Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Putting the accent where it belongs (?)

I was taken to task by one of the more learnèd members of my current favorite Manhattan synagogue for accenting the b’rachah/blessing “asher bachar banu mikol ha-amim, v’natan lanu et Torahto” when I had an aliyah recently. His explanation of the grammar went over my head, but his explanation of the logic did not—though second-syllable accents on these words are legitimate pronunciations in modern Israeli Hebrew, they switch the emphasis from “who chose us” to “who chose us” and from “who gave us” to “who gave us.” I never would have thought of that. I’ve heard Israelis use the Israeli pronunciation when reciting that b’rachah, emphasis-switch notwithstanding, so I guess this is a typical case of “two Jews, three opinions.” :)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come again? How does shifting the accent change the emphasis? Whether you say /BA-char/ or /ba-CHAR/, it's still "he chose." The "us" is still the word /banu/. So what am I missing here?

I'm new to your blog, but I'm really enjoying it.

Thu Dec 04, 12:53:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

The issue is whether one wishes to emphasize the choice itself or whether one wishes to emphasize who was chosen.

Welcome aboard! I'm glad you're enjoying my blog.

Thu Dec 04, 04:42:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The logic makes no sense.

This isn't a case of two Jews, three opinions, however. The emphasis on the words bachar and banu go on the first syllable. Both words are "ta'ama mileil". (pardon the lousy transliteration) Best explanation is that notwithstanding the general rule that in two syllable words, the accent goes on the second syllable, there are some words where that's not the case.

If you check the bracha in Siddur Rinat Yisrael -- the quintessential religious Zionist Israeli siddur -- it clearly indicates with an accent mark that both words are to be pronounced with the words on the first syllable. Any Israeli pronouncing it differently is simply incorrect.

That's no surprise, you frequently hear Americans putting the wrong emphasis on words or mangling them altogehter.

Thu Dec 04, 04:49:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"ta'ama mileil." Ah yes, that's the grammar term that he was trying to explain to me.

"notwithstanding the general rule that in two syllable words, the accent goes on the second syllable, there are some words where that's not the case. . . . Any Israeli pronouncing it differently is simply incorrect." For real? That'll be a great surprise to an Israeli of my acquaintance.

Thu Dec 04, 06:22:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For real. Get a siddur rinat yisrael, if you can find one, and show them.

there are rules, just because people are ignorant of them, doesn't mean that they're not wrong. My ten year old often struggles with new words that don't make sense. For example, why is the "g" in "although" silent? Doesn't matter, it is, and if you pronounce it, you're wrong.

BTW, Israelis rarely know grammar. Then again, neither do Americans.

Fri Dec 05, 07:54:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

As a former language student (BA in French), I've often said that people who are looking for logic in languages are looking in the wrong place. :)

Fri Dec 05, 12:04:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to jdub for reminding me.

Yes, /BA-char BA-nu/ in the bracha. I remember now that the mil'eil in /BA-char/ is due to the tendency to prevent two primary stressed syllables coming together. The "normal" stress in /ba-CHAR/ shifts for this reason (nasog achor) when coming before /BA-nu/.

That doesn't make the Israeli who says /ba-CHAR BA-nu/ in everyday speech wrong, however. Israeli Hebrew grammar and classical Hebrew grammar are not one and the same. Interestingly, in everyday Israeli speech, you will also hear /ba-CHAR ba-NU/. This is simply another way to avoid two strongly-stressed syllables next to each other.

Thanks so much for the fun!

Fri Dec 05, 12:56:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Anon., that makes sense--it's awkward to have two stressed syllables "tripping" on one another. Also, as you said, it's important to remember that there are differences between classical and contemporary Hebrew. I learned that the hard way--when leining/chanting from the Torah scroll, it's a challenge to remember which "hu" is pronounced "hu" and which "hu," spelling notwithstanding, is pronounced "hee."

I remember my Ulpan teacher saying baNU and laNU occasionally. It always sounded so odd to my American ears.

Fri Dec 05, 01:20:00 PM 2008  

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