The Great Pointing Crisis

Cambridge University is currently facing one of the greatest crises in its long and distinguished history. Beside this the Cuban missile crisis pales into insignificance. The problem is this: due to stealth manoeuvres and steady slippage in admission policy there is now a whole generation of young men and women who do not know how to point Hebrew. As if this were not bad enough to cap it all many do not even seem to care.

What You Can Do about It

But the situation is not hopeless. If we act soon there is the possibility of remedy. What you need to do is to learn to point Hebrew yourself and then encourage all your friends to learn too. This is not a task which can be done overnight, and I promise you nothing but blood, sweat, toil and tears, but if there is a concerted effort it may be possible to stem the growing tide of ignorance of matters Hebraic. Remember to act now before it's too late.

The best steps to take are to learn the following rules and to use them in writing Hebrew every morning during breakfast. These rules on their own are powerless and need to be supplemented by familiarity with the shape of each Hebrew word, but with such a knowledge these rules can guide you to correct pointing, happy supervisions, and possibly even a first class degree. (NB it is permissible to use these observations as a checklist before you hand a composition in.)

The Pointing Decalogue

1. Make sure that there is a vowel under (or to be read after) every Hebrew letter that is not at the end of a word and is not a ), w, or y.

2. Make sure that every begadhkephath letter (b, g, d, k, p, t) that is not immediately preceded by a vowel or medial shewa has a dot (daghesh) in it.

3. Learn to distinguish between closed and open syllables. Closed ones end in consonants which are not acting as vowel letters. Open ones have no consonant at the end.

4. Learn to distinguish long and short vowels.

5. Learn where words are stressed. This is generally on the last syllable, but sometimes on the penultimate one.

6. Do not put a long vowel in an unstressed closed syllable.

7. If you have a closed syllable without stress do not point it with a long vowel.

8. If you do put a long vowel in an unstressed closed syllable cross it out.

9. Learn to distinguish long vowels that cannot be shortened from long vowels that can change under pressure into short vowels.

10. Don't use a shewa in a closed syllable, and do not put a sounded plain shewa under a guttural (if you're not sure which compound shewa to use use this one: b@j).

Ten Pleasant Pointing Patterns

1. The definite article is ha, generally with doubling of the next letter marked by a dot (daghesh). If there is no doubling of the next letter (because it's guttural) you may need to pay compensation.

2. When the waw-consecutive occurs with an imperfect, put a dot in the y, n, or t following the waw.

3. If you add a suffix to a noun be prepared to reduce vowels in that word which occur two syllables or more before the stressed syllable. If, say, one of the syllables has a qametz (as in b@f) why not try changing it to shewa?

4. Don't put two sounded shewas together. Try making the first one into a short vowel.

5. waw meaning 'and' is normally w:, but before another shewa or before B, M and P it is w% (remember BUMP).

6. Hebrew likes to have qametz in a syllable immediately before the stress. If you can hear an 'a' sound in such a syllable write qametz.

7. When a word is in the construct it loses a lot of stress and is liable to have vowels in open syllables getting reduced.

8. If letters disappear ask yourself where they have gone. They may well have left a mark in the following consonant in the form of a dot.

9. In a normal verb of three syllables, if you have an open syllable just before the stress use shewa in it.

10. Maqqeph (the hyphen in hz-t)) makes the words joined into a single stress unit, with stress on the second word. You may use an unchangeably long vowel in a closed syllable in a monosyllabic word joined to the following word by maqqeph. Why? Because it's got enough stress to cope with.

P.J. Williams 18/5/01