Kernerman Dictionary News • Number 12 • July 2004


Hebrew is a Semitic language, related to Aramaic and more distantly to Arabic. The Hebrew alphabet (aleph-bet) consists of 22 letters, all of which represent, primarily, consonants. Four of these – Aleph, He, Waw and Yod – serve also as vowel letters [matres lectionis].

Throughout history, two systems of Hebrew spelling have evolved: vocalized spelling and unvocalized spelling, with many variations within each system. In vocalized spelling, called also ‘defective’ or ‘grammatical’ spelling, all of the vowels are indicated by diacritical vowel points (niqqud), and some of them also by vowel letters. In unvocalized spelling, called also ‘plene’ spelling, the vowel points are omitted, but some of them are substituted by additional vowel letters (Waw and Yod). The latter is the spelling system commonly used in Israel today.

Rules regulating unvocalized spelling were first issued by the Hebrew Language Council and later by the Academy of the Hebrew Language, most recently in 1993. However, some of these rules are often disputed, and many writers and publishers do not fully apply them. Moreover, since the very existence of two spelling systems within the same language is quite confusing, it is gradually being realized that the whole subject should be reconsidered. A concrete proposal for a modest reform was raised recently by Mordechay Mishor in a special session of the Academy of the Hebrew Language (May 2004).


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