A Word about Transliteration



Transliteration from Hebrew to English is a thorny problem. The two languages
are far from being phonetically congruent. Some Hebrew sounds have no equivalent
in English and can only be represented by some contrived combination of letters
that bear some resemblance to the sound to be reproduced. Furthermore, although
the English language uses only 26 letters, these letters represent 117 different
sounds. Consequently, the reader of a transliterated word who is unfamiliar with
the original Hebrew will often have difficulty determining which of the several
possible sounds of a given letter is indicated. Finally, there is the issue of dialect.

I try to adopt an Ashkenazic dialect since most members of KSY are of Ashkenazic
descent and we daven nusach Ashkenaz. I wish to encourage proper Ashkenazic
usage instead of the Sefaradic pronunciation used by some Ashkenazim. I prefer that
the ba’alei kerioh use havoroh Ashkenazis rather than havarah
. To a lesser degree this is also a preference for the ba’alei
and olim laTorah.

In my transliterations, the komatz is generally represented by the letter
o. Sometimes I add an h if the o is liable to be sounded
as in the word go or no. I will also generally add an h
at the end of a word that ends in a komatz heh. For example, I might write
mitzvoh instead ofthe commonly used mitzva to emphasize the
komatz, so that it will not be read as a patach. When words have
become standard in English (e.g., Torah), I ignore these rules and use
the common spelling instead. Furthermore, in the word Torah, the first
vowel is a cholam and the juxtaposition of two o’s that sound
different is confusing. The word yeshiva is common and is usually read
correctly, so there is no need to write yeshivoh.

The patach is represented by the letter a.

Both the ches and the chof are represented by ch,
as in mechanchim. This appears to be the most practical. Havoroh Ashkenazis
does not differentiate between the two. Since the English ch sound does
not exist in Hebrew, there should be no confusion.

The shevo noh is indicated by an e. The e is also
used for a segol. Although this creates confusion and it might be more
practical to use an apostrophe, I try to avoid apostrophes. I tend to use
a lot of transliteration when writing for our kehilla, and to my eye letters look
nicer than apostrophes. Besides, the apostrophe does not add as much emphasis as
does an e. I encourage the tzibbur to pronounce a proper shevo
, and an e seems to drive the point home very clearly.

An apostrophe is used to indicate a break in a word. For example, in the word
ra’anan, the apostrophe separates the patach under the reish
from the patach under the ayin.

The combination ei is used for a tzeirei. (The sound is the
same as the ay in the words play, clay and say,but
it is also spelled ei in freight. To use ay for a
seems too cumbersome and presents other problems.)

A chirik is indicated by an i. Where readers are liable to
read the e of a shevo noh as a segol, and are unlikely
to read an i as a chirik, I will use an i for the
shevo noh
. Hence I would write bireishis rather than bereishis.

The long I sound, as in shy, high and try, is sometimes
difficult to reproduce. I heard a lot of resistance to my spelling of parshas
. I rejected the standard spelling of Vayechi because the
shevo under the yud is a shevo nach, not a shevo
. There are two syllables to be sounded: Vye (as in rye
or vie) and chi (as in see or knee). I
opted for Vyechi, but I am open to suggestions, since my choice is not
perfect and allows for mistaken pronunciation.

Instead of trying to follow rules consistently, I try to consider how a person
who does not know Hebrew would read the word. The most important criterion is the
spelling that would result in the best reproduction of the correct sound.

I try to avoid using capital letters for transliterated Hebrew words (unless
they are proper nouns) since Hebrew has no capital letters.

There is a major lack of uniformity on the issue of transliteration. Since beginning
to write with a lot of transliteration, I have come to use the system described
in order to maintain some structure and consistency. I do not claim that my system
is superior to others. I offer this essay in the way of explanation for all those
who have questioned my spellings and to bring greater consistency to the newsletters,
which generally have my writings and the writings of other people on the same page.

BookID: Chapter:

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply