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Is the Yemenite pronunciation of Hebrew closest to correct? If so, would that mean that we should use the Yemenite pronunciation when davening or leining the Torah?

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  • I don't think there's a "correct" way of pronouncing (ancient) Hebrew. We know from Tanach as well as later sources that people from different areas in Israel spoke Hebrew in different ways. Sub-dialects of the Jewish Hebrew, which itself is a dialect of proto-Hebrew, if ever there was such a language. Other nations that are thought to have spoken dialects of Hebrew are the Phoenicians (Tzidonim), Moabites, Edomites and Amonites.
    – Harel13
    Apr 20, 2023 at 5:44
  • If you can get your hands on שפת אמת שפתי כהן byר' בנציון הכהן it is a very worthwhile work that explores this topic. Apr 20, 2023 at 11:23
  • Also, I think your question could use some clarification. By "correct" do you mean the most historically accurate or do you mean the most correct as far as halakhic practice is concerned? While there may be significant overlap, they two questions don't map exactly the same. Apr 20, 2023 at 11:26

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There are some things that are more correct about Yemenite Hebrew, like

  • Preserving unique pronunciations for all letters and allophones of the אלף-בית (except for ס-שׂ, which probably merged at the time of the תנאים or earlier)
  • The pronunciations of the vowels קמץ as [ɔ(ː)], צירי as [eː], חיריק as [i(ː)], and שורוק/קובוץ as [u(ː)].
  • The גר״א in דקדוק אליהו says that the pronunciation of a שוא נע before a guttural letter אחה״ע is “drawn” to the vowel of the guttural, and I’ve read in one of the מפרשים there that Yemenites preserve this pronunciation, but I need to confirm.

On the other hand, there are some things about Yemenite pronunciation that are almost definitely not historically correct, like:

  • Consonants
    • ק׳ as [g] (/g/ as in “go”)
    • גּ׳ as [dʒ] (/j/ as in “jump”)
    • שׂ׳ as [s] (as almost all Jews do)
  • Vowels
    • חולם as [øː]~[eː]
    • פתח and סגול, both as [a]~[æ]

The only things that are more accurate about אשכנזי Hebrew are:

  • חולם as [oʊ] (which is almost the same vowel as [oː])
  • סגול as [ɛ], פתח as [a]
  • גּ׳ as [g]

…so, I would say Yemenite Hebrew is a lot more accurate overall, despite the minor inaccuracies.

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