Siddur Ba-eir Hei-teiv --- The Transliterated Siddur

Pronunciation: How to Say the Transliterated Hebrew Words Print E-mail
Written by Jordan Lee Wagner   
Tuesday, 04 February 1997 19:00

There are two main Hebrew dialects, Ashkenazic and Sephardic.  Ashkenazic originated in Germany, and spread throughout Northern and Eastern Europe and then to America.  Sephardic originated in Spain, and spread throughout Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

The Jews who speak these dialects are called Ashkenazim and Sephardim.  There are minor variations in customs, halacha (Jewish Law), and liturgical rites between them.  In America, most Jews are Ashkenazic.  But the trend in pronunciation is dramatically shifting toward Sephardic, because that is what is spoken in Israel.

In transliterating the prayers, I have adhered to Sephardic pronunciation.  But where Sephardic and Ashkenazic rites differ, the Transliterated Siddur follows Ashkenazic rite.  This will be the most useful method for most American readers. The differences between liturgical rites are slight, and are noted in the Transliterated Siddur.

If you are following a service with the Transliterated Siddur, and hear some of the congregants pronouncing some of the "T"s as "S"s, and some of the "ah"s as "aw"s, that is Ashkenazic.

There is no uniformly applied system for Hebrew transliteration. Here is a guide to my use of English letters:


a as in "Ma"
i as in "Bambi", or occasionally as in "pit"
ai as in "Shanghai", "Haiku", and "Jai Alai"
e as in "Ted"
ei as in "neighbor" and "Chow Mein"
o as in "Moe"
u as in "boot" and "dune".
' as in a neutral short vowel sound, like the "a" in "ago"
ch as in the sound you make when you get a hair stuck to your adenoids
This last sound is not usually found in English, but "Johann Sebastian Bach", "mach 6", and "Loch Ness Monster" are phrases that use this sound.
- I use hyphens to separate syllables. This clarifies pronunciation, and simplifies long word words.  For example: "Yotseir" is pronounced "yo-tseir", not "yot-seir".  And "vimnuchateinu" is not as easy to read as "vim-nu-cha-tei-nu".  I also use a hyphen to indicate a stop between two vowels.  For example: "Ma-a" is like "Mama" but missing the second "m".
Unlike English, the last syllable of every Hebrew word usually gets the emphasis (excluding suffixes).  Instead of sentences sounding like "one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish", rhythms sound like "I went to dine on fish and wine".  In the Transliterated Siddur, underlining is used to mark accented non-final syllables.  I also occasionally underline an accented final syllable, if the word is one that many congregants accent incorrectly.

I also use a caret ^ to indicate a connection between two (or occasionally three) words that are to be sung as though they were a single word (i.e., a single trope).  In addition to facilitating proper chant, this preserves messages that are sometimes hidden in the poetic forms via gematria.

Last Updated on Sunday, 27 November 2011 00:25

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