that have been found in the Aramaic Script are fragments of the scrolls of Exodus, Samuel, and Jeremiah found among the Dead Sea scrolls, dating from the late 3rd and early 2nd centuries BC. It seems that the earlier Biblical books were originally written in the Paleo-Hebrew script, while the later books were written directly in the later Assyrian script. Some Qumran texts written in the Assyrian script write the tetragrammaton and some other divine names in Paleo-Hebrew, and this practice is also found in several Jewish-Greek Biblical translations.[nb 7] While spoken Hebrew continued to evolve into Mishnaic Hebrew, the scribal tradition for writing the Torah gradually developed. A number of regional "book-hand" styles developed for the purpose of Torah manuscripts and occasionally other literary works, distinct from the calligraphic styles used mainly for private purposes. The Mizrahi and Ashkenazi book-hand styles were later adapted to printed fonts after the invention of the printing press. The modern Hebrew alphabet, also known as the Assyrian or Square script, is a descendant of the Aramaic alphabet.
The Phoenician script had dropped five characters by the 12th century BC, reflecting the language's twenty-two consonantal phonemes. As a result, the 22 letters of the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet numbered less than the consonant phonemes of ancient Biblical Hebrew; in particular, the letters <ח, ע, ש> could each mark two different phonemes. After a sound shift the letters ח, ע could only mark one phoneme, but (except in Samaritan Hebrew) ש still marked two. The old Babylonian vocalization system wrote a superscript ס above the ש to indicate it took the value /s/, while the Masoretes added the shin dot to distinguish between the two varieties of the letter.
The original Hebrew alphabet consisted only of consonants, but gradually the letters א, ה, ו, י, also became used to indicate vowels, known as matres lectionis when used in this function. It is thought that this was a product of phonetic development: for instance, *bayt 'house' shifted to בֵּית in construct state but retained its spelling. While no examples of early Hebrew orthography have been found, older Phoenician and Moabite texts show how First Temple period Hebrew would have been written. Phoenician inscriptions from the 10th century BC do not indicate matres lectiones in the middle or the end of a word, for example לפנ and ז for later לפני and זה, similarly to the Hebrew Gezer Calendar, which has for instance שערמ for שעורים and possibly ירח for ירחו. Matres lectionis were later added word-finally, for instance the Mesha inscription has בללה, בנתי for later בלילה, בניתי; however at this stage they were not yet used word-medially, compare Siloam inscription זדה versus אש (for later איש). The relative terms defective and full/plene are used to refer to alternative spellings of a word with less or more matres lectionis, respectively.[nb 8]
The Hebrew Bible was presumably originally written in a more defective orthography than found in any of the texts known today. Of the extant textual witnesses of the Hebrew Bible, the Masoretic text is generally the most conservative in its use of matres lectionis, with the Samaritan Pentateuch and its forebearers being more full and the Qumran tradition showing the most liberal use of vowel letters. The Masoretic text mostly uses vowel letters for long vowels, showing the tendency to mark all long vowels except for word-internal /aː/.[nb 9] In the Qumran tradition, back vowels are usually represented by <ו> whether short or long. <י> is generally used for both long [iː] and [eː] (אבילים, מית), and final [iː] is often written as יא- in analogy to words like היא, הביא, e.g. כיא, sometimes מיא. <ה> is found finally in forms like חוטה (Tiberian חוטא), קורה (Tiberian קורא) while <א> may be used for an a-quality vowel in final position (e.g. עליהא) and in medial position (e.g. יאתום). Pre-Samaritan and Samaritan texts show full spellings in many categories (e.g. כוחי vs. Masoretic כחי in Genesis 49:3) but only rarely show full spelling of the Qumran type.
In general the vowels of Biblical Hebrew were not indicated in the original text, but various sources attest them at various stages of development. Greek and Latin transcriptions of words from the Biblical text provide early evidence of the nature of Biblical Hebrew vowels. In particular, there is evidence from the rendering of proper nouns in the Koine Greek Septuagint (3rd–2nd centuries BC) and the Greek alphabet transcription of the Hebrew Biblical text contained in the Secunda (3rd century AD, likely a copy of a preexisting text from before 100 BC[nb 10]). In the 7th and 8th centuries AD various systems of vocalic notation were developed to indicate vowels in the Biblical text. The most prominent, best preserved, and the only system still in use, is the Tiberian vocalization system, created by scholars known as Masoretes around AD 850. There are also various extant manuscripts making use of less common vocalization systems (Babylonian and Palestinian), known as superlinear vocalizations because their vocalization marks are placed above the letters.[nb 11][nb 12] In addition, the Samaritan reading tradition is independent of these systems, and was occasionally notated with a separate vocalization system.[nb 13] These systems often record vowels at different stages of historical development; for example, the name of the Judge Samson is recorded in Greek as Σαμψών Sampsōn with the first vowel as /a/, while Tiberian שִמְשוֹן /ʃimʃon/ with /i/ shows the effect of the law of attenuation whereby /a/ in closed unstressed syllables became /i/. All of these systems together are used to reconstruct the original vocalization of Biblical Hebrew.
At an early stage, in documents written in the paleo-Hebrew script, words were divided by short vertical lines and later by dots, as reflected by the Mesha Stone, the Siloam inscription, the Ophel inscription, and paleo-Hebrew script documents from Qumran. Word division was not used in Phoenician inscriptions; however, there is not direct evidence for Biblical texts being written without word division, as suggested by Nahmanides in his introduction to the Torah. Word division using spaces was commonly used from the beginning of the 7th century BC for documents in the Aramaic script. In addition to marking vowels, the Tiberian system also uses cantillation marks, which serve to mark word stress, semantic structure, and the musical motifs used in formal recitation of the text.
While the Tiberian, Babylonian, and Palestinian reading traditions are extinct, various other systems of pronunciation have evolved over time, notably the Yemenite, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and Samaritan traditions. Modern Hebrew pronunciation is also used by some to read Biblical texts. The modern reading traditions do not stem solely from the Tiberian system; for instance, the Sephardic tradition's distinction between qamatz gadol and qatan is pre-Tiberian. However, the only orthographic system used to mark vowels is the Tiberian vocalization.
The phonology as reconstructed for Biblical Hebrew is as follows:
Consonants lost and gained during the lifetime of Biblical Hebrew are color-coded respectively.
The phonetic nature of some Biblical Hebrew consonants is disputed. The so called "emphatics" were likely ejective, but possibly pharyngealized or velarized. Some argue that /s, z, sʼ/ were affricated (/ts, dz, tsʼ/).
Originally, the Hebrew letters ח and ע each had two possible phonemes, uvular and pharyngeal, unmarked in Hebrew orthography. However the uvular phonemes /χ/ ח and /ʁ/ ע merged with their pharyngeal ones /ħ/ ח and /ʕ/ ע respectively c. 200 BC. Examples of the letter ע are מערב (maːʁrab) "west" and עבד (ʕebed) "servant", and examples of the letter ח are חמש (χameʃ) "five" and מלח (melaħ) "salt".
This is observed by noting that these phonemes are distinguished consistently in the Septuagint of the Pentateuch (e.g. Isaac יצחק = Ἰσαάκ versus Rachel רחל = Ῥαχήλ), but this becomes more sporadic in later books and is generally absent in Ezra and Nehemiah. The phoneme /ɬ/, also unmarked by Hebrew orthography, is attested by internal and comparative evidence; in particular it is preserved as a lateral fricative in Modern South Arabian dialects. /ɬ/ began merging with /s/ in Late Biblical Hebrew, as indicated by interchange of orthographic ⟨ש⟩ and ⟨ס⟩, possibly under the influence of Aramaic, and this became the rule in Mishnaic Hebrew. In all Jewish reading traditions /ɬ/ and /s/ have merged completely; however in Samaritan Hebrew /ɬ/ has instead merged with /ʃ/.
Allophonic spirantization of /b ɡ d k p t/ to [v ɣ ð x f θ] (known as begadkefat spirantization) developed sometime during the lifetime of Biblical Hebrew under the influence of Aramaic.[nb 14] This probably happened after the original Old Aramaic phonemes /θ, ð/ disappeared in the 7th century BC, and most likely occurred after the loss of Hebrew /χ, ʁ/ c. 200 BC.[nb 15] It is known to have occurred in Hebrew by the 2nd century AD. After a certain point this alternation became contrastive in word-medial and final position (though bearing low functional load), but in word-initial position they remained allophonic.
The Dead Sea scrolls show evidence of confusion of the phonemes /ħ ʕ h ʔ/, e.g. חמר ħmr for Masoretic אָמַר /ʔɔˈmar/ 'he said'. However the testimony of Jerome indicates that this was a regionalism and not universal. Confusion of gutturals was also attested in later Mishnaic Hebrew and Aramaic (see Eruvin 53b). In Samaritan Hebrew, /ʔ ħ h ʕ/ have generally all merged, either into /ʔ/, a glide /w/ or /j/, or by vanishing completely (often creating a long vowel), except that original /ʕ ħ/ sometimes have reflex /ʕ/ before /a ɒ/.
Geminate consonants are phonemically contrastive in Biblical Hebrew. In the Secunda /w j z/ are never geminate. In the Tiberian tradition /ħ ʕ h ʔ r/ cannot be geminate; historically first /r ʔ/ degeminated, followed by /ʕ/, /h/, and finally /ħ/, as evidenced by changes in the quality of the preceding vowel.[nb 16]
The vowel system of Biblical Hebrew has changed considerably over time. The following vowels are those reconstructed for the earliest stage of Hebrew, those attested by the Secunda, those of the various vocalization traditions (Tiberian and varieties of Babylonian and Palestinian), and those of the Samaritan tradition, with vowels absent in some traditions color-coded
|Proto-Hebrew||Secunda Hebrew||Tiberian, Babylonian, and Palestinian Hebrew||Samaritan Hebrew|
Proto-Semitic likely had a vowel system with three qualities and two lengths, i.e. */a aː i iː u uː/, where the long vowels only occurred in open syllables. Later, final unstressed short vowels dropped out in some words, making it possible for long vowels to occur in closed syllables. Hebrew shows the Canaanite shift whereby */aː/ often shifted to /oː/); the conditions of this shift are disputed.[nb 19] This shift had occurred by the 14th century BC, as demonstrated by its presence in the Amarna letters (c. 1365 BC). The Proto-Hebrew vowel system is thus reconstructed as */a aː oː i iː u uː/ (and possibly rare */eː/).
Proto-Hebrew long vowels usually retain their vowel quality in the later traditions of Hebrew, while the Proto-Hebrew short vowels */a i u/ undergo many shifts. Generally these vowels either were lengthened, reduced, or preserved, depending on environment, and these changes also affected the vowel quality. Short vowels tended to be lengthened in open syllables and reduced in the second syllable before the stress. In Tiberian Hebrew, short vowels in pretonic open syllables are sometimes reduced instead: It does not occur for /*a/, but is occasional for /*i/ (e.g. מסמְרים 'nails' < */masmiriːm/), and is common for /*u/ (e.g. רְחוֹב 'open place' < */ruħaːb/). Samaritan and Qumran Hebrew do not have reduced vowels. Sometimes pretonic gemination is used to preserve such a vowel: this is particularly common in Tiberian Hebrew with pretonic /*u/, e.g. אדֻמּים 'red (pl.)'. Pretonic gemination is also found in Samaritan Hebrew, but not always in the same locations as in Tiberian Hebrew, e.g. גמלים TH /ɡămalːim/ SH /ɡɒmɒləm/; שלמים TH /ʃălɔmim/ SH /ʃelamːəm/. Final short vowels were dropped.
By the Tiberian time vowel length had become allophonic, but vowels that become allophonically long at a late stage do not show the earlier shifts in vowel quality, for example [aː] in ירחם had not become [ɔː] unlike earlier long [aː]. Samaritan Hebrew also does not reflect etymological vowel length; however the elision of guttural consonants has created new phonemic vowel length, e.g. /rɒb/ רב 'great' vs. /rɒːb/ רחב 'wide'.
In the Secunda, */a i u/ are lengthened to /aː eː oː/, reduced to /ə/, and preserved as /a e o/. In the Tiberian and Babylonian systems, lengthened */a i u/ become /ɔ e o/, while in the Palestinian system they become /a e o/. The Babylonian and Palestinian systems have only one reduced vowel phoneme /ə/ like the Secunda. The Tiberian tradition possesses three reduced vowels /ă ɔ̆ ɛ̆/ of which /ɛ̆/ has questionable phonemicity.[nb 20] When reduced, etymological */a i u/ become /ă ɛ̆~ă ɔ̆/ under gutturals (e.g. אֲמרתם 'you (mp.) said" cf. אָמר 'he said'), and generally /ă/ under non-gutturals, but */u/ > /ɔ̆/ (and rarely */i/ > /ɛ̆/) may still occur, especially after stops (or their spirantized counterparts) and /sʼ ʃ/ (e.g. דֳּמִי /dɔ̆mi/). /ă/ under a non-guttural letter was pronounced as an ultrashort copy of the following vowel before a guttural, e.g. וּבָקְעָה [uvɔqɔ̆ˈʕɔ], and as [ĭ] preceding /j/, e.g. תְדֵמְּיוּ֫נִי [θăðamːĭˈjuni], but was always pronounced as [ă] under gutturals, e.g. שָחֲחו, חֲיִי. In other syllables, */i u/ are preserved as /ɛ~i ɔ~u/ (Tiberian) /a~i u/ (Babylonian) /e~i o~u/ (Palestinian) – generally becoming the second vowel before geminates (e.g. לִבִּי) and the first otherwise.[nb 21]
Various more specific conditioned shifts of vowel quality have also occurred. For example, in some traditions the short vowel /*a/ tended to shift to /i/ in unstressed closed syllables: this is known as the law of attenuation. It is common in the Tiberian tradition, e.g. */ʃabʕat/ > Tiberian שִבְעָה /ʃivˈʕɔ/ 'seven', but exceptions are frequent. It is less common in the Babylonian vocalization, e.g. /ʃabʕɔ/ 'seven', and differences in Greek and Latin transcriptions demonstrate that it began quite late. Attenuation generally did not occur before /i~e/, e.g. Tiberian מַפְתֵחַ /mafˈteaħ/ 'key' versus מִפְתַח /mifˈtaħ/ 'opening (construct)', and often was blocked before a geminate, e.g. מתנה 'gift'. Attenuation is rarely present in Samaritan Hebrew, e.g. מקדש /maqdaʃ/.[nb 22]
Proto-Hebrew generally had penultimate stress. [nb 23] The ultimate stress of later traditions of Hebrew usually resulted from the loss of final vowels in many words, preserving the location of proto-Semitic stress.[nb 24] Tiberian Hebrew has phonemic stress, e.g. בָּנוּ֫ /bɔˈnu/ 'they built' vs. בָּ֫נוּ /ˈbɔnu/ 'in us'; stress is most commonly ultimate, less commonly penultimate, and antipenultimate stress exists marginally, e.g. הָאֹ֫הֱלָה /hɔˈʔohɛ̆lɔ/ 'into the tent'.[nb 25] There does not seem to be evidence for stress in the Secunda varying from that of the Tiberian tradition. Despite sharing the loss of final vowels with Tiberian Hebrew, Samaritan Hebrew has generally not preserved Proto-Semitic stress, and has predominantly penultimate stress, with occasional ultimate stress. There is evidence that Qumran Hebrew had a similar stress pattern to Samaritan Hebrew.
Medieval grammarians of Arabic and Hebrew classified words as belonging to three parts of speech: Arabic ism 'name; noun', fiʻl 'act; verb', and ḥarf 'motion; particle'; other grammarians have included more categories. In particular, adjectives and nouns show more affinity to each other than in most European languages. Biblical Hebrew has a typical Semitic morphology, characterized by the use of roots. Most words in Biblical Hebrew are formed from a root, a sequence of consonants with a general associated meaning. Roots are usually triconsonantal, with biconsonantal roots less common (depending on how some words are analyzed) and rare cases of quadri- and quinqiconsonantal roots. Roots are modified by affixation to form words. Verbal patterns are more productive and consistent, while noun patterns are less predictable.
The most common nominal prefix used is /m/, used for substantives of location (מושב 'assembly'), instruments (מפתח 'key'), and abstractions (משפט 'judgement'). The vowel after /m/ is normally /a/, but appears sometimes as /i/, or in the case of מושב as /o/ (contracted from */aw/). The prefix /t/ is used to denote the action of the verb it is derived from, more common for initial-/w/ verbs, e.g. תודה 'thanksgiving' (< ydy). Prefixed /ʔ/ is used in adjectives, e.g. אכזב 'deceptive', and also occurs in nouns with initial sibilants, e.g. אצבע 'finger'. In the latter case this prefix was added for phonetic reasons, and the א prefix is called either 'prothetic' or 'prosthetic'. Prefixed ע /ʕ/ occurs perhaps as a mark of forcefulness, e.g. גננ 'to cover' vs. עגנ 'to shut oneself off, אגמ 'to be sad' vs. עגמ 'to grieve', and often occurs in quadriliteral animal names, perhaps as a prefix, e.g. עֳטלף 'bat', עכבר 'mouse', עקרב 'scorpion'.
In proto-Semitic nouns were marked for case: in the singular the markers were */-u/ in the nominative, */-a/ in the accusative (used also for adverbials), and */-i/ in the genitive, as evidenced in Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Arabic. The Amarna letters show that this was probably still present in Hebrew c. 1350 BC. In the development of Hebrew, final */-u, -i/ were dropped first, and later */-a/ was elided as well. Mimation, a nominal suffix */-m/ of unclear meaning, was found in early Canaanite, as shown by early Egyptian transcriptions (c. 1800 BC) of Jerusalem as Urušalimim, but there is no indication of its presence after 1800 BCE.[nb 26] Final */-a/ is preserved in לַ֫יְלָה /ˈlajlɔ/, originally meaning 'at night' but in prose replacing לַ֫יִל /ˈlajil/ 'night', and in the "connective vowels' of some prepositions (originally adverbials), e.g. עִמָּ֫נוּ 'with us'; nouns preserve */-i/ in forms like יָדֵ֫נוּ.[nb 27] Construct state nouns lost case vowels at an early period (similar to Akkadian), as shown by the reflexes of */ɬadaju/ (שָֹדֶה in absolute but שְׂדֵה in construct) and the reflexes of */jadu/ (יָד and יַד) However forms like יָדֵ֫נוּ show that this was not yet a feature of Proto-Hebrew.
Biblical Hebrew has two genders, masculine and feminine, which are reflected in nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs. Hebrew distinguishes between singular and plural numbers, and plural forms may also be used for collectives and honorifics. Hebrew has a morphological dual form for nouns that naturally occur in pairs, and for units of measurement and time this contrasts with the plural (יום 'day' יומים 'two days' ימים 'days'). However adjectives, pronouns, and verbs do not have dual forms, and most nominal dual forms can function as plurals (שש כנפַים 'six wings' from Isaiah 6:2). Finite verbs are marked for subject person, number, and gender. Nouns also have a construct form which is used in genitive constructions.
Nouns are marked as definite with the prefix /ha-/ followed by gemination of the initial consonant of the noun. In Tiberian Hebrew the vowel of the article may become /ɛ/ or /ɔ/ in certain phonetic environments, for example החכם /hɛħɔˈxɔm/ 'the wise man', האיש /hɔˈʔiʃ/ 'the man'.
The traditions differ on the form of segolate nouns, nouns stemming from roots with two final consonants. The anaptyctic /ɛ/ of the Tiberian tradition in segolates appears in the Septuagint (3rd century BC) but not the Hexapla (2nd century AD), e.g. גֶּתֶר /ˈɡɛθɛr/ = Γαθερ versus כֵּסֶל /ˈkesɛl/ = Χεσλ (Psalms 49:14). This may reflect dialectual variation or phonetic versus phonemic transcriptions. Both the Palestinian and Babylonian traditions have an anaptyctic vowel in segolates, /e/ in the Palestinian tradition (e.g. /ʔeresʼ/ 'land' = Tiberian אֶרֶץ Deuteronomy 26:15) and /a/ in Babylonian (e.g. /ħepasʼ/ 'item' = Tiberian חֵפֶץ Jeremiah 22:28). The Qumran tradition sometimes shows some type of back epenthetic vowel when the first vowel is back, e.g. <אוהול> for Tiberian <אֹהֶל> /ˈʔohɛl/ 'tent'.
Biblical Hebrew has two sets of personal pronouns: the free-standing independent pronouns have a nominative function, while the pronominal suffixes are genitive or accusative. Only the first person suffix has different possessive and objective forms (-י and -ני).
Verbal consonantal roots are placed into verbal conjugations patterns, known as בנינים binyanim in Hebrew; the binyanim mainly serve to indicate grammatical voice. This includes various distinctions of reflexivity, passivity, and causativity. Verbs of all binyanim have three non-finite forms (one participle, two infinitives), three modal forms (cohortative, imperative, jussive), and two major conjugations (prefixing, suffixing).[nb 28] The meaning of the prefixing and suffixing conjugations are also affected by the conjugation ו, and their meaning with respect to tense and aspect is a matter of debate.
The default word order in Biblical Hebrew is commonly thought to be VSO, though this may be due to the prevalence of clauses with a wayyiqtol verb form compared to other less marked forms that more commonly use SVO. Attributive adjectives normally follow the noun they modify. In Biblical Hebrew, possession is normally expressed with status constructus, a construction in which the possessed noun occurs in a phonologically reduced, "construct" form and is followed by the possessor noun in its normal, "absolute" form. Pronominal direct objects are either suffixed to the verb or alternatively expressed on the object-marking pronoun את.
The following is a sample from Psalm 18 as appears in the Masoretic text with medieval Tiberian niqqud and cantillation and the Greek transcription of the Secunda of the Hexapla along with its reconstructed pronunciation.
29 כִּֽי־אַ֭תָּה תָּאִ֣יר נֵרִ֑י יְהוָ֥ה אֱ֝לֹהַ֗י יַגִּ֥יהַּ חָשְׁכִּֽי׃
30 כִּֽי־בְ֭ךָ אָרֻ֣ץ גְּד֑וּד וּ֝בֵֽאלֹהַ֗י אֲדַלֶּג־שֽׁוּר׃
31 הָאֵל֮ תָּמִ֪ים דַּ֫רְכֹּ֥ו אִמְרַֽת־יְהוָ֥ה צְרוּפָ֑ה מָגֵ֥ן ה֝֗וּא לְכֹ֤ל ׀ הַחֹסִ֬ים בֹּֽו׃
32 כִּ֤י מִ֣י אֱ֭לֹוהַּ מִבַּלְעֲדֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה וּמִ֥י צ֝֗וּר זוּלָתִ֥י אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ׃
29. χι αθθα θαειρ νηρι YHWH ελωαι αγι οσχι
30. χι βαχ αρους γεδουδ ουβελωαι εδαλλεγ σουρ
31. αηλ θαμμιν (*-μ) δερχω εμαραθ YHWH σερουφα μαγεν ου λαχολ αωσιμ βω
32. χι μι ελω μεββελαδη YHWH ουμι σουρ ζουλαθι ελωννου (*-ηνου)
|Pronunciation (Secunda) (IPA)
29. [kiː ʔatːaː taːʔiːr neːriː **** ʔaloːhaj aɡiːh ħoʃkiː]
30. [kiː baːk ʔaːruːsʼ ɡəduːd wəbaloːhaj ʔadːalːeɡ ʃuːr]
31. [haːʔeːl tamːiːm darkoː ʔemərat **** sʼəruːfaː maːɡen huː ləkol haħoːsiːm boː]
32. [kiː miː ʔaloːh mebːalʕadeː **** wəmiː sʼuːr zuːlaːtiː ʔaloːheːnuː]