Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar/10. The Half Vowels and the Syllable Divider (Šewâ)

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§10. The Half Vowels and the Syllable Divider (Še).

10a 1. Besides the full vowels, Hebrew has also a series of vowel sounds which may be called half vowels (Sievers, Murmelvokale). The punctuation makes use of these to represent extremely slight sounds which are to be regarded as remains of fuller and more distinct vowels from an earlier period of the language. They generally take the place of vowels originally short standing in open syllables. Such short vowels, though preserved in the kindred languages, are not tolerated by the present system of pointing in Hebrew, but either undergo a lengthening or are weakened to Šewâ. Under some circumstances, however, the original short vowel may reappear.

10b To these belongs first of all the sign ־ְ, which indicates an extremely short, slight, and (as regards pronunciation) indeterminate vowel sound, something like an obscure half ĕ (e). It is called Še,[1] which may be either simple Še (Šewâ simplex) as distinguished from the compound (see f), or vocal Še (Šewâ mobile) as distinguished from Šewâ quiescens, which is silent and stands as a mere syllable divider (see i) under the consonant which closes the syllable.

10c The vocal Še stands under a consonant which is closely united, as a kind of grace-note, with the following syllable, either (a) at the beginning of the word, as קְטֹל qeṭōl (to kill), מְמַלֵּא memallē (filling), or (b) in the middle of the word, as קֽוֹטְלָה qô-ṭe, יִקְטְלוּ yiq-ṭe.

10d In former editions of this Grammar Še was distinguished as medium when it followed a short vowel and therefore stood in a supposed ‘loosely closed’ or ‘wavering’ syllable, as in מַלְכֵי, בִּנְפֹל. According to Sievers, Metrische Studien, i. 22, this distinction must now be abandoned. These syllables are really closed, and the original vowel is not merely shortened, but entirely elided. The fact that a following Begadkephath letter (§6n) remains spirant instead of taking Dageš lene, is explained by Sievers on the ‘supposition that the change from hard to spirant is elder than the elision of the vowel, and that the prehistoric malakai became malakhai before being shortened to malkhē’. In cases like כִּסְאוֹ (from כִּסֵּא), יִקְחוּ (from יִקַּח) the dropping of the Dageš forte shows that the original vowel is completely lost.

10e The sound ĕ has been adopted as the normal transcription of simple Šewâ mobile, although it is certain that it often became assimilated in sound to other vowels. The LXX express it by ε, or even by η, כְּרוּבִים χερουβίμ, הַלְלוּ־יָהּ ἀλληλούια, more frequently by α, שְׁמוּאֵל, Σαμουήλ, but very frequently by assimilating its indeterminate sound to the following principal vowel, e.g. סְדֹם Σόδομα, שְׁלֹמֹה Σολομών (as well as Σαλωμών), צְבָאוֹת Σαβαώθ, נְתַנְאֵל Ναθαναήλ.[2] A similar account of the pronunciation of Še is given by Jewish grammarians of the Middle Ages.[3]

How the Še sound has arisen through the vanishing of a full vowel is seen, e.g. in בְּרָכָה from bărăkă, as the word is still pronounced in Arabic. In that language the full short vowel regularly corresponds to the Hebrew Šewâ mobile.

10f 2. Connected with the simple Šewâ môbile is the compound Še or Ḥâṭēph (correptum), i.e. a Še the pronunciation of which is more accurately fixed by the addition of a short vowel. There are three Še-sounds determined in this way, corresponding to the three vowel classes (§7a):—

(־ֲ) Ḥâṭēph-Páthăḥ, e.g. חֲמוֹר amôr, ass.

(־ֱ) Ḥâṭēph-Segôl), e.g. אֱמֹר ʾemōr, to say.

(־ֳ)Ḥâṭēph-Qāmĕṣ, e.g. חֳלִי, o, sickness.

These Ḥâṭēphs, or at least the first two, stand especially under the four guttural letters (§22l), instead of a simple Šewâ mobile, since these letters by their nature require a more definite vowel than the indeterminate simple Šewâ mobile. Accordingly a guttural at the beginning of a syllable, where the Še is necessarily vocal, can never have a mere Šewâ simplex.

On ־ֲ the shorter Ḥaṭef as compared with ־ֱ cf. §27v.

10g Rem. A. Only ־ֲ and ־ֳ occur under letters which are not gutturals. Ḥaṭeph-Pathaḥ is found instead of simple Še (especially Šewâ mobile), chiefly (a) under strengthened consonants, since this strengthening (commonly called doubling) causes a more distinct pronunciation of the Šewâ mobile, שִׁבֲּלֵי branches, Zc 412. According to the rule given by Ben-Asher (which, however, appears to be unknown to good early MSS. and is therefore rejected by Ginsburg, Introd., p. 466; cf. Foote, Johns Hopkins Univ. Circulars, June 1903, p, 71 f.), the Ḥaṭeph is necessary[4] when, in a strengthened medial consonant with Še (consequently not in cases like וַיְהִי, &c.), preceded by a Pathaḥ, the sign of the strengthening (Dageš forte) has fallen away, e.g. הַֽלֲלוּ (but ed. Mant. and Ginsb. הַלְלוּ praise ye! וַתְּאַֽלֲצֵהוּ Ju 1616; no less universally, where after a consonant with Še the same consonant follows (to separate them more sharply, and hence with a Metheg always preceding), e.g. סוֹרֲרִים ψ689; קִֽלֲלָֽתְךָ (ed. Mant. and Ginsb. קִלְל׳ Gn 2713 (but not without exceptions, e.g. חִקְקֵי־ Ju 515, Is 101; צִלְלֵי Jer 64, and so always הִנְנִי behold me, הִנְנוּ behold us; on כְ before the suffix ךָ, see §20b); also in certain forms under Kaph and Rêš after a long vowel and before the tone, e.g. תֹּֽאכֲלֶ֫נָּה Gn 317; בָּֽרֲכִי ψ1031; וַתְּשָֽׁרֲתֵ֫הוּ 1 K 14 (but וְיִתְבָּ֫רְכוּ ψ7217, cf. Jer 42, 1 Ch 2920, because the tone is thrown back on to the ā. After ē Še remains even before the tone, as בֵּֽרְכוּ &c.; but before Maqqef אֵֽלֲכָה־נָּא Baer Ex 418, 2 S 157 Jer 4015, but ed. Mant., Jabl., Ginsb. אֵֽלְ׳)[5]; (b) under initial sibilants after וּ copulative, e.g. וּֽזֲהַב Gn 212; cf. Jer 4820; וּֽסֲחַר Is 4514; וּֽשֲׂדֵה Lv 2534; וּֽשֲׁקָה Gn 2726; וּֽשֲׁמָע Nu 2318, Is 3717, Dn 918, cf. Ju 512, 1 K 1421, 2 K 917, Jb 141, Ec 97—to emphasize the vocal character of the Še. For the same reason under the emphatic ט in הֽוּטֲלוּ Jer 2228; cf. Jb 3325; after Qôph in וּֽקֲדָרְתִּי (so Baer, but ed. Mant., Jabl., Ginsb. וּקְ׳) Ez 2341; וּֽקֲרָב־ ψ5522; cf. Jer. 329; under Rêš in אֵֽרֲדָה (ed. Mant. אֵֽרְ׳). Gn 1821; וּֽרֲעֵם ψ289; even under ת Eze 2621[6]; under ב Est 28; וּבֵֽרֲכֶךָּ so Jabl., Ginsb., but ed. Mant. וּבֵֽרְ׳ Dt 2413; (c) under sonants, sibilants or Qôph after ĭ, e.g. יִֽצֲחַק Gn 216, cf. 3038 and Ez 2128 (under ק); אִֽמֲרוֹת ψ127; הֲתִֽמֲלֹךְ Jer 2215; כִֽנֲרוֹת Jos 112; בִּֽסֲבָךְ־ ψ745, —for the same reason as the cases under b[7]; according to Baer also in שִֽׁפֲמוֹת 1 S 3028; יִֽפְגָֽשֲׁךָ Gn 3218 after ŏ (cf. §9v), as well as after a in הַֽקֲשִׁיבָה Dn 919; הַֽבֲרָכָה Gn 2738; הַֽמֲצֹרָעִים 2 K 78.

10h B. The Ḥaṭeph-Qameṣ is less restricted to the gutturals than the first two, and stands more frequently for a simple Šewâ mobile when an original O-sound requires to be partly preserved, e.g. at the beginning, in רֳאִי (ground-form rŏʾy) vision (cf. §93z); כֳּנַנְיָהוּ 2 Ch 3112, &c., Qe (Keeth. כונ״); עַמֳּנִיּוֹת Ammonitish women, 1 K 111 (sing. עַמּוֹנִית); יִרְדֳּפֶ֑ךָ for the usual יִרְדְּפֶ֑ךָ Ez 356, from יִרְדֹּף; תִקֳּבֶ֫נּוּ Nu 2325, Jer 3133, and elsewhere before suffixes, cf. §60a; קָדְקֳדוֹ his pate (from קָדְקֹד) ψ717, &c.; אֶשְׁקֳטָה Is 184 Qe. Further, like ־ֲ, it stands under consonants, which ought to have Dageš forte, as in לֻֽקֳחָה (for לֻקְּחָה) Gn 223. In this example, as in וּֽסֳעָ֫דְה 1 K 137; וּֽסֳאָה 2 K 718; and וּֽצֳעָ֫קִי Jer 2220, the Ḥaṭeph-Qameṣ is no doubt due to the influence of the following guttural as well as of the preceding U-sound. (Elsewhere indeed after וּ in similar cases Ḥaṭeph-Pathaḥ is preferred, see above, §78b; but with לֻקֳחָה cf. also סֻבֳּלוֹ Is 93, 1027, 1425, where the U-sound must necessarily be admitted to have an influence on the Še immediately following.) In וּֽטֳהָר־ (û-ṭohŏr) Jb 179 it is also influenced by the following O-sound. In קָֽסֳמִי 1 S 288 Qe, the original form is קְסֹם, where again the ō represents an ŏ. It is only through the influence of a following guttural that we can explain the forms נִקְרֳאָה Est 214; נִֽבֳהָל Pr 2822; נִסְרֳחָה Jer 497; אֶפְשֳׂעה Is 274; וָאֶֽשְׁמֳעָה Dn 813; שִֽׁמֳעָה ψ3913; בַּֽסֳעָרָה 2 K 21 (Baer’s ed. also in ver. 11); הַקֳּהָתִים 2 Ch 3412 (ed. Mant., Opitius, &c. הַקְּ׳). Finally in most of the examples which have been adduced, the influence of an emphatic sound (ק, ט, cf. also אֲלַקֳּטָה Ru 22, 7), or of a sibilant is also to be taken into account.

10i 3. The sign of the simple Še ־ְ serves also as a mere syllable divider. In this case it is disregarded in pronunciation and is called Šewâ quiescens. In the middle of a word it stands under every consonant which closes a syllable; at the end of words on the other hand it is omitted except in final ך (to distinguish it better from final ן), e.g. מֶלֶךְ king, and in the less frequent case, where a word ends with a mute after another vowelless consonant as in נֵרְדְּ nard, אַתְּ thou fem. (for ’ant), קָטַלְתְּ thou fem. hast killed, וַיַּשְׁקְ and he watered, וַיִּשְׁבְּ and he took captive, אַל־תֵּשְׁתְּ drink thou not; but וַיַרְא, חֵטְא.[8]

10k However, in the examples where a mute closes the syllable, the final Še comes somewhat nearer to a vocal Še, especially as in almost all the cases a weakening era final vowel has taken place, viz. אַתְּ ʾatte from אַתִּי ʾattî (ʾanti), קָטַלְתְּ from קָטַ֫לְתִּי (cf. in this form, the 2nd sing. fern. perf. Qal, even בָּאתְ, after a vowel, Gn 168, Mi 410, &c., according to the readings of Baer), יִשְׁבְּ yišbe from יִשְׁבֶּה, &c. The Arabic actually has a short vowel in analogous forms. In נֵרְדְּ borrowed from the Indian, as also in קשְׁטְ (qōšṭ) Pr 2221; and in אַל־תּוֹסְףְּ ne addas (for which we should expect תּ֫וֹסֶף) Pr 306 the final mute of itself attracts a slight vowel sound.

10l Rem. The proper distinction between simple Šewâ mobile and quiescens depends on a correct understanding of the formation of syllables (§26). The beginner may observe for the present, that (1) Še is always mobile (a) at the beginning of a word (except in שְׁתַּים, שְׁתֵּי §97b, note); (b) under a consonant with Dageš forte, e.g. גִּדְּפוּ gid-dephû; (c) after another Še, e.g. יִקְטְלוּ yiqṭe (except at the end of the word, see above, i). (2) Še is quiescens (a) at the end of a word, also in the ךְ; (b) before another Še.

  1. On שְׁוָא, the older and certainly the only correct form (as in Ben Asher), see Bather, ZDMG. 1895, p. 18, note 3, who compares Šewayya, the name of the Syriac accentual sign of similar form ־֔ (=Hebr. Zaqeph). The form שְׁבָא, customary in Spain since the time of Menaḥem b. Sarûq, is due to a supposed connexion with Aram. שְׁבָת rest, and hence would originally have denoted only Šewâ quiescens, like the Arabic sukūn (rest). The derivation from שֵׁבָה, שִׁיבָה (stem יָשַׁב, Levias, American Journ. of Philol., xvi. 28 ff.) seems impossible.
  2. The same occurs frequently also in the Greek and Latin transcriptions of Phoenician words, e.g. מְלָכָא Malaga, גְּבוּלִים gubulim (Schröder, Die phöniz. Spr., p. 139 ff.). Cf. the Latin augment in momordi, pupugi, with the Greek in τέτυφα, τετυμμένος, and the old form memordi.
  3. See especially Yehuda Ḥayyûǵ, pp. 4 f. and 130 f. in Nutt’s edition (Lond. 1870), corresponding to p. 200 of the edition by Dukes (Stuttg. 1844); Ibn Ezra’s Ṣaḥoth, p. 3; Gesenius, Lehrgebäude der hebr. Sprache, p. 68. The Manuel du lecteur, mentioned above, §6b, also contains express rules for the various ways of pronouncing Šewâ mobile: so too the Dikduke ha-ṭeeamim, ed. by Baer and Strack, Lpz. 1879, p. 12 ff. Cf. also Schreiner, ZAW. vi. 236 ff.
  4. See Delitzsch, ‘Bemerkungen über masoretisch treue Darstellung des alttestam. Textes,’ in the Ztschr. f. luth. Theol. u. Kirche, vol. xxiv. 1863, p. 409 ff.
  5. On the uncertainty of the MSS. in some cases which come under a, see Minḥat shay (the Masoretic comm. in ed. Mant.) on Gn 123 and Ju 76.
  6. Critical annotation: וּֽתֲבֻֿקְשִׁׄי in Eze 2621 in Aleppo codex.—A. E. A.
  7. Ben-Asher requires ־ֲ for ־ְ (even for Šewâ quiescens) generally before a guttural or ר; hence Baer reads in 2 S 155 בִּֽקַרָב־, ψ187 אֶֽקֲרָא; ψ4915 לִֽשֲׁאוֹל; ψ655 תִּֽבֲחַר; ψ6824 תִּֽמֲחַץ; Pr 3017 תִּֽלֲעַג; Jb 2925 אֶֽבֲחַר; cf. Delitzsch, Psalms, 12:7, note.
  8. On ־ִיתְ as an ending of the 2nd sing. fem. perf. Qal of verbs ל״ה, see §75m.