Sunday, October 06, 2013

Should I say shmei or shmeh?

Some people are medakdek to pronounce their Aramaic "correctly". And they know that there is a mapik heh in Amein Yehei ShemeiH Rabba. Thus,

יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא יִתְבָּרַךְ

But what they don't realize is that, probably due to the phonological features we are trained on, when they try to say Shmēh with a tzeirei they actually say Shmeh with a segol. Listen carefully the next time you or someone else tries it. If it were a different consonant at the end, e.g. a Resh or a Samech, there would be no problem pronouncing the tzeirei, but a difficult guttural like a Heh triggers a weakening into a segol. And it is quite difficult to overcome.

In which case, one is merely substituting one "error" in pronunciation for another. Except you get to sound all weird or precise (depending on one's perspective).

So, which is better? If you don't pronounce the Heh, you sound like other Jews, and one could argue that the meaning is perfectly clear while the standardization legitimizes the 'incorrect' pronunciation. Meanwhile, if you do pronounce the Heh, you are probably still getting it wrong, but just in a vowel, and while at least making an effort to get it right.

Please weigh in with your thoughts.

Follow-up question: If you focus one getting your ShmeiHs right, are you able to simultaneously focus on the simple meaning of the words, or are you distracted by your phonological precision?


JLan said...

This problem (prnouncing it like it had a segol) was pointed out to me by R' Saul Berman, after he heard me davening. I've made an effort to get it right (tzeireih and heh, both). I always find that particular line somewhat difficult to pronounce even beyond this particular issue, since I naturally want to pronounce several of the kamatzes as kamatz katans.

I find it fairly easy to think about the meaning, but mostly in the sense of thinking about the sentence I'm saying, rather than the actual word-by-word statement, which I suppose doesn't make that much sense if I'm also trying to be careful about pronunciation.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I can clearly pronounce the tseireh; my problem is that my syllable-final hei•s come out labialized, so they approach the sound of my soft pei•s, so
can sound almost like

Joe in Australia said...

I pronounce a tzeireih as a dipthong ("ayy") and I can't really see a way to pronounce the hei at the end.

Avi said...

It's only somewhat recently that I've tried to be medakdek in reading, and I must confess that I don't know that I'm always pronouncing things as intended, and this goes double for mapik heh.

For shmai, I try to say shmai-h. That is, I clearly say shmai, and then I follow it with a sort of soft heh (the word, not the Hebrew letter) sound to pronounce the heh (the letter).

I must confess, that while I find linguistic discussions very interesting, I don't always (read: often) understand the various terms and how they are intended to sound. Things like labials and diphthongs.

As an aside, I have more trouble with the final words. I find it hard to pronounce the ayin-lamed combinations without adding a dagesh chazak to the lamed.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

There's no difference in pronunciation between a tsereh and a segol. :)

Eric said...

See Matteh Efrayim Dinei Kadish Halacha 20

One should say "שמה" without the yud and without the mappik hei, however the Pri Megadim implies that it is better to say with a mappik hei, and so is written in Sefer Hakavvanot as well as the siddur "Amudei Shamayim" of Yavetz.


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