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

יְהֵא שְׁמֵ*הּ* 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 (as in English 'hay') they actually say Shmeh with a segol (as in English 'egg'). 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.

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    First, what makes you think shortening the vowel in speech is incorrect? You're talking about a language that hasn't been spoken conversationally in a really long time. – Seth J Oct 6 '13 at 23:17
  • Second, if you are convinced it's incorrect, what's wrong with going against the grain (especially if it's such a subtle thing that, as you pointed out, most people probably don't even pick up on it)? – Seth J Oct 6 '13 at 23:19
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    @joshwaxman Unless the י is consonantal ("mappik"). If you are going to add a consonant to the sound, then it closes the syllable. – Double AA Oct 6 '13 at 23:40
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    @joshwaxman In this weeks parsha we have ואעשך לגוי גדול with a dagesh kal in the gimmel of גדול because of the consonantal yod in לגוי. Similarly קלוי באש in Vayikra 2:14 and וחי בהם in Vayikra 18:5 (to give you examples of different vowels). Why would a mappik yud be different from a mappik hey לה or a mappik vav עבדיו? – Double AA Oct 7 '13 at 1:36
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    Also, we are not conjecturing a theoretic "correct" pronunciation, to the exclusion of all others. Given this standard pronunciation, and positing "correctness" as remaining consistent within a tradition, which is the right way to go? Are people really gaining, as they think they are? – josh waxman Oct 7 '13 at 2:22


Indeed, it is phonologically difficult to have a tzeirei leading into a guttural in a closed syllable, such as is found at the end of a word. That is why, in Hebrew, we see a patach ganuv, a sort of hurried patach, leading into such gutturals.

  • YehoshuA'
  • GavoAh
  • HoshiA'
  • NoAch
  • ReiAch
  • LehitmameiAh

(Thanks DoubleAA for the concrete tzeirei Mapik heh I was missing)

so, in Biblical Hebrew they solve the phonological difficulty with patach ganuv. Aramaic regularly solved this problem for other gutturals in a different way than patach ganuv, often by changing the preceding vowel to a patach.

In Aramaic, there certainly are plenty of examples of tzeirei mapik heh, so they pronounced it. Maybe they even had enough practice (and other phonological context and practice) that they even pronounced it as a full tzeirei. If this is so, then my question still stands, since the question is how and whether Ashkenazim can accurately produce these sounds within their consistent phonological system; whether we medakdekim are really accomplishing anything by our strange pronunciation; and whether a different course might then be in order.


But maybe pronunciation of identical nikkud marks in different phonological context is OK. Chassidim in my shteible pronounce segol in different ways: in the word melech, the first open stressed syllable as "a" in "hay" and the second as "e" as in "egg". So too kamatz, in an open syllable as "oo" in "food" and as "o" in "brother" in closed syllables. And listen to most Ashkenazim as they pronounce a chirik, whether officially malei or chaser. Certain phonological contexts trigger an "i" sound as in "trigger".

So, so what if in context of mapik heh, the tzeirei tends to become almost or exactly like a segol?

Indeed, this sort of organic natural development is what likely led to phenomena such as patach ganuv. People couldn't help but insert a little /a/ sound as they transitioned to the guttural. And the Masoretes captured the pronunciation, as it existed then.


Regardless, Rachmana Liba Ba'iy. That is why I wouldn't really sweat either the question or the resolution. Which leads me to my follow-up question to this: 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?

(See also the comments to my parallel blogpost, where some admit to grappling with this particular phonological difficulty.)

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    להתמהמה​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ – Double AA Oct 7 '13 at 3:18
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    "Whether we are actually accomplishing anything" It seems obvious to me that not distinguishing between long and short varieties of the same vowel is not nearly as significant as dropping an entire consonant off of a word. – Double AA Oct 7 '13 at 3:22
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    @DoubleAA Although I might not go so far as calling it "obvious", I am strongly inclined to agree with you. And I still don't quite understand why it's supposedly hard to pronounce a tzeirei running into a mapik hei. I do it frequently. – Fred Oct 7 '13 at 3:42
  • @Frei Look what happens when I drop a final consonant to extend a segol to a tzeirei :) – Double AA Oct 7 '13 at 3:45
  • @DoubleAAh And look what happens when I add a mapik hei at the end of that tzeirei (assuming you pronounce the long A). – Fred Oct 7 '13 at 3:49


this is the way teimonim pronounce the qadheesh. and this is audio evidence/proof of how to pronounce the hei in the word shmeih. although op was adressing ashkanazim, i think this should fit in here quite nice as i believe that this is the most proper way of pronouncing the word and how to pronounce loshon haqodhash as a whole. so not only does it answer the op in that it doesnt sound like a eh sound or any other sound he mentioned. it has its own distinct sound which i believe whole be adopted by the klal as it was pronounced in the days of old

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  • It was very short, but it sounded to me like Shmih. Is that close? – Seth J Nov 19 '13 at 1:19
  • @SethJ no it is shamehh not shmih. it said twice in qadhish. so if you listen to the entire thing you can hear him say it twice that way. – MoriDowidhYa3aqov Nov 19 '13 at 6:11
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    arabic influence? yes arabic influence....has nothing to do with the fact that their masoroh on loshon haqodhosh is much better than the rest of the klal. and that is evident not only from the pronunciation of things. – MoriDowidhYa3aqov Nov 20 '13 at 5:11
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    @MoriDoweedhYa3gob You just said: their practices did not change; therefore, their practices did not change. Really convincing argument. – Double AA Nov 24 '13 at 4:36
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    @MoriDoweedhYa3gob Maybe, but we're not discussing which is the best overall way of pronouncing things. – Double AA Nov 24 '13 at 5:03

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