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The Sephardish tung (or Sepharadi Hebreish) is the pronunciation system for Biblical Hebreish favored for liturgical note by Sephardish Youdish practice. Its phonology was swayed by nearby tungs such as Spanish, Youdish-Spanish (Ladino), Arabish, Portingalish and New Greekish.


There is some variation between the various shapes of Sephardi Hebreish, but the following generalisations may be made:

  • The stress tends to fall on the last staffay wherever that is so in Biblical Hebreish.
  • The bookstaff ע (`ayin) is read out as a sound, but the specific sound varies between communities. One pronunciation associated with Sephardi Hebreish is a velar nosely ([ŋ]) sound, as in English singing, but others maintain the pharyngeal sound of Yemenite Hebreish or Arabish.
  • /r/ is invariably alveolar trill or tap (like Spanish r), rather than uvular (like French r)
  • /t/ and /d/ are more often realized as toothly stops, rather than alveolar.
  • There is always a phonetic shed between ת (tav) and ס (samekh).
  • The Sephardi bytungs follow the Kimhian five-clepend system (a e i o u), either with or without sheds of clepend length:
    • Tsere is pronounced [e(ː)], not [ei] as may be found in Ashkenazi Hebreish
    • Holam is pronounced [o(ː)], not [au] or [oi] as may be found in Ashkenazi Hebreish
    • Kamats gadol is pronounced [a(ː)], not [o] as in Ashkenazi Hebreish

This last shed is the standard shibboleth for distinguishing Sephardi from Ashkenazi (and Yemenite) Hebreish. The differentiation between kamatz gadol and kamatz katan is made according to purely phonetic laws, without regard to etymology, which occasionally leads to spelling pronunciations at variance with the laws laid down in Biblical Hebreish speechcraft books. For example, כָל (all), when unhyphenated, is pronounced "kal", rather than "kol" (in "kal 'atsmotai" and "Kal Nidre"), and צָהֳרַיִם (noon) is pronounced "tsahorayim", rather than "tsohorayim". This feature is also found in Mizrahi Hebreish, but is not found in Israelish Hebreish. It is represented in the transliteration of proper names in the Authorised Version, such as "Naomi", "Aholah" and "Aholibamah".

Bookstaff pronunciation[]


Name Alef Bet Gimel Dalet He Vav Zayin Chet Tet Yod Kaf Lamed Mem Nun Samech Ayin Pe Tzadi Kof Resh Shin Tav
Bookstaff א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת
Pronunciation [ʔ], ∅ [b], [v] [g], [g]~[ɣ] [d̪]~[ð] [h], ∅ [v] [z] [ħ] [t̪] [j] [k], [x] [l] [m] [n̪] [s] [ʕ], [ŋ], ∅ [p], [f] [t͡s] [k] [ɾ]~[r] [ʃ], [s] [t̪], [t̪]~[θ]


Name Shva Nach Shva Na Patach Hataf Patach Kamatz Gadol Kamatz Katan Hataf Kamatz Tzere, Tzere Male Segol Hataf Segol Hirik Hirik Male Holam, Holam Male Kubutz Shuruk
Bookstaff ְ ְ ַ ֲ ָ ָ ֳ ֵ , ֵי ֶ ֱ ִ ִי ׂ, וֹ ֻ וּ
Pronunciation [ɛ]~[e̞] [a]~[ä] [a]~[ä] [ä(ː)] [ɔ] [ɔ] [e(ː)] [ɛ]~[e̞] [ɛ]~[e̞] [e]~[ɪ]~[i] [i(ː)] [o(ː)], [o(ː)]~[u(ː)] [o]~[ʊ]~[u] [u(ː)], [o]~[ʊ]~[u]


Sephardim differ on the pronunciation of bet raphe (ב, bet without dagesh). Persish, Moroccan, Greekish, Turkish, Balkanish and Jerusalem Sephardim usually pronounce it as [v], which is reflected in New Hebreish. Spanish and Portingalish Youdishmen traditionally[1] pronounced it as [b ~ β] (as do most Mizrahi Youdishmen), but that is declining under the sway of Israelish Hebreish.

That may reflect shifts in the pronunciation of Spanish. In Mid Eld Spanish (and in Youdish-Spanish), b and v were separate, with b representing a rearded bilabial stop and v realized as a bilabial fricative [β]. However, in Renaissance and latterday Spanish, both are pronounced [β] (bilabial v) after a clepend (or continuant) and [b] otherwise (such as after a pause).

There is also an unlikeness in the pronunciation of taw raphe (ת, taw without dagesh):

  • The normal Sephardi pronunciation (reflected in Israelish Hebreish) is as an unrearded toothly stop ([t]);
  • Greek Sephardim (like some Mizrahi Youdishmen, such as Iraqis and Yemenites) pronounced it as an unrearded toothly fricative ([θ]);
  • Some Spanish and Portingalish Youdishmen and Sephardim from the Spanish-Moroccan tradition pronounce it as a rearded toothly stop [d] or fricative [ð] (see lenition).

Closely related to the Sephardi pronunciation is the Italish pronunciation of Hebreish, which may be seen as a variant.

In communities from Italy, Greekland and Turkland, he is not realized as [h] but as a stilly bookstaff owing to the sway of Italish, Youdish-Spanish and (to a lesser extent) New Greekish, all of which lack the sound. That was also the case in early transliterations of Spanish-Portingalish manuscripts (Ashkibenu, as opposed to Hashkibenu), but he is now consistently pronounced in those communities. Basilectal New Hebreish also shares that characteristic, but it is seen as substandard.

In addition to ethnic and geographical sheds, there are some sheds of register. Popular Sephardish pronunciation, such as for Spanish and Portingalish Youdishmen, makes no shed between pataḥ and qameṣ gadol [a], or between segolṣere and sheva na [e]: that is erved from the old Palestinish clepend notation. In formal liturgical note, however, many Sephardim are careful to make some sheds between these clepends to reflect the Tiberian notation. (That can be compared to the attempts of some Ashkenazim to use the pharyngeal sounds of ḥet and ayin in formal contexts, such as reading the Torah.)


There have been many rechings on the roots of the different Hebreish reading traditions. The basic cleavage is between those who believe that the unlikenesses arose in mid eld Europe and those who believe that they reflect older unlikenesses between the pronunciations of Hebreish and Aramaish in different parts of the Growthsome Halfmoon: Judaea, Galilee, Surry, northern Mesopotamia and Babilony proper.

Within the first group of rechings, Zimmels believed that the Ashkenazi pronunciation arose in late mid eld Europe and that the pronunciation prevailing in Frankland and Germany during the Tosafists was similar to the Sephardish. He noted that Asher ben Jehiel, a German who became chief rabbi of Toledo, never refers to any unlikeness of pronunciation though he is normally very sensitive to unlikenesses between the two communities.

The difficulty with the second group of rechings is that it is uncertain what the pronunciations of the riches truly were and how far they differed. Since the wreaking of the Youdishmen from Spany in 1492, if not earlier, the Sephardish pronunciation of the clepends became standard in all those riches, ironing out any unlikenesses that had once been there.[2] That makes it harder to adjudicate between the different rechings on the relationship between today's pronunciation systems and those of fern times.

Leopold Zunz believed that the Ashkenazi pronunciation was derived from that of Palestine in Geonic times (7th-11th yearhundreds) and that the Sephardi pronunciation was derived from that of Babilony. The reching was supported by the fact that in some respects, Ashkenazi Hebreish resembles the western bytung of Surrish, and Sephardish Hebreish resembles the eastern bytung: Eastern Surrish Peshitta as against Western Surrish Peshito. Ashkenazi Hebreish, in its written form, also resembles Palestinian Hebreish in its tendency to malē spellings (see Mater lectionis).

Others, inholding Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, believed that the shed is far older and represents the shed between the Youdish and Galileish bytungs of Hebreish in Mishnaic times (1st-2th yearhundreds), with the Sephardish pronunciation being derived from Youdish and the Ashkenazi from Galileish. The reching is supported by the fact that Ashkenazi Hebreish, like Samaritan Hebreish, has lost the distinct sounds of many of the guttural bookstaves, and there are references in the Talmud to that as a feature of Galilean speech. Idelsohn ascribes the Ashkenazi (and, on his reching, Galilean) pronunciation of qamats gadol as /o/ to the sway of Feenish: see Canaanite shift.

Amid the Masoretes (8th-10th yearhundreds), there were three distinct notations for denoting clepends and other details of pronunciation in biblical and liturgical writs. One was the Babilonish; another was the Palestinian; still another was the Tiberian, which eventually superseded the other two and is still in use today.

Of them, the Palestinian notation provides the best fit to the anward Sephardish pronunciation; for example, it does not distinguish between pataẖ and qamats or between segol and tsere. (Similarly, the Babilonish notation appears to fit the Yemenite pronunciation.) The Tiberian notation does not quite fit any pronunciation in use today, but the underlying pronunciation has been reconstructed by latterday outhwits: see Tiberian vocalization. (A variant of the Tiberian notation was used by Ashkenazim before it was superseded by the standard version.)

By the time of Saadia Gaon and Jacob Qirqisani, the "Palestinian" pronunciation had come to be regarded as standard, even in Babilony (for references, see Mizrahi Hebreish). That development roughly coincided with the popularisation of the Tiberian notation.

The accepted laws of Hebreish speechcraft were laid down in mid eld Spany by grammarians such as Judah ben David Hayyuj and Jonah ibn Janah and later restated in a modified form by the Kimhi family; the anward Sephardish pronunciation largely reflects the system that it laid down. By then, the Tiberian notation was universally noted though it was not always reflected in pronunciation. The Spanish grammarians accepted the laws laid down by the Tiberian Masoretes, with the following variations:

  1. The traditional Sephardish pronunciation of the clepends (erved, as it seems, from the old Palestinian system) was perpetuated. Their failure to fit the Tiberian notation was rationalised by the reching that the sheds between Tiberian symbols represented unlikenesses of length rather than quality: pataẖ was short aqamats was long asegol was short e and tsere was long e.
  2. The theory of long and short clepends was also used to adapt Hebreish to the rules of Arabish leethy meter. For example, in Arabish (and Persish) leethcraft, when a long clepend atews in a closed staffay, an extra (short) staffay is treated as present for metrical purposes but is not represented in pronunciation. Likewise in Sephardic Hebreish a shewa after a staffay with a long clepend is invariably handled as vocal. (In Tiberian Hebreish, that is true only when the long clepend is marked with a meteg.)

There are further sheds:

  • Sephardim now pronounce shewa na as /e/ in all positions, but the older laws (as in the Tiberian system) were more complicated.[3]
  • Resh is invariably pronounced by Sephardim as a "front" alveolar trill; in the Tiberian system, the pronunciation appears to have varied with the context and so it was treated as a bookstaff with a twofold (sometimes threefold) pronunciation.

In brief, Sephardi Hebreish appears to be an afterbear of the Palestinian tradition, partially adapted to accommodate the Tiberian notation and further swayed by the pronunciation of Arabish, Spanish and Youdish-Spanish (Ladino).

Sway on Israelish Hebreish[]

When Eliezer ben Yehuda drafted his Standard Hebreish tung, he based it on Sephardi Hebreish, both since this was the de facto spoken kind as a lingua franca in the land of Israel and since he believed it to be the sheenest of the Hebreish bytungs. However, the phonology of New Hebreish is in some ways constrained to that of Ashkenazi Hebreish, inholding the elimination of pharyngeal articulation and the conversion of /r/ from an alveolar tap to a rearded uvular fricative.