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Vowels & Dialect Marks
Lesson #2


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3) Your First Nouns


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Posted by Steve Caruso , updated Tuesday, August 20, 2002 8:29 AM


The Vowel Systems:

Now that you've gone over the consonants in Aramaic, one needs to remember that they cannot form a proper word without vowels (unless you really really really want to kill your vocal cords). I mean, just take a look at every word that I have typed up here so far. Each one has vowels. :-)

Aramaic, is no different from any other language, only vowels were a later addition to the various writing systems that it employs. Greek was the first alphabet to incorperate vowels as seperate characters. Up until then (Aramaic came to be waaaay before Greek :-) ) vowels were implied by knowing the words, giving rise to many dialects, but making it impossible for a foriegner to read the script.

Because of this, vowel marks were developed that were placed either under or over the consonants at about the 5th Century AD. Since there were many writing systems, 4 vowel systems were developed, and 2 of them are used in almost all modern Aramaic publications, while 1 is used mainly in Hebrew publications.

Let me introduce you first to the system that I favor:


Although I do list other vowels systems here, I will only be using Western Vowels for the rest of the Lessons. After you're more familliar with the language I would recommend you learning about the other vowels.

I warn about this only because trying to learn 4 different vowels systems for the same language at once will only result in a headache.


Western Vowels:

In my opinion, this is the simplest of all Aramaic vowel systems. For these examples I use an alép, for it is silent. These can appear above, or below (in which case they are written upside-down), any consonant, and the sound they make comes after that consonant. There are 5 vowels (going right to left):

Zqapa: As in father.
Pthakha: As in day.
Atsatsa: As in rule.
Rvatsa: As in ever.
Khvatsa: As in in.

...and 3 "combination" vowels.:

Khvatsa follwed by a Yud: As in ear.
Atsatsa follwed by a Nun: As in rule.
Ésaqa (Rwatsa followed by a Yud): As in day.

A note on the combination vowels. Treat the letter that comes after the vowel as the sound indicated. Don't repeat the vowel.

For example, Dalath-Rwatsa-Yod would sound exactly like the word "day."

This is as simple as it gets.

Throughout the lessons I will be using the following romanization:

Zlama: "A"
Pthakha: "É"
Atsatsa: "U"
Rwatsa: "E"
Khvatsa: "I"
Khvatsa-Yud: "EE"
Atsatsa-Nun: "OO"
Ésaqa: "EY"



Eastern Vowels:

Eastern vowels are a bit more complicated. They are harder to read in most ancient manuscripts, for Eastern punctuation is strictly dots. I have used marks in 5 of the examples to make them easier to distinguish from other dots.

The Eastern system's vowels, unlike the Western system's can only be written as shown above. The placement of a dot above or below a letter changes the vowel. Here are all 8 vowel names and pronounciation. Please also note that some Eastern vowels (like Rvatsa) share the same name as Western vowels, but make different sounds. Going from right to left:

Zqapa: As in father.
Pthakha: As in day.
Zlama Quéshya: As in ever.
Zlama Pshiqa: As in in.
Khvatsa: As in ear.
Rvatsa: As in you.
Rwakha: As in over.

Eastern vowels only have one combination vowel:

Ésapa (Zlama Quéshya - Yod): as in day.


Jacob of Edessa Vowels:

Now, these, are unique. You won't find many documents written today with Jacob of Edessa vowels. They were designed by the person who they were named after (Jacob of Edessa :-) ) and were an attempt to make the Syriac Aramaic alapbet more like the Greek: Including vowels as seperate letters instead of extra marks.

Unfortunately, in all of my study, I have yet to find the "official" names for each letter, so the names I have provided is my attempt at finding parallels. Going from right to left:

"Zqapa" (Alép): As in father.
"Unvoiced Rwakha": As in of.
"Rwakha:" As in over.
"Rvatsa:" As in you.
"Zlama Pshiqa:" As in in.
"Khvatsa:" As in ear.
"Ésapa:" as in yes.
"Zlama Quéshya:" As in ever.
"Pthakha:" As in day.

The advantage of these vowels is that they are part of the alapbet, the disadvantage is that no one uses them. An example of a good idea that never caught on.



Hebrew Vowels:

The most complicated of all the vowel systems would have to be Hebrew Vowels. There are 13 normal vowels, and 4 vowel combinations, for a grand total of 17 different vowels! The first 7 basic vowels are as follows (top, righthand corner, starting from right to left):

Pathakh: As in bat.
Seghol: As in better.
Hireq: As in bitter.
Qamets: As in bottle.
Qibbuts: As in ruler.
Tsere: As in day.
Holem: As in role.

Next there are the vowel combinations as found in Eastern and Western vowels. With Hebrew vowels, however, there are a total of 4 combinations (top, middle group, starting from right to left):

Qamets-Yod: As in bought.
Tsere-Yod: As in day.
Seghol-Yod: As in better.
Hireq-Yod: As in evening.

Next there are the Waw-vowels. I combined them into normal vowels in the Eastern vowels section, but here, I have them seperately (top, left group, starting from right to left):

Holem-Waw: As in role.
Shureq: As in ruler.

Fourthly, there are the Reduced, or "Hatef" vowels:

Hatef Pathakh, Hatef Seghol, and Hatef Qamets:
As in amuse.

And finally, there is a mark that acts like a vowel, but behaves rather unusually. It is called the "Shewa." (bottom, right-hand group). If it is found on the first consonant of a word, it acts just like the vowel Seghol (As in better), BUT if it is found anywhere else, it is silent.

There is more information about Hebrew vowels. But, this is all you will need to know in order to speak Aramaic.




At the end of each lesson, from here on in, there will be a Comparison Chart, listing a summary of the lesson in Serta w/Western vowels, Swadaya w/Eastern vowels, Estrangela with Jacob's Vowels, and Hebrew Blockletters with (duh!) Hebrew vowels.

Have fun, but don't confuse yourself! (Believe me it HURTS.) :-)



Asperations (and Other Dialect Marks):

It sounds vulgar... What is an asperation?

Certain letters in the Syriac alapbet can make more than one sound when they are "asperated" or "breathed." The tone is given an airier quality.

Asperated letters are marked by placing a symbol (usually a dot) under them, but different symbols can change the sound.

Bit (ܒ)
can become Vit (ܒ݂) as in very. ("V")

Gamél (ܓ)
can become Khamél (ܓ݂) (sounds like a Ghayth) ("GH")
or it can become Jamél (ܓ̰) as in jazz. ("J")
(In some Western manuscripts and documents, Jamél is marked by a dot, and there is no such thing as Khamél).

Dalath (ܕ)
can become Dhalath (ܖ݂) as in this. ("DH")
(Note how the dot on a normal Dalath is written lower than usual.)

Kap (ܟ)
can become Khap (ܟ݂) (sounds like a Kheyt) ("KH")
or it can become Chap (ܟ̰) as in chips. ("CH")

Pe (ܦ)
can become Fe (ܦ݂) as in fish. ("F")

(The roman letters in parenthesis after each asperation are the romanziations that I will use).

Knowing these asperations also makes things easier to pronounce. For example, many times where Dalath is written twice without a vowel, the first one is "hard" where the second one is asperated, making a "d-dh" sound.


That's it!

On to Lesson 3: Your First Nouns!

(I am so proud!)

Everything © 2002 Steve Caruso unless otherwise noted.
Please feel free to use this for private or public use, just send me an email first! :-)


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