Monday, June 16, 2008

The pronunciation of 'Ehud' at the BBC

Sometimes a rabbinic derashah allows the letters ח and ה interchange with one another. They're so close in sound (and appearance) that it's understandable. (See here for a post which supplies an example and sources for further research.)

The average person probably doesn't realize that in Semitic languages there are consonants which are not found in Western languages until it is pointed out to them (although they may have some sense that Middle Easterners seem to be clearing their throat a lot when they talk). Of the two letters already mentioned, one (the ה) is more or less pronounced just the same as the H is in English, while the other (ח) is nowhere to be found. But it's close to the same sound. That's why in English transliteration words containing these two consonants usually just write them with an H: 'Hanukkah', '[Shalom] Haver,' 'Hizbullah' and so forth, although they all begin with a ח rather than a ה.

Why do I mention this? Because I say that the average person probably doesn't know it, but not everyone is average and some people know this well. But that doesn't stop some of them from making mistakes. It seems that BBC reporters in the Middle East forgot that there is an H sound in Hebrew as well as a ח (leaving aside the question of how the ח is actually pronounced in MIH (=Modern Israeli Hebrew).

It must be five or six times already that I have heard a BBC correspondent in Israel refer to the Israeli Prime Minister as Echud (אחוד) Olmert. Some of these reporters can do a pretty good Middle Eastern ח, and they spit out "אחוד" in a way that would sound clear and authentic from Baghdad to Beirut. Others can't do it and pronounce it the way Ashkenazim and Israelis would: ח, and they spit out "אכוד".

But both, of course, are wrong. It's Ehud (אהוד) with the actual H. No need to get fancy (and wrong). Of course, I've also heard it pronounced correctly!

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