Guide to Transliteration

When providing transliteration of prayers, I have tried to produce transliteration that should be as familiar as possible to those who are used to reading Hebrew transliteration. The computer code I created to convert Hebrew text to transliteration generates transliteration very close to what is found in the Conservative movement's prayer book, Siddur Sim Shalom.

The transliterations on this site are based on Sephardic pronunciation, which is the pronunciation used in Israel and in most synagogues today. However, many Orthodox synagogues and many older Jews of any movement use Ashkenazic pronunciation. The guide below discusses Sephardic pronunciation, but notes variations you can expect to hear in Ashkenazic pronunciation.

Note: Most words in Hebrew are pronounced with the emphasis on the final syllable. This transliteration does not provide any indication of where the emphasis lies.

Consonants

Most consonants are pronounced as you would expect in American English. A few are worth noting:

ch A throat-clearing noise, as in the German "Ach!" or the Scottish "loch." Note that, although this sounds more or less the same as the letter transliterated as "kh," I have transliterated them differently because they are different letters in Hebrew.
g Always a hard "g" as in "game"; never a soft "g" like the second "g" in "garage"
h Silent at the end of a word, as in "Sarah"
kh A throat-clearing noise, as in the German "Ach!" or the Scottish "loch." Note that, although this sounds more or less the same as the letter transliterated as "ch," I have transliterated them differently because they are different letters in Hebrew.
r Israelis and purists pronounce this as a gutteral sound in the back of the throat, similar to the way the letter "r" is pronounced in German. However, most Americans simply pronounce this the same way they pronounce "r" in "rail."
t In Sephardic pronunciation, this is always pronounced like the "t" in "time." Be aware, however, that in Ashkenazic pronunciation, a letter transliterated as "t" here is sometimes pronounced "s". For example, in the Kaddish prayer, the first word is transliterated as Yit'gadal, but in Ashkenazic pronunciation it would be Yis'gadal.

Vowels

Vowels are a bit trickier to explain, because they are not pronounced consistently in English! I will do my best:

a As in "father." Note that there are four different vowels that are presented as "a" in this transliteration, and two of those vowels would be pronounced as the "aw" in "saw" in Ashkenazic pronunciation. For example, the word transliterated here as "Barukh" is "Bawrukh" in Ashkenazic pronunciation.
ai Sounds like the English word "I," or the "ai" in "ai-yi-yi!" If you find this hard to remember, think of it as the "a" in "father" followed by the "i" in "machine": ah-ee => I.
e As in "bed."
ei As in "weigh," or like the English word "A." If you find this hard to remember, think of it as the "e" in "bed" followed by the "i" in "machine": eh-ee => A.
i As in "machine," or like the "ee" in "meet". Note that there is another vowel that sometimes makes a short sound similar to the "i" in "sit," but that vowel is rendered here as an apostrophe; when "i" appears in this transliteration, it is always the "i" in "machine."
o As in "home." In some variations of Ashkenazic pronunciation (particularly among the Chasidim), you may hear this letter pronounced like the "oy" in "oy vey!"
u As in "duke," or the "oo" in "boot"
' this can represent a silent consonent (which puts a distinct break between two vowels), a silent vowel (a stop between two distinct consonants) or a shwa vowel (a short, underpronounced vowel, like the "e" in "begin")

Practice

Here is a little transliterated Hebrew for you to practice with. Click the music icon to hear it as a typical American Jew might pronounce it.

Oseh shalom bim'romav, hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu v'al kol Yis'ra'eil. V'im'ru "Amein."
(He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel. Now say: "Amen")


© Copyright 5767 (2007), Tracey R Rich

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