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The letter vav

Posted: Thu May 17, 2018 6:57 am
by Kenneth Greifer
I have read in a few books that Biblical Hebrew was written without vowels, but isn't the letter vav used as a vowel sometimes? When it means "and", is it a vowel or a consonant?

Kenneth Greifer

Re: The letter vav

Posted: Fri May 18, 2018 2:08 am
by S_Walch
When it means 'and', it's certainly a consonant (Ve/We).

The waw/vav is, like other Hebrew letters (yod, aleph, ayin, hey), a mix of a consonant and a vowel; hence why vav/waw can be used as the consonant v/w, or the vowels 'o' or 'u'.

When they say that Biblical Hebrew was written 'without vowels', I'd more say they mean that Hebrew didn't have specific vowels; there's no Hebrew letter for instance that is just the vowel 'a' for instance, but at least three of the Hebrew vowel-consonants (aleph, ayin, hey) can be used to represent the 'a' sound. But none of these are specifically the vowel 'a'.

Re: The letter vav

Posted: Fri May 18, 2018 5:01 pm
by kwrandolph
Kenneth Greifer wrote:I have read in a few books that Biblical Hebrew was written without vowels, but isn't the letter vav used as a vowel sometimes? When it means "and", is it a vowel or a consonant?

Kenneth Greifer


In pre-Babylonian exile Hebrew, there were no written vowels.

In post-Babylonian exile Hebrews, as the original pronunciation was forgotten (which happened gradually over generations) some of the consonants were repurposed sometimes to indicate certain vowels. Even some of the places where those letters were consonants in pre-Babylonian Hebrew were changed to vowels in post-Babylonian Hebrews.

Even after the waw was sometimes repurposed to indicate vowels, its use to refer to “and” was still as a consonant.

I hope this helps.

Karl W. Randolph.

Re: The letter vav

Posted: Fri May 18, 2018 5:18 pm
by SteveMiller
Sometimes the vav prefix meaning "and" is pronounced "oo" as in Deu 6:5 ‎ ‎ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ.
Wouldn't it be a vowel in that case?

Re: The letter vav

Posted: Fri May 18, 2018 5:31 pm
by S_Walch
That assumes that the Masoretic vowel-pointing is correct in such cases.

They have the kamats under כ in כָל for instance in that verse, indicating the vowel a, but the DSS show that כל was more pronounced kol, hence the DSS showing the plene as כול in numerous cases.

Unfortunately, the only DSS with anything extant from Deut 6:5 is 4QDeutp, which only has visible הוה from יהוה in the verse, so can't be quite so dogmatic on that based just on this.

Re: The letter vav

Posted: Fri May 18, 2018 7:15 pm
by SteveMiller
Thanks Ste. That is interesting about כול.
I learned in Hebrew school that whenever you have the vav prefix on a word beginning with bet, pey or mem or vav, the vav prefix is pronounced as oo because otherwise it would be hard to pronounce.
But I was surprised to find that in Israeli street Hebrew, they always pronounce the vav prefix as "veh" no matter what letter comes next.
https://www.torahmusings.com/2012/12/on-the-prefix-vav/

Anyway, looking at the 1st 10 occurrences of a leading vav bet in Isa so that there will be DSS witness, I don't see a spelling difference that would affect the pronunciation of the leading vav. btw, Isa 4:5 DSS 1QIsaA has כול and 4QIsaA has כל.
Looking for ובכל in Isa:
7:19 1QIsaA has ובכול twice.
39:2 1QIsaA has ובכול while 1QIsaB has ובכל
49:9 1QIsaA has ובכול while 1QIsaB has ובכל

Re: The letter vav

Posted: Sat May 19, 2018 7:03 am
by S_Walch
That's certainly very interesting about normal, every-day Hebrew now in Israel.

Would that indicate a development in the language, or were the Masoretes showing a Tiberian-style Hebrew pronunciation of the letter before words beginning with bet, pey, mem or vav?

I don't have time right now, but I'll go through the 101 instances of ובכל in the DSS and see what other manuscripts have.

I did already find that 2QExodb would likely have had ובכול in Exodus 34:10, due to the fact that the other instances of either כול or בכול have it as plene, not defective.

I'll post a full statistic on the above come Monday :)

Re: The letter vav

Posted: Sat May 19, 2018 7:50 am
by SteveMiller
thanks very much, Ste

Re: The letter vav

Posted: Sat May 19, 2018 10:10 am
by kwrandolph
S_Walch wrote:That's certainly very interesting about normal, every-day Hebrew now in Israel.

Would that indicate a development in the language, or were the Masoretes showing a Tiberian-style Hebrew pronunciation of the letter before words beginning with bet, pey, mem or vav?


While there’s no question that the Masoretes invented the vowel points, the best way to understand it is that they invented the vowel points to preserve a Tiberian-style Hebrew pronunciation.

S_Walch wrote:I'll post a full statistic on the above come Monday :)


While you’re at it, could you also check how often את meaning “with” is spelled אות indicating that still during the DSS period that “with” may have been pronounced as ‘ōt’ or even ‘ōte’?

Karl W. Randolph.

Re: The letter vav

Posted: Sat May 19, 2018 11:02 am
by S_Walch
Sure thing, Karl! May take me a bit longer for that, as את is used quite a bit more than ובכול :)