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Yehovah - Examining the nikkud

Posted by Stephen Pidgeon on Friday, May 17, 2019 at 12:00 AM

 

Recently, there has been a controversy growing about the pronunciation of the tetragrammaton in English.  It is my intention to write the Nascent Sanhedrin to get a determination whether saying “Yehovah” will invoke the death sentence.  Maybe it is worth knowing in advance.

In the meantime, it is time to examine the nikkud (Masoretic vowels sounds) that have been placed on the tetragrammaton (adding to, if you will, the yods and the tittles) to see if they do in fact spell Yehovah.

Here is the example:

יְהֹוָה

First, let’s see if we can determine how the yod is to be pronounced.

In the word Israel, spelled (יִשְׂרָאֵל) the nation-state of Israel pronounces the word you see in Hebrew here as Israel.  They have used this pronunciation repeatedly since the nation-state was form.  We can then assume that the yod which begins this word is pronounced ih, and not yih.

יִשְׂרָאֵל

Now, of course we see a slightly different vowel marker, indicating an ih sound, rather than an eh sound found as the mark beneath the yod in the tetragrammaton, but it is reasonable to conclude that the yod in the tetragrammaton, given the modern usage is Israel, is eh, and not yeh.

Now the hey is most often pronounced as merely ah, like in the name Sarah (שָׂרָה), or in the word Torah (תּוֹרָה), but here we have a marker saying not ah, but oh. Interesting and unusual. But let’s take it as it stands.

The vav here is also reconstrued out of its normal context.  For instance, in the word Torah, we see the vav sounding exclusively as oh.

תּוֹרָה

One does not say To-vo-rah; One says Torah.

We have a similar disposition with the word shalom (שָׁלוֹם), where the vav sounds exclusively as oh.

שָׁלוֹם

One does not say Sha-lo-vom; one says shalom.

Therefore, we can conclude that the vav sounds here exclusively as ah, not vah.

Of course, this leaves the unmarked hey to sound as all other unmarked forms of hey, namely as ah.

So, the vowel sounds marked on the tetragrammaton indicate as pronunciation of Eh-oh-ah-ah, given the common construct. Ehoa’ah would be one way of writing it, making it a four-vowel sound consistent with the Yocephus proclamation found in Wars, Book 5, Chapter 5, paragraph 7.  One wonders if this will generate vociferous inveneration. However, note that if the nikkud on the vav is a distortion or marks the sound of the hey, then the vav would be pronounced in its usual form either as oo or oh. If oo, then the word would be E’oh’u’ah.

Consider the Hopi term for Yah – Iowa.  If the I in Iowa is pronounced ee, rather than aye, then the pronunciation is E’oh’u’ah (the w being captured in the pronunciation as oowah). If it was pronounced this way, how would you spell it in English?

Consider the American pronunciation of the English words Zechariah (זְכַרְיָה) and Obadiah (עֹבַדְיָהוּ).

In the modern “church” Zechariah is pronounced Zek-a-rye-ya; Obadiah is pronounced Oh-bad-aye-ya.  These pronunciations are consistent with the pronunciations of Iran and Iraq where Iran is pronounced as aye-ran and Iraq is pronounced as aye-rak, respectively.  Of course, the worldwide accepted pronunciations are ear-’rawn and ear-’rawk, respectively.

So, the better pronunciation of Zechariah in the English, would use the schwa in the first syllable Zǝ pronounced zuh.  The second syllable will of course be pronounced using the K for the ch; i.e., not char as in charcoal, but char as in kar. However, the iah is the issue here.  Really, it should be pronounced ee’ya, not aye-ya.

So we see the pronunciation of Zechariah as Zuh-kar-ee-ah. Z’char’yahˊ.

Let’s look at Obadiah again for a moment:

עֹבַדְיָהוּ

When giving meaning to the nikkud, we find the ayin sounding as oh, the beyt sounding with the vowel ah, the dalet sounding with the vowel eh, the yod sounding with the vowel ah, the hey unmarked, therefore sounding as the vowel ah, and the vav marked sounding as the letter oo

O-bah-dah-yah-ah-oo. Obade’yahu.

So, as we finish this discussion, consider that the word E’oh’u’ah is but one vowel sound away from E’ah’u’ah (Yahuah). Something to think about as we stumble through this world.

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