Thursday, January 27, 2011

Y oh Y???

Have you ever wondered how come many names are pronounced so differently in many languages? The popular name Joseph, for example, is pronounced Yoseph in many European languages, and Hose in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. Ever wonder why?

Joseph, as well as many other common names like Jacob, Joaquin, John, Jael, Jarod, Jedidiah, Joshua, Jericho and even Jesus himself are all biblical names. Originally, all these names were written using the Hebrew letter YUD, which is pronounced like the American letter Y. When the bible was translated to Greek in the 2nd century, the names that used Yud were transliterated using the letter I (Iota), and it was carried to other translations of the Bible. It was this way for hundreds of years, and I'm not sure how, exactly, it changed. I've heard several versions - one says the J was identical to the I, but people started using the J as the consonant, and the I as the vowel. Another tale says that the J was initially used just to make the longer vowel sound of the I.

The bottom line is that sometimes, probably around the 17th century, all the names that used an I in the bible were changed to use a J. They were still pronounced correctly (meaning, like the original Hebrew way of prouncing them), but at some point, the French started pronouncing it like we do today, and this has crept into the English language. The Spanish language also changed in some countries, and people started pronouncing it as the frictive J in some dialects (Argentina and Mexico, for example).

Will this ever change back? I doubt it. With today's established teaching methodology and worldwide communications, it's harder for languages to change. If you want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem, start calling your friends Yosef, Yacov...and start praying to Jeshu!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

And his hooks!

I already talked a bit about the unusual way Hebrew uses vowels . One interesting result of this is a special word, which I think is unique. That word is VEVAVAV, which means "And His Hooks". For example, you might want to say "The carpenter came here with his nails and his hooks", which would be "Hanagar Ba im masmerav vevavav". When written in Hebrew, it looks even more interesting...the word is spelt like this:
Yes! this is not a joke!
Each of the horizontal bars is the letter Vav (which doubles as the consonant V and the vowels O and U), and the short bar is the letter Yud (which doubles as the consonant Y and the vowels I, E and Y).

Isn't that incredible?