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I have read historically the letter ayin was pronounced by some Dutch, Portuguese, and Italian Jews as a velar nasal consonant (ng as in sing). Reference to this can be found here, here, and here. I have also read in other places (that I can't find at this moment) that ayin as a nasal consonant was also used in Poland and other Yiddish speaking areas. This can be seen in the transformation over time of Ya'akov into Yankiv or Yankel.

An example showing this pronunciation in the context of a novel can be found in Children of the Ghetto, chapter 20 when a dying boy is told to say "Shemang" (שׁמע). The speaker in the story is a nineteenth century Jew of Polish origins, living in London.

The usually informative article "Phonology of Ashkenazic" by Dovid Katz says nothing about the nasal pronunciation, just a few paragraphs on page 69 explaining that the ayin and aleph went silent and a quote from Yekusiel of Prague complaining about that in 1395.

The author of this article states (on page 194) that the nasal ayin could be heard in many cities in Europe until the Holocaust, but he believes that the only place where this historic pronunciation can be heard today is in Amsterdam (page 198).

My question is: Is this pronunciation used anywhere else? If it was really as common 100 years ago as these authors claim, I would expect there to be communities in America that preserve it. I am sure that there would be a tendency for "modernists" to make it silent like in standard Israeli Hebrew, but many orthodox communities preserve older pronunciations out of a desire not to change their mesorah. Have any of you heard "shemang" or similar pronunciations used in prayer or in Torah reading? If so, in what community was that in?

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    I always assumed that's where "Yankiv" for "Yaakov" came from - some version of "Yangkiv" – Y     e     z Jan 23 '15 at 5:36
  • Where an 'ayin is pronounced at the syllable coda as a pharyngeal glottal plosive, that could easily be mistaken as a velar nasal consonant, especially by people whose native language lacks a pharyngeal glottal plosive or a voiced pharyngeal fricative. But I didn't think a velar nasal could start a syllable in Hebrew. Do you have any examples of a velar nasal "ngayin" beginning a syllable? – Fred Jan 23 '15 at 7:41
  • One member of our shul, pronounces "Yaakov" as "Ya'ankov". – Avrohom Yitzchok Jan 23 '15 at 10:11
  • I'm not sure the 'g' is pronounced, more the nasal 'n' like the French do in words like vin. If it were French transliteration then "Sheman Yisrael". Compare to ne-e-mann. double n to be non-nasal. – CashCow Jan 23 '15 at 11:06
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    I can confirm it is still used in Amsterdam and taught in the school there. – Yishai Jan 23 '15 at 14:21
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I believe that @YeZ is correct. When I lived in Washington Heights (upper Manhattan, NYC), I occasionally attended Cong. Sha'arei Hatikvah, which, I understand, still exists in the same location - across the street from the G.W. Bridge Bus terminal. They were "staunchly" Yekke. All 'ayins were pronounced as you describe, and the Chazan would say "Elokei Yangkowv". (In a way, I think they insisted on anyone who was a Shat"z to specifically pronounce it that way, even if that wasn't his normal speech.)

There was another smaller shul about a block down, on Ft. Washington Ave. between 177 and 178 street. I think it was called Kehilas Ya'akov - also Yekke. Of ocurse, the older men from that shul called their shul "Kehillas Yangkowv".

Note that Yekke's also pronounce a cholam as "ow".

I've also heard a few of my Yekke friends sing "Shir Hamangalows" before Bircas Hamawzown!

  • This is also the pronunciation for the ayin in the old Spanish Portuguese communities. I actually didn't realise that there were still Jeckes who pronounced their ayiŋ. So thank's for that. – Noach MiFrankfurt Jan 23 '15 at 19:10
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They are still pretty punctilious about using this pronunciation at Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue on the Upper West Side.

  • Yes in Italian transliteration of ע we find also "gn' the prononciation is similar to nnnye. Sepharadic Jewish of Holland also use this prononciation. – kouty May 31 '16 at 14:28
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In proper Dutch-Ashkenazi pronunciation, "ya'akov" would be "Yang'akouv", as not only the ayin is pronounced as an 'ng' sound, but the cholam is pronounced an 'ou'. As a kid I was taught "Mongouz Tzur Yeshung'osi Lecho no'ay leshabei'ach". We would say Shemang Yisroeil and end 'oren' (davvening) with "Ngoleinu leshabei'ach". And yes, we would say "leng'oulom wong'ed" (le'olam wa'ed) and Youm Kippur, Roush HaShonoh, Sukkous and Simchas Touro would be in the autumn and Sho'wung'ous would be in the Summer, as would Tisho B'Ow ;-) I was told that the Kehilo in Frankfurt am Main originally had the more Southern German pronunciation of Hebrew. But when Rabbiner Shimshon Rephuel Hirsch came to Frankfurt he brought with him the pronunciation he himself was taught in Hamburg and was used in Emden and Oldenburg as well: the cholam as a "ou" sound. As far as I know -and I was born/raised in the region Holland and Northern Germany- the 'ng' was typically Dutch and even the Jews in North-Western Germany would not use this. Only the cholam 'ou' we would have in common. I spoke about it with many rabbis and academics but no one can tell me where it is from. I myself think it must be old and maybe Ashkenazi Jewry started out with the ayin as a 'ng'. How else would we explain why until today Eastern Europeans say 'Yankele' also with the 'ng' sound? On the other hand the Dutch sephardim (Portugese) also pronounce the ayin as an 'ng'. But as we know the sephardim took Judaism upon themselves after a long period of being 'in between' x-tianity and Jiddishkeit. So to what extend could they have handed down mesora? I mean until proper Sephardic rabbis took over their guidance... Does anyone know how for instance Yemenites (Baladi) pronounce the ayin? I am very curious. I was surprised to just recently learn that Baladi Yemenites pronounce Chanuka as Ashkenazim: chanuko. One more remark: I read somewhere that Sephardi pronunciation would be the Eretz Yisroeil pronounciation and the Ashenazi pronunciation would be the Babylonian. But that wouldn't make much sense since we learn that the nusachos have just the opposite background: Ashkenaz was majorly influenced by Eretz Yisroeil and Sephard by Bavel.... So why would it make sense that for as far as pronunciation it would be the other way around? I would love to hear more factual information! Toudo!

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya Dannie! Does anyone know how for instance Yemenites (Baladi) pronounce the ayin?..One more remark: I read somewher... So why would it make sense that for as far as pronunciation it would be the other way around? I would love to hear more factual information! Toudo! Answers should be limited to the answer, while question that arise in the course of answering should be asked separately. Consider learning more about the site from this short tour. – mevaqesh Jan 2 '17 at 19:57
  • Interesting to hear first hand from someone raised with this pronunciation. Thank you and welcome to the site. – Mike Jan 2 '17 at 19:58
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My great uncle when leading the family Seder always said 'Arbang mi'yodeya' etc (as well as 'ki lau no'eh' and bimhighrow yivneh besau b'kaurov'). Our family background is Anglo-Jewish since about 1740 and before that from yekkish/Dutch forebears) and my grandmother's transliteration of the Shema started 'Shemang'.

  • Shifra welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for your first answer! If you haven’t done so already, you should take a look at the tour. I hope you find more Q&A of interest and stay learning with us! – mbloch May 31 '16 at 10:15
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This is not an answer. It's a comment that got way too long.

An internet search provided some really awesome examples of this pronunciation used in America in the late 19th and early 20th century (if you're like me and are fascinated by pre-war American Jewish history)

  • A newspaper article in "The Jewish South" dated June 10, 1898, which discusses the nasal pronunciation and the origin of the name "Yankev"

  • A book published in the year 1855 in New York, entitled "Shemang Israel, Ten Commandements, Jewish creed and festivals and fasts"

  • this charming article from "The American Hebrew", May 1896, on the significance of the "Shemang" prayer

  • A cemetery in Martisburg, West Virginia named בית יעקב, which, when registered as a company on March 16, 1913, did so as the "Bash Yankev Cemetery"

  • A prayer composed by (according to the link) Rev. Max Michelbacher of Congregation Beth Ahabah of Richmond, Virginia for the welfare of the Confederacy and distributed to Jewish Confederate soldiers

FWIW, I've also heard older community members pronounce Hebrew this way.

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