The Hebrew Alphabet

The Hebrew Alphabet

No, I wasn’t thinking about learning Hebrew — not yet anyway — but language has always fascinated me so here it is. (That on the left is a bookmark I bought, not so much as a souvenir but as a learning device).

I’m not going to run a Hebrew language course here, because obviously I know nothing about it (yet), but here are some fun facts I learned which should be quite interesting:

              • Hebrew is written from right to left. Believe it or not, I didn’t know this until after I left Israel. And then when I got home and opened one of the CDs I bought during the trip, it opened the other way — from right to left! So I guess the right-left thing encompasses more than just the writing. 
              • The vast majority of the Israeli population speaks Hebrew; Palestinians speak Arabic. The road signs were written in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
              • There is Classical Hebrew, and there is Modern Hebrew. Classical Hebrew is the language used in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament books, whereas Modern Hebrew is what the Jewish now use for daily life and is spoken in certain parts of the world. Classical Hebrew is still used today for prayer.
              • The Hebrew alphabet does not contain vowels. This does make one curious as to how it is possible to pronounce Hebrew words without vowels. The answer is that they use a series of dots and dashes above or below the letters to indicate the vowels. Writing that contains such markings is referred to as “pointed text.”
              • Hebrew uses a different alphabet from that of English. When I first looked at the Hebrew alphabet I assumed it should be relatively easy to read and write in Hebrew — you could just substitute the letters and reverse the way you read (or use a mirror) — but in fact it isn’t. There is a process, however, of writing Hebrew words in the Roman alphabet (the one we use for English), and they call it transliteration. I imagine that can be a bit of a challenge as well.
              • Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value. This way, it is possible to write numbers with the very same letters that the Jewish use to write text. And because of this, every word in Hebrew has a numerical value as well. This is similar to Roman numerals and how we sometimes use letters to signify numbers (I, V, X, IV, M), only that unlike the Hebrew alphabet, only some of our letters have values.

Looking at the image on the left, the very first letter of the Hebrew alphabet which is Alef is the one on the top right which looks like this: א. The second letter, Bet, is on the top left (which would have been the very first letter we read if we were reading in English) and looks like this: ב. Then the third letter is on the second row on the right, and so on.

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