A Note On Transliteration

Our transliteration is an effort to enable those who do not as yet read Hebrew, or who are still learning to read Hebrew, to participate in the Hebrew portions of our liturgical worship.  There is not as yet one body of governance for transliteration, not even in Yisra’el.  There is no standard set of rules in order to make transliteration the same when going from one document to another, one congregation to another, or one region or country to another.  So, we have taken several different sets of rules, and chosen from them the phonetic representations we believe make the most sense, give us a sense of consistency, and simplify the transliteration as much as possible, consistent with Israeli pronunciation of the Hebrew syllables.  We have tried to place here a summary of those simple rules.

There are five vowel sounds in Hebrew:
We have represented these vowel sounds as simply and consistently as possible:

Ah  any transliterated syllable containing an “a” will be pronounced “ah”.
example: Barukḥ Atah
Each syllable containing an “a” above is pronounced as “ah”; there are three.
Each sharing the “ah” like the “a” in Bach or the “o” in “box”.
Sometimes the “a” will be followed by an “h” for clarity.

Eh  any transliterated syllable with an “e” is pronounced as “eh”.
example: Melekḥ
Each syllable containing an “e” above is pronounced as “eh”; there are two.
Each sharing the “eh” like the “e” in red or the “ea” in “head”.

Ee  any transliterated syllable with an “i” is pronounced as “ee”.
example: Shiviti
Each syllable containing an “i” above is pronounced as “ee”; there are three.
Each sharing the “ee” like the “ee” in beet or the “ea” in “mead”.

Oh  any transliterated syllable with an “o” is pronounced as “oh”.
example: L’hodot
Each syllable containing an “o” above is pronounced as “oh”; there are two.
Each sharing the “oh” like the “oa” in boat or the “o” in “rope”.
Sometimes the “o” will be followed by an “h” for clarity.

Oo  any transliterated syllable with an “u” is pronounced as “oo”.
example: Vayakḥulu
Each syllable containing an “u” above is pronounced as “oo”; there are two.
Each sharing the “oo” like the “oo” in boot or the “u” in “flute”.

There are occasional “dipthongs” or vowel blends, which take two of the sounds above and blend them together to form other vowel sounds.
We have distinguished these as well in the following manner:

“Ai”  any transliterated syllable with an “ai” is pronounced as “i”.
It is a blend of the major vowel sounds “ah” and “ee”.
example: Adonai
Each syllable containing an “ai” above is pronounced as “i”; there is one.
It is pronounced as the word “eye”, or as the pronoun “I”.

“Ei”  any transliterated syllable with an “ei” is pronounced as “ay”.
It is a blend of the major vowel sounds “eh” and “ee”.
example: Eloheihem
Each syllable containing an “ei” above is pronounced as “ay”; there is one.
It is pronounced as the “ai” in bait, or the a in cake.

Hebrew is a “gutteral” language, and has several letters that use a hard or soft gutteral rake in the back of the throat; some English speakers equate this to the “ch” in “Bach”.  Since there is no need to know the subtleties for transliterative reading, we have chosen to represent all gutterals with one phonetic representation of the sound:

kḥ  as in Barukḥ, or as in Kḥakḥma

This way, the kḥ is easily recognized as a distinct Hebrew sound, and there is no confusion as to whether or not it is a gutteral.  Those who learn to speak Hebrew learn the subtle differences, but for transliteration, this is not necessary.

This is likely the most difficult transition for English speakers; but it is done simply by slightly closing the back of the throat with the middle of the tongue briefly, and pushing air through, in similar fashion to clearing the throat, only softer.

Many prefixes in Hebrew have a very curt “eh” sound behind them.  Also, adjoining two consonants can create this curt “eh” sound.  We have represented this Hebrew characteristic with an apostrophe:

L’Olam  “lay” “oh” lahm”, where the L’ is the curt “eh” sound.

Also, to make adjoining vowels distinct syllables, an apostrophe is used:

Va’ed  “vah” “ed”.

L’Olam Va’ed:  forever and ever.

“These explanations are quoted from “Messianic Siddur for Shabbat” 
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Copyright © 2014 Daniel Perek