Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Seasonal controversy

This all started with a post--actually it was a status update--that I put on Facebook.
Early skirmish in the war against Christmas. (By the way, I like the word "skirmish." It sounds like something they would have made up at Mad Mag.) Anyhow, early skirmish (gleeful chortle about saying it again) in the war against Christmas: the drugstore at Dempster and Crawford (as they quaintly call Pulaski out in Skokie) is already selling Chanukka/Chanukkah/Hanukka/Hanukkah stuff (I list them alphabetically). 
And to give the opening shot in another seasonal war, I don't care whether you spell it with a "Ch" or an "H"! I don't care whether you spell it with an "h" at the end! The important thing is you use one "n" and two "k"s. And also, you shouldn't accent the "a," since it isn't a real syllable.
A Facebook friend (and why doesn't Facebook have interlocutors as well as friends? I mean, this guy actually is a friend, but he was also an interlocutor in this case) asked why I "insisted" ("insisted"? jeesh) on one en and two kays. This is my answer.

The real answer is that I just wanted to stir the pot a little by starting a seasonal spelling fight while not engaging in the "Ch/H" controversy. But I'll also give Hebraiqally geeqy answer to the question of why you "should" use one en and two kays, and also explain that it isn't really relevant.

Most Hebrew consonants can accommodate a dot (dagesh) in the middle. With almost all such consonants (including nun) it means the consonant should be doubled. The nun in חֲנֻכׇּה has no dot, therefore it's not doubled. That was the easy part.

So now we come to the "almost all such consonants" part. When a hei or an alef has a dot, the dot is called a mappiq. With the hei, the dot means the hei should be pronounced (like when a person saying Kaddish goes "shemeihhhh rabba"). You don't find many alefs with mappiqs, and when you do it means you should make sure to do the glottal stop.

But anyhow, there are six consonants--bet, gimmel, dalet, kaf, peh, and tav, the bgdkft letters--where the dagesh can mean one of two things. It can either mean that you pronounce the letter as a stop instead of a fricative, or it can mean that you both double it and pronounce it as a stop instead of a fricative. (I've heard that Yemenite Hebrew makes the stop/fricative distinction with all six bgdkft letters. Most of us reading this don't.) So which is it with the kaf in חֲנֻכׇּה? Obviously it's a "k" instead of a "chhhhhh," but that's true with both options. But is the "k" doubled?

Two things suggest that it's doubled. First, the diagonal row of dots (a qubbutz) is a short vowel, which suggests that the syllable is closed, which would mean that it's a doubling dot (don't ask). Second, we can look at nouns with the same pattern of vowels as חֲנֻכׇּה but with a non-bgdkft letter in the same position as the kaf. If those letters have a dagesh, they must be doubling dageshim. And if we look at such words, like גֽדֻלָּה and קְדֻשׇּׁה, we find that the non-bgdkft letters in that position do have dageshim. This also makes it very likely that the kaf in חֲנֻכׇּה is doubled.

But wait a minute there!, you may be exclaiming. In those two supposedly vowelly similar words, the vowel with the first letter is the two vertical dots, and in חֲנֻכׇּה it's a horizontal line with the two dots to the left of it. What the heck? Good question. The two piled dots (a sheva, whence the English "shewa") are sometimes silent and sometimes pronounced like a shewa. Under the first letter of a word, it's always pronounced. Even when it's pronounced, a sheva isn't considered a full-fledged vowel, and it doesn't form a real syllable. But anyhow, the chhhet and/or heth, the first letter in חֲנֻכׇּה, can't take a pronounced sheva (neither can alef, hei, or ayin). So what to do? You use what looks like a combination of a real vowel and a sheva--a semivowel. And like a sheva, a semivowel isn't a complete vowel and doesn't form a syllable. And can't be accented. Which is why I said you shouldn't accent the first "a" in Hanukkah (or whatever).

But this is just pretending that the "Hanukkah" (or however you spell it) that we say in English is Hebrew. It isn't, although it obviously comes from Hebrew. It's English. And it's--I don't know, sociolinguists probably have a name for it--let's call it Anglophone Jewish Intracommunal Patois (AJIP--I was hoping it would end up having a cool abbrev, but it didn't) (although to paraphrase Paul Robeson, "When Israel was in AJIP land, Let my people go"). Anyhow, AJIP words don't come directly from Hebrew--they come from Yiddish, where it's just fine to accent "Hanukkah" on the first syllable.

The entire staff of Consider the Source wish our entire readership a happy holiday.