In some Ashkenazic dialects, lots of words in which the first syllable is accented and the vowel is segol are pronounced as though they had a tzeirei. Examples include "meylech," "tzeydek," and "peyrek."

But even those who pronounce words of this class with a segol (like me) still say "peysach." As far as I know, this is the only one where this is done. Why is this?

  • See also mi.yodeya.com/questions/5991
    – msh210
    Mar 27 '11 at 4:42
  • 1
    Someone asked Rav Heinemann about how to pronounce it, and the Rav said, "There's no such work in the torah as Peisach, only Pehsach" as you noted wisely
    – NJM
    Aug 30 '17 at 23:48
  • Also "eygel" for egel
    – SAH
    Sep 12 '17 at 4:33

As you suggested, but because in Yiddish it is pronounced Pay-sach.

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    Then that just begs the question: why is it that way in dialects of Yiddish where the same is not done (in those dialects) with words such as מלך?
    – Alex
    Mar 27 '11 at 3:46
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    for ritual words, people are more likely to revert to Yiddish within e.g. English speech. just as in Yiddish, it is the more ritual words which stem from Hebrew/Aramaic, rather than German. when someone actually does say "melech", he is likely speaking Hebrew. perhaps even for Yiddish speakers, it went from (these dialects of Yiddish) into the standard lexicon. most people, i think, if you ask, believe there is a tzeirei there. Mar 27 '11 at 11:11
  • 2
    @Alex, yet the name מלך is often pronounced with a tzere under the mem.
    – msh210
    Aug 25 '11 at 15:20
  • Pronounced and spelled. (Some say that the reason for this linguistic development was because of what Dave's answer suggests.) Jul 23 '12 at 2:21

Maybe because "Pessach" sounds too much like פתח (doorway or opening)?

  • 1
    According to those who pronounce a Sav like a Sav. Jul 23 '12 at 2:21

Ashkenazi Hebrew is technically a descendant of so-called "Palestinian Hebrew", like the Sephardi dialects. This pronunciation tradition had five vowels: /a/ /i/ /u/ /e/ /o/. In the 12th century, the long [aː] and [a] in an open syllable became [o] or [u] some dialects of German. Likewise, the sound [eː] or [e] in an open syllable became diphthongized into [ei] or [ai].

These features entered Yiddish. This in turn affected Hebrew. The qamas, which usually represents a historically long /a/ generally meets the requirements for the sound shift and became associated with [o]. Likewise, sere became associated with [ai] or [ei]. Between the 14th and 15th centuries, qamas and patah, and sere and segol became distinct.

Because the vowel sounds in Yiddish are from the historical sound shift --- and not from the Tiberian vowels --- we get pronunciations like פֶּסַח‎ peisach and קַדַּחַת kadoches. It also explains the vowel differences in pairs like: דָּם דָמִים dam domim, כְּלָל כְּלָלִים klal klolim.

See: Ilan Eldar. 1978. The Hebrew language tradition in Medieval Ashkenaz (ca. 950–1350 C.E.), Vols 1 and 2.

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