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 Hebrew-101: Roots and Patterns (Lesson 2)

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Hebrew-101: Roots and Patterns (Lesson 2)

More on Letters - some real challenge!

Let's continue learning letters. We're going to see a couple of interesting ones right now.

      Letter Name Pronunciation
    1 shin sh
    2 sin s
    3 hei h
    4 khet kh, ch (like in chutzpah)

Hey, wait a minute! Don't those first two letters look exactly the same? And we've got one "S" already (the letter Samekh), don't we?

Ok, ok, calm down, we'll figure it out in a sec.

The letters (Shin) and (Sin) -- are for sounds SH and S, respectively. They look exactly alike while writing without the diacritics. They are considered the same letter of the alphabet too. There are very few (if any) words in Hebrew where Shin and Sin can be confused; maybe thousands years ago those two were variations of the same phoneme, who knows...

Letter Samekh and letter Sin stand for the same S-sound. Sort of historical ridiculousness -- stands for two letters, while two letters stand for the S-sound. Not too complicated, rather cumbersome, but definitely not a rocket science.

Ok, so here is a simplified picture:

  • remember, there are and for Sh and S, respectively.
  • there is also a strange letter which looks like SH, but is pronounced like S.

Also, Sin is used much rarely than Shin, although it's used in a number of very often used words, like ישראל (Israel). Anyway, this rarely becomes main problem of Hebrew student. :)

If you are still with me, let's move on. :)

(hey) is practically same as English h.

The letter Khet ( ) used to have specific guttural flavor; Jews from Arab countries still have this pronunciation sometimes. This pronunciation is somewhat close to , just "deeper"; that's probably why and look so much alike.

Most of Israelis though pronounce it like ch in chutzpah (like German "ch").

The two above letters look alike; don't confuse them! :)

And now, some vocalization marks.
  Vocalization Mark Name Pronunciation

X  (a dot under the letter)

khirik I-sound (as in tick)
2 X (a dot top-left of the letter) kholam Oh or AW-sound
3 X
kubbutz U (as in put)

A "longer" version of the same vowels is marked with both vocalization mark and additional letter.
  Vocalization Mark Name Pronunciation

khirik male EE-sound
5 kholam male Oh or AW-sound
6 shuruk OO-sound

Now, those vowels (EE and OO) are only theoretically "longer" -- i.e., those used to be short and long vowels thousands of years ago. Today, short and long vowels are practically lost in Hebrew (that's unlike English). Israeli will consider vowels OO (as in moon) and U (as in put) to be exactly the same sound.

Ok, so it's not trivial, but let's make long story shorter. Memorize the letters and the vowels -- and forget the small historical details. :)


Words: Roots and Patterns

Semitic languages, Hebrew in particular, have a unique feature: application of consonant roots on word patterns (mishqalim in Hebrew). It's the most powerful tool of Hebrew morphology (i.e. word building). You take a root, like K-T-V (meaning: write/writing), combine it with different patterns, and that's how you get words like "writing", "book", "to write", "to dictate", "reporter", etc.

As you can imagine, this is a very powerful tool for Hebrew student. Patterns by themselves usually carry some meaning too; knowledge of root and pattern can give you a hint to understand a word, even if this is first time you read it.

Root ( שֹׁרֶשׁ )

Most often, a root consists of three consonant letters. Sometimes there are fore, rarely two. Five letter roots can be found in borrowed words, and frankly speaking, I can only remember one word like this from the top of my head (see examples below). I've never head of any roots with over 5 consonants.

Some examples, if you please:

3-letter roots:
Root       Meaning:
[k-t-v] write, writing
[p-sh-t] simple
[sh-m-r] keep, quard


4-letter roots:

4-letter roots are seen most often in either borrowed words or so-called "square" ones:

[b-z-b-z] ("square" root) wasting
[t-r-p-d] (borrowed root) from "torpedo" (in modern Hebrew most often used as a verb meaning "jeopardize")
[t-l-f-n] (borrowed root) telephone, to call


Example of 5-letter root:

As I said before, this is probably the only example I could recall:

 -   [s-n-ch-r-n]  -  

to synchronize, synchronized


Patterns ( מִשְׁקָלִים )

Patterns are what make the dumb-looking root into living beast. The pattern gives a "general meaning" the spirit of something specific, turning abstract idea into a well-defined word.

Root is "applied" on the pattern. Pattern is sort of almost-word, with some empty placeholders where root letters will take place.

Let's take a look on the following example, building words with different roots out of the pattern     [_] [_] [_]

Word   Root   Pattern

 =   +  [_] [_] [_]

 =   +  [_] [_] [_]

 =   +  [_] [_] [_]

It's very simple, isn't it? This is what Hebrew words consist of, at least in theory. In practice, it's a bit more sophisticated, but not too much. I have to mention, that word structure is a primary topic for every Hebrew student.


New Words

Let's memorize some more words. At this point I would suggest just memorizing the words -- what we can learn is still limited by our incomplete knowledge of Hebrew Alphabet. Once we learn it all, and add some morphology rules, we'll start analyzing the words, rather than blindly memorizing them.

Hebrew Reading Translation

[ Daa-veed ]
David (name)

--"-- A different (presumably more ancient) spelling of the same name. Both can be found in Hebrew Bible though.

You can write it both way, although the version with is more popular, to not confuse with the words דוֹד(uncle) and דוּד(heater).

amar (he) said

sack sack (hmm... I have no idea why this word is so similar to German and English "sack". It looks quite originally Hebrew, because borrowed words never use .

lomed learns (present time, single, masculine)

gir (g as in get: [gheer] ) chalk

shir [ sheer ] song

meshek household or farm

neshek weapon

gar lives, resides (present time, single, masculine)

khay lives, exists (present time, single, masculine); fresh (vegetables or bread)

zar stranger, foreign, alien

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