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?
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