Saturday, November 13, 2010

Say it like you mean it!

One of the peculiarities of the Hebrew language is that it does not rely on vowels to denote pronunciation. Instead, it has a system called “Nikud”, which could be translated to “Dotting”. With Nikud, the writer adds various dot and line combinations around letters and they function as vowels. For example, a 3-dot combination under the letter is equivalent to putting an E in front of it in English.

However, Nikud is hardly ever used in real life. It is taught to kids in the 1st grade, but by the 2nd grade, they will have learned by heart how to pronounce most of the words in the Hebrew language, and no longer use it. This does mean that Hebrew words are much shorter than other languages. For example, the word Telephone is written with just 5 letters…something like TLFON. There is a vowel to denote the O sound, but the E’s are not used.

This makes writing in Hebrew more “efficient”, but is not easy for kids to get around. They have to learn to recognize the pronunciation from a written word, and it doesn’t always work out. For common, day-to-day words, this is usually no problem, because everybody uses the words, and the kid learns it sooner or later. However, some “grown-up” words can be missed and get mispronounced. For example, the word “Toner” (as in a photocopier) is written in a way that is unclear, and so many people mispronounce it as “Tooner”. A Centimeter is often pronounced like “Santimeter”. The Salmon fish is often pronounced “Solomon”. I’ve even seen a guy who likes to eat “Tona” sandwiches once.