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Apr 14, 2010

"the" in Hebrew and its relationship to the Arab world -


If you know a bit of Hebrew, you probably know the Hebrew equivalent of the English definite article, the. It's הַ (hah), and at times הָ (also "hah", but pronounced a bit differently by some speakers) or הֶ (heh).

What you may not have noticed is that almost always in the letter following the ה prefix is a dot of emphasis - a דָּגֵש (dah-GESH). Take the word, הַתִּקְוָה (hah-teek-VAH - the hope) for example - look at the dot in the ת. Some speakers will actually accentuate the ת sound.


Well, once upon a time in pre-Torah Hebrew (think Abraham), the Hebrew definite article likely had a consonant as part of its unit - probably either הַנ (hahn) or הַל (hahl). As Hebrew pronunciation developed, the n or l sound dropped, but was preserved partially by strengthening the pronunciation of the following consonant - which, in writing, is represented by the דגש (dot of emphasis).

The Hebrew letter ה (heh) in four fonts (from right to left):
Modern Hebrew block, Modern Hebrew handwriting,
Torah scroll writing, "Rashi" script

In Arabic, a sister language to Hebrew, this phenomenon is preserved quite well. Take, for example, the Arabic name for Jerusalem, القدس (ahl-KOODS). It means literally, the holy (never mind that Jerusalem is hardly referred to in Muslim holy writings... but politics are politics). The ال (ahl) particle corresponds to the Hebrew הַ (hah).

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