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There are many ways of pronouncing Hebrew in prayers and when reading the Tora. Most of these are tradition-based: one pronounces it the same way his parent or teacher did, or a close approximation. Over the years, of course, the amount of error in those approximations amounts to quite a bit, which presumably explains the wide divergence of pronunciation.

Ashk'nazim typically pronounce a kamatz as a fairly back, not very open vowel: something like ʌ or ɔ.

S'faradim, on the other hand, typically pronounce

Now, I've heard some people pronounce even a kamatz katan as a fairly open, central, unrounded vowel, something like a. (Or many a kamatz katan, anyway.) I've always assumed this is not based on the tradition they received from a line of teachers and ancestors: am I right, or is there some tradition that pronounces the vowel this way?

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I think it's just an effect of Modern Israeli Hebrew. –  jake Mar 17 '13 at 17:21
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It could also be an effect of non-fluent speakers combined with texts (e.g. siddurim) that don't distinguish via typography. I've seen lots of people who don't know the difference between "kol" and "kal" because they look the same and they don't know the grammar rules. Some siddurim published in the last couple decades have started distinguishing them; whether that's the reason I don't know, but it seems to help. –  Monica Cellio Mar 17 '13 at 17:44
    
@MonicaCellio Ditto. Just think about the words with aקמץ קטן that everyone seems to pronounce "something like o," e.g. קרבן and כל. –  Fred Mar 17 '13 at 22:58
    
@Fred, I think Ashk'nazim outside of Israel without an Israel- or S'faradi-influenced education pronounce "קרבן" and "כל" with the same kamatz as every other word with a kamatz. –  msh210 Mar 17 '13 at 23:10
    
@msh210 Are you saying they don't distinguish between different kinds of kamatz? –  Fred Mar 17 '13 at 23:19
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1 Answer

All Sephardic/Mizrahi (but not Yemenite) reading traditions distinguish qames qatan (pronounced as you point out approximately "o") from qames gadhol (pronounced as you point out approximately "a"). Most Ashkenazim, along with Yemenites, pronounce both approximately as "aw" in claw, draw. Some Ashkenazim pronounce qames gadhol as "aw" and qames qatan as "o".
Great confusion has resulted when people from an Ashkenazic background make a partial switch to Modern Hebrew pronunciation. They often don't know to distinguish qames qatan from qames gadhol, and even if they do don't know which is which.
One should note that the rules of qames qatan in Modern Hebrew differ from the Sephardic reading tradition as follows: a qames preceding hateph-qames is qames-qatan according to Modern Hebrew (e.g., tsohorayim), but is qames gadhol according to Sephardic reading tradition (tsahorayim).
It would be a reasonable assumption that where the last-mentioned rule does not apply, someone pronounced qames-qatan as "a" is simply making an error. There are, of course, many situations where authorities dispute over a particular qames followed by a shewa as to whether it is qames-qatan followed by shewa nah or qames-gadhol followed by shewa-na`.

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I have never understood what this 'aw' as in draw means. You distinguish it from 'o'. Do you mean the 'aw' as in bus? You write "Most Ashkenazim, along with Yemenites, pronounce both approximately as 'aw' in claw, draw. " The British pronounce Draw/Bore/Snore, the same. And a Kamatz Gadol like Bus. –  barlop Apr 7 at 5:10
    
it looks like 'aw' is the way the concise oxford english dictionary (COD) did 'o'. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pronunciation_respelling_for_English Then in the 8th edition 1990, they adopted IPA. The Linguistics Student's Handbook - Page 127 "....the International Phonetic Alphabet was adopted for use in .....the eighth edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1990)...." –  barlop Apr 7 at 21:30
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