Friday, April 17, 2015


I was recently asked by someone about the proper pronunciation of חטף vowels. It has always been my understanding that the חטף vowels can essentially be pronounced either way. Take מרדכי, for example. There is a חטף קמץ under the ד. Most people pronounce it as a שוא but I have heard some pronounce it more like a קמץ. However, I recently saw a puzzling line (highlited below) in the משנה ברורה סעיף ה, ס"ק  ב which throws that notion into question. He seems to indicate that the pronounciation of the חטף vowel is like neither of the two. Can anyone shed some light on this opinion of the משנה ברוה and anything else regarding חטף vowels?


MDJ said...

A chataf cannot be pronounced "like either". A standard chataf vowel, i.e., one under a guttural letter, is a short version of full vowel. This explains the MB's statement -- it can't be merely a shva, nor should it be a full length vowel, but a short one.

Chataf's under non-guttural letters are more complicated. A chataf patach under such a letter only denoted a shva na (which for the Tiberians usually sounded like a chataf patach, but not for us, unless you are Teimani). This is why most editors simply print a shva for these chataf patachs, with the notable exception of Heidenheim and those influenced by him, including the original Koren.

Chataf kamatz under a non-guttural are more complicated, as it can be hard to explain why the word has a chataf and not a simply kamatz. Mordechai is a special case, in that the Dikdukei Hateamim explicitly lists it as a word that can be written with a shva or a chataf kamatz, and thus there is particular support for treating it as "dealer's choice". But this is not in general the case.

MG said...

You are conflating different types of chatafim here.
The chataf patach under a guttural latter is a shva na, however a guttural cannot support a shva na so it is pronounced like a patach, just quickly, i.e. ADO-NOY not AH-DO-NOY. You probably already pronounce it this way, and this is all the MB means; it isn't pronounced as a shva na nor is it a pure patach. It is pronounced like a quick patach (not some hybrid of shva and patach).

Now, there are also chatafim under non-guttural letters and those were placed there by the Tiberians to indicate a shva na. (So at the end of Vayera it is NOT "yi-TZA-chak li" But "YI-tzi-chak li"). This will apply to all chataf-patachs under non-gutterals and to some (but not all) chataf-kamatzs.
For words like this, the particular scribe of a given manuscript had a choice to write this shva na the way he wanted (as he also had the choice whether or not to insert certain ga'ayot), i.e. as a chataf-patach or as a shva. That is just a question of orthogrophy, not pronunciation.

Chataf-kamatz under a non-guttural can be there to indicate a shva na, or it can be there to indicate a kamatz katan, or it can be there because of the original word structure. Mordochai is an example the last of these, as this comes from the Persian "Marduk"; Mordochai, being a longer word following Biblical Hebrew conventions, converts the "shuruk" to a shva but retains the chataf-kamatz so that we pronounce this shva closer to a kamatz, to maintain the original source word.

Dotan has shown that the passage in the Dikdukei HaTaamim indicating that Mordochai was "optional" was in fact not authored by Ben Asher, so it does not fall into the above category of chatafim where it is truly a shva na and the scribe had a choice how to write it (as above). It should be read closer to a kamatz, not a shva na.