Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Daf Yomi Brachot 15b: Feh!

David G. on Adafaday asks about Rava's examples of not pronouncing Shema correctly by not putting a pause together between certain words. While the lameds of al-levavecha make sense, he has problems with the plosive/fricative pairs v/p (in eisev besadcha) and p/f (in hakanaf petil), not seeing how they can be confused or interchangable such that it is not pronouncing it correctly. He gives some suggestions, such as that they may not have made a distinction back then.

First off, we do have slightly different pronunciation of some letters than they had back then. He does not see the way of mixing up p/f, but it is realli not p/f but rather p/phi. That is, for example, we have peh = the voiceless biliabial plosive vs. feh, the voiceless labiodental fricative, such that it is not just a plosive vs. fricative (b vs. v, k vs. ch) difference, but the place of articulation is also different (bilabial vs. labiodental). However, the reconstructed Mishnaic pronunciation of feh is as phi, the voiceless bilabial fricative, such that it is just a plosive/fricative distinction. (Bilabial means with both lips, while labio-dental means with lower lip and upper teach or vice versa.) You can click on the links above, which take you to Wikipedia, where you can actually hear samples of all these sounds. The same situation with b/v which the reconstructed Mishnaic pronunciation was b/beta, with beta being the voiced bilabial (rather than labiodental v) fricative. See here.

I would suggest that the plosive is more strongly needed when you do not lead into it, which is why you get plosive (=dagesh kal) in the beginning of words and syllables in Hebrew, and if you rather lead into it with the fricative equivalent, the plosive quality will be either weakened or dispensed with. This would perhaps be a similar situation to an affricate, in which the plosive element is not finished because it leads into the fricative equivalent.

{Update: Or say: the fricative usually continues on for a short time and doesn't end in a stop of air (plosive). If you say pronounce the fricative quickly, followed by the plosive with no pause or shva na in between, the combination of the two letters sounds much like the plosive.}

I would also add that according to the Rif's version of the gemara, Rava gave addition examples of switchoff - a vav example with o/u: אֹתוֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם, and a vav example with u/v: לְמַעַן .תִּזְכְּרוּ, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם See here on my Rif blog for these examples.

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