Tziyon Golan

Yemenite Hebrew

Yemenite Hebrew, also referred to as Temani Hebrew, is the pronunciation system for Biblical and liturgical Hebrew traditionally used by Yemenite Jews. Large numbers of Yemenite Jews brought the language with them when they fled to the State of Israel following a number of anti-Israel riots which culminated in violence against the Jews.

It is believed by some scholars that its phonology was heavily influenced by spoken Yemeni Arabic. Yet, according to other scholars as well as Yemenite Jewish Rabbis such as Rabbi Yosef Qafih, Temani Hebrew was not influenced by Yemenite Arabic, as this type of Arabic was also spoken by Yemenite Jews and is distinct from the liturgical Hebrew and the conversational Hebrew of the communities.

Among the dialects of Hebrew preserved into modern times, Yemenite Hebrew is traditionally regarded as the form closest to Hebrew as used in ancient times, particularly Tiberian Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew. This is evidenced in part by the fact that Yemenite Hebrew preserves a separate sound for every consonant except for ס sāmekh and ש śîn, which are both pronounced /s/.

Distinguishing features

  • There are double pronunciations for all six begadkepat letters: gimel without dagesh is pronounced "gh" like Arabic "ghayn", and dalet without dagesh is pronounced "th" as in "this". (The pronunciation of tav without dagesh as "th" as in "thick" is shared with other Mizrahi Hebrew dialects such as Iraqi.)
  • Vav is pronounced "w" as in Iraqi Hebrew.
  • Emphatic and guttural letters have the same sounds as in Arabic.
  • There is no distinction between the vowels patahh, segol and vocal sheva, all being pronounced /æ/ like Arabic fatha (this feature may reflect Arabic influence, but is also found in old Babylonian Hebrew, where a single symbol was used for all three).
  • Qamats gadol is pronounced "o", as in Ashkenazi Hebrew.
  • Final he with mappiq (a dot in the centre) has a stronger sound than he generally.
  • A semivocalic sound is heard before patahh ganuv (patahh coming between a long vowel and a final guttural): thus ruahh (spirit) sounds like ruwwahh and siahh (speech) sounds like siyyahh. (This is shared with other Mizrahi pronunciations, such as the Syrian.)

Yemenite pronunciation is not uniform, and Morag has distinguished five sub-dialects, of which the best known is probably Sana'ani, originally spoken by Jews in and around Sana'a. Roughly, the points of difference are as follows:

  • In some dialects, holam (long "o" in modern Hebrew) is pronounced /ɶ/ (anywhere from British English "er" to German o-umlaut), while in others it is pronounced /eː/ like tsere. (This last pronunciation is shared with Lithuanian Jews.)
  • In some dialects, gimel with dagesh is pronounced like English "j", and qof is pronounced /g/. In others, gimel with dagesh is /g/, and qof is Classical Arabic uvular "q". (This reflects the difference between the Sana'ani and Adeni dialects of Yemeni Arabic.)


Yemenite Hebrew may have been derived from, or influenced by, the Hebrew of the Geonic era Babylonian Jews: the oldest Yemenite manuscripts use the Babylonian rather than the Tiberian system of vowel symbols. In certain respects, such as the assimilation of patahh and segol, the current Yemenite pronunciation fits the Babylonian notation better than the Tiberian. It does not follow, as claimed by some scholars, that the pronunciation of the two communities was identical, any more than the pronunciation of Sephardim and Ashkenazim is the same because both use the Tiberian symbols. In fact there are certain characteristic scribal errors, such as the confusion of holam with tsere, found only or mainly in the Yemenite manuscripts, indicating that the assimilation of these two vowels was always a Yemenite peculiarity (or possibly a local variant within the wider Babylonian family, which the Yemenites happened to follow).

In Israeli culture

There have been a number of Yemenite performers who have utilized Yemenite Hebrew in their music such as:

  • Aharon Amram
  • Shlomo Thachyani
  • Shalom Tzahari
  • Daqalon
  • Brachah Kohen
  • The late Israeli pop singer Ofra Haza
  • Tziyon Golan

External links



  • Sáenz-Badillos, Angel (1996). A History of the Hebrew Language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-55634-1.
  • S. Morag, 'Pronunciations of Hebrew', Encyclopaedia Judaica XIII, 1120-1145
  • Morag, Shelomo (1963). Ha-Ivrit she-be-fi Yehude Teman (Hebrew as pronounced by Yemenite Jews). Jerusalem: Academy of the Hebrew Language.
  • Yeivin, I., The Hebrew Language Tradition as Reflected in the Babylonian Vocalization: Jerusalem 1985 (Hebrew)

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