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3.4  Dotted Letters and Syllables

Hebrew Syllables -

Introduction to the dagashim

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Any Hebrew letter (except the gutturals) can have a dot inside of it called a "dagesh mark" (dagesh means "emphasis"). There are basically two kinds of dageshim that you need to know: the dagesh lene (kal) and the dagesh forte (chazak).


The Dagesh Lene (Kal)
Six Hebrew letters you have studied, namely, Bet, Gimmel, Dalet, Kaf, Pey, and Tav may appear with or without a dot placed within them. This dot is called a "Dagesh Lene." If one of these six letters has a Dagesh Lene mark it will have a hard pronunciation, otherwise it has a softer pronunciation.

Collectively these letters are sometimes called "Begedkephat letters" as an acronym for the names of letters:

Begedkephat letters


The Dagesh Forte (Chazak)
All of the Hebrew letters (except the gutturals) - including the Begedkephat letters - can take a dot that looks exactly like the Dagesh Lene but is called a Dagesh Forte. The dagesh forte can appear in ANY Hebrew consonant except a guttural letter:

Dageshim List

In the list above, notice that every Hebrew letter (except the gutturals Aleph, Hey, Chet, Ayin, and Resh) can appear with a dot inside - a dagesh forte.


The Purpose of the Dagesh Forte
A dagesh forte “emphasizes” a letter and thereby affects a word's syllabification by doubling the value of the consonant. A letter with a dagesh forte always causes the previous syllable (if any) to be closed and in effect "divides" the syllable at the letter:

Dagesh Forte

In the example above, we notice first that the word has a dagesh forte in the Samekh. The value of this letter is "doubled," and we thus count the first "s" as a closing sound of the previous syllable (i.e., nis) and the second "s" as the first sound of the following syllable (i.e., si). We would transliterate the word as nis·si.

Lene or Forte?
As you can see in the list of letters above, the Begedkephat letters can take either a dagesh lene or a dagesh forte. Since the dots appear identical in the letters, how can we tell if a given Begedkephat letter has a lene or a forte dot?

The rule goes like this: the dagesh in a Begedkephat letter is chazak (forte) only if it is preceded by a vowel (otherwise it is lene). Thus:

Begedkephat letter with Forte

In the example above, notice first that the word has a dagesh in the Bet. Now, is this a dagesh lene or forte?  Since it is preceded by a vowel (i.e., the Patach of the first syllable), the Bet must have a dagesh forte.

Thus we divide the word into two closed syllables and transliterate as: shab·bat (note that if a Begedkephat letter has a dagesh forte, it is pronounced exactly the same as if it had a dagesh lene: the presence of a forte only "doubles" the value of the letter).

The General Rule...

If there is a "dot" inside a letter, "double" its value; but if it is a Begedkephat letter, double the value only if it is preceded by a vowel.

Examples:

Dageshim Examples

Summary:

  • Any letter (except a guttural) can have a dot called a dagesh forte (chazak).
  • This dot "doubles" the value of the consonant and causes the previous syllable
    (if any) to be closed.
  • A dot in a Begedkephat letter is forte only if it is preceded by a vowel
    (otherwise it is lene).

Advanced Grammatical Note:
The pronunciation of Resh in Hebrew is “fricative,” and a plosive pronunciation for Resh is not known. However, in 14 places in the Tanakh there is a Resh with a dagesh. The translators of the Septuagint knew of the pronunciation of the Resh with a dagesh - the evidence is  that they wrote the name Sarah with a double R.


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