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Lesson Transcript


Michael: What writing system does Hebrew use?
Lenny: And has it changed over time?
Michael: At HebrewPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: a kindergartener is studying the alphabet with her mom. The child sees an unfamiliar letter and asks,
"What letter is that?"
Tsila Tsadok: ?איזו אות זאת (Eyzo ot zot?)
Tsila Tsadok: ?איזו אות זאת (Eyzo ot zot?)
Tehila Tsadok: .אלף (Alef.)
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Tsila Tsadok: ?איזו אות זאת
Michael: "What letter is that?"
Tehila Tsadok: .אלף
Michael: "It's alef."

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we'll talk more about the writing system that is used in Hebrew. First of all, the Hebrew writing system uses the Hebrew alphabet or
Lenny: אלפבית (alephbet)
Michael: It is written from right to left and contains no vowels. The Hebrew alphabet hasn't always looked the way it does today.
The original Hebrew script was closely related to ancient Phoenician. It was used in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and is preserved in the Samaritans' script, but, during the Hebrew's exile to Babylon, the Aramaic script was adopted and evolved in the present Hebrew alphabet.
All 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are consonants or
Lenny: עיצור (‘itsur)
Michael: For many centuries, Hebrew existed without any notations of vowels or
Lenny: תנועה (tnu'ah)
Michael: It was probably only around 200 A.D. that they felt the need for vowel notation and the system of dots, placed under and around the letters, was developed. These dots are called
Lenny: ניקוד (niqqud)
Michael: but you won't see them in most Hebrew texts. Hebrew speakers are perfectly fine reading Hebrew without them.
Although the Hebrew alphabet is made up of consonants, today five of those consonants can behave like normal vowels. These are:
Lenny: א (alef)
ה (he)
ו (vav)
י (yod)
ע (ayin)
Michael: For example, in the word
Lenny: כיתה (kitha),
Michael: which means "classroom." the letter
Lenny: ה (he)
Michael: behaves like a vowel A.
Michael: Another example is
Lenny: פיל (pil),
Michael: which means "elephant." Here the letter
Lenny: י (yod)
Michael: behaves like a vowel I, as in any other case it comes after another letter.
Michael: We should point out that once you get used to the block letters of the Hebrew alphabet, you should quickly move on to learn the cursive system.
Cultural Insight
Michael: One interesting aspect of the Hebrew alphabet is that letters also represent numbers. For example,
Lenny: א
Michael: represents the number one, and number two is represented by
Lenny: ב ,
Michael: and so on. When you get to the number ten, or
Lenny: י,
Michael: you need to add the first nine letters to it to represent eleven through nineteen. The letters can be combined to create numbers into the hundreds, or thousands. This system, for example, is used in the Hebrew calendar and is called
Lenny: גימטריה (gimetriya)


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Lenny: !להתראות (lehitra'ot!)
Michael: See you soon!