Aleph Beit אָלֶף-בֵּית

Between Jerusalem and Ein Gedi

During my visit to Jerusalem I got interested in the Hebrew alphabet. When abroad (or in certain areas of your own city), it disturbs me not to be able to read the local signs. When going on vacation, I always try to master some elementary knowledge of the local language, by means of short language guides, etc. At least I want to be able to read the most important signs, like “entrance“, or “exit“, and order “two beers“.
With a lot of languages it is easy to read the words, try to pronounce them and get a sense of their meaning if they are related to languages you already know. But in a lot of other cases completely different “alphabets” are used. Some are derived from the Latin alphabet used in Western European languages (for instance Cyrillic in Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian, etc.); others have a comletely separate development (like Chinese, Japanese, Korean); a third group share the origins of the Latin alphabet, like Greek, Hebrew and I guess also Arabic.

Since my early youth I have always been intrigued by languages, scripts and alphabets. I remember trying to figure out Phoenician letters (from library books); I learned Greek and Latin in school; I have books on the history of scripts, alphabets and languages.

My trip to Israel triggered my interest in languages and alphabets, but also my other field of interest, history, society and politics. I am now reading books about the Israeli/Palestine situation (like Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, by David K. Shipler), but I am also trying to teach myself the Hebrew Alphabet and some of the language. I discovered a free online tutorial with downloadable PDF text book and learning software at Foundation Stone. Very useful.

What struck me immediately is that the Hebrew characters that have the same origin as the Latin vowels, (A E I O U) are used as consonants instead of vowels, I never realised that. Vocalisation is handled by adding combinations of dashes and dots, more or less.
So, to my surprise I realised that the “aleph” (א) that corresponds to the Latin “A, a” and Greek “alpha” (α) is not pronounced as an “a” like sound at all; it is a consonant that is not pronounced or is some kind of guttural “bridge” between two vowels. Never too old to learn…

Next step I guess: Arabic

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