Why does the Hebrew University teach that anciently, the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a “w” sound rather than the modern Hebrew “v” sound?

Q Why does the Hebrew University teach that anciently, the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet waw has a “w” sound in their curriculum rather than the modern Hebrew “v” vav sound?

A To answer this, we reached out to Professor Adina Moshavi, Ph.D. in Semitic languages and Literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, this was her response:

“…there are many ways to demonstrate that the waw was not originally pronounced as a labiodental “v” as it is in Tiberian Hebrew. The fact that the waw is frequently used as a mater lectionis for a long u sound would be impossible to explain if it was pronounced v, like the bet rafeh, rather as the semivowel w. Furthermore, there are many Hebrew words where a historical diphthong aw, as evidenced from Semitic cognates, has been reduced to a long vowel, e.g., in hiphil perfect of w-initial verbs hawrid > horid “he brought down”, or in the word yawm > yom [יוֹם] “day”, and alternations between a diphthong and a long vowel, e.g., absolute mawwet vs. construct mot “death.”  Such correspondences are only understandable if the phonetic value of the waw was a semivowel.”

 

Professor Adina Moshavi, Ph.D. Semitic languages and Literature
Biblical Hebrew syntax, Biblical Hebrew pragmatics
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Hebrew Language Department

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Posted in Q&A - Sacred name, Q&A - Miscellaneous, Q&A - Jewish - Hebrew Roots.
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