Tiberian vocalization

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Closeup of Aleppo Codex, Joshua 1:1

The Tiberian vocalization, Tiberian pointing, or Tiberian niqqud (Hebrew: <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />נִיקוּד טְבֵרִיָנִי‎) is a system of diacritics (niqqud) devised by the Masoretes of Tiberias to add to the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible to produce the Masoretic Text.[1] This system soon became used to vocalize other Hebrew texts as well.

The Tiberian vocalization marks vowels, stress, and makes finer distinctions of consonant quality and length, and also serves as punctuation. While the Tiberian system was devised for Tiberian Hebrew, it has become the dominant system for vocalizing all forms of Hebrew, having long since eclipsed the Babylonian and Palestinian vocalization systems.

Consonant diacritics

The sin dot distinguishes between the two values of <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />ש‎. A dagesh indicates a consonant is geminate or unspirantized, while a raphe indicates spirantization. The mappiq indicates that <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />ה‎ is consonantal rather than silent in syllable-coda position.

Vowel diacritics

The seven vowel qualities of Tiberian Hebrew are indicated straightforwardly by distinct diacritics:

niqqud with א אַ אֶ אֵ אִ אָ אֹ אֻ אוּ
name patah segol tzere hiriq qamatz holam qubutz shuruq
value /a/ /ɛ/ /e/ /i/ ~ ɑ/ /o/ /u/

The diacritics qubutz and shuruq both represent /u/, but shuruq is used when the text uses full spelling (with waw as a mater lectionis). Each of these vowel phonemes could be allophonically lengthened; occasionally this length is marked with metheg. (In this function metheg also can indirectly indicate when a following shva is vocal.)

The ultrashort vowels are slightly more complicated. There were two graphemes corresponding to the vowel /ă/, attested by alternations in manuscripts like <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />ארֲריך~ארְריך, ואשמֳעָה~ואשמְעָה‎.‎.[2] In addition, one of these graphemes could also be silent:

niqqud with א אְ אֲ אֱ אֳ
name shva hataf patah hataf segol hataf qamatz
value /ă/, ⌀ /ă/ /ɛ̆/ /ɔ̆/
Figurines holding Tiberian vowel diacritics. Limestone and basalt artwork at the shore in Tiberias.

Shva was used both to indicate lack of a vowel (quiescent šwa, shva nah) and as another symbol to represent the phoneme /ă/ (mobile šwa, shva na), the latter also represented by hataf patah.[2][3] The phoneme /ă/ had a number of allophones; /ă/ had to be written with shva rather than hataf patah when not pronounced as [ă].[4] Before a laryngeal-pharyngeal, mobile šwa was pronounced as an ultrashort copy of the following vowel, e.g. <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />וּבָקְעָה[uvɔqɔ̆ʕɔ], and as [ĭ] preceding /j/, e.g. <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />תְדֵמְּיוּ֫נִי/θăðammĭjuni/.[2] Use of ḥataf vowels was considered mandatory under gutturals but optional under other letters, and varies considerably among manuscripts.[5] This is referenced specifically by medieval grammarians:

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If one argues that the dalet of 'Mordecai' (and other letters in other words) has hatef qames, tell him, 'but this sign is only a device used by some scribes to warn that the consonants should be pronounced fully, and not slurred over'.

— Abu al-Faraj Harun, Hidāyat al-Qāri (Horayat Ha-Qore), quoted in Yeivin (1980:283–284)

The names of the vowel diacritics are iconic and show some variation:

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The names of the vowels are mostly taken from the form and action of the mouth in producing the various sounds, as <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />פַּתַ֫ח‎ opening; <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />צֵרֵ֫י‎ a wide parting (of the mouth), also <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />שֶׁ֫בֶר‎) breaking, parting (cf. the Arab, kasr); <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />חִ֫ירֶק‎ (also <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />חִרֶק‎) narrow opening; <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />ח֫וֹלֶם‎ closing, according to others fullness, i.e. of the mouth (also <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />מְלֹא פּוּם‎ fullness of the mouth). <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />קָ֫מֶץ‎ also denotes a slighter, as <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />שׁוּרֶק‎ and <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />קִבּוּץ‎ (also <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />קבוץ פּוּם‎) a firmer, compression or contraction of the mouth. Segôl (<templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />סְגוֹל‎ bunch of grapes) takes its name from its form. So <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />שָׁלֹשׁ נְקֻדּוֹת‎ (three points) is another name for Qibbúṣ. Moreover the names were mostly so formed (but only later), that the sound of each vowel is heard in the first syllable (<templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />קָמֶץ‎ for <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />קֹמֶץ‎,‎ <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />פַּתַח‎ for <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />פֶּתַח‎,‎ <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />צֵרִי‎ for <templatestyles src="Script/styles_hebrew.css" />צְרִי‎); in order to carry this out consistently some even write Sägôl, Qomeṣ-ḥatûf, Qûbbûṣ.


Cantillation signs mark stress and punctuation: metheg may mark secondary stress; maqqaf conjoins words into one stress unit, which normally takes only one cantillation mark on the final word in the unit.

See also


  1. The portions of the Hebrew Bible which are in Biblical Aramaic use the same system of vocalization.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Blau (2010:105–106)
  3. Blau (2010:117–118)
  4. Blau (2010:118)
  5. Yeivin (1980:283)


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