Notes on Yemenite Hebrew

You would expect that a person like me would attract more hate, on Quora, for my political views. This is not necessarily so; some of my fellow Jews have attacked me for my default use of Yemenite Hebrew (that is to say, transliterations based upon Yemenite Hebrew) in that forum. I’ve posted most of this on Quora, but I thought it would be nice to post it here too. To all you goyim out there, y’all can just ignore this post and any followups.

I left Israel long ago. In a sense, it’s sad that I couldn’t find my place there. On the other hand, it’s good – because I am now divorced from Israeli “Hebrew.” Their Pidgin garglings hold no currency with me, hence I use the far more pristine, and beautiful, Yemenite Hebrew as my default – with some minor adaptations, as necessary for English readers.

Somebody on Quora even went so far as to accuse me of being a fake Jew, because he thought my transliterations were gleaned from English sources. He’s not alone in his ignorance. Even when I lived in Israel, many years ago, I had debates with young Yemenites about their traditional Hebrew. I was always right, because I had taken the time to speak to the elders, ask questions and pay attention.

I was criticized for referring to the Hebrew letter מ as “mim.” Most Jews now refer to it as “mem.” The following images are taken from a Hebrew primer, used to teach children in the traditional Yemenite way. As for the mim:

names of letters

Another person told me that my understanding of the semi-vowel shewa (אְ) is wrong. He wanted me to learn from an Ashkenazic grammarian. That’s laughable. No thanks; I’ll trust Yemenite grammar over them. The shewa takes 3 forms:

  1. By default, it’s pronounced as a “fleeting fatah.” That is to say, it has about half the force of a regular fatah.
  2. When it comes before a guttural letter (אחהע), it takes on half the value of the vowel   that’s attached to that letter
  3. When it comes before the letter yod, it has a fleeting hiraq


shewa rules


It should be noted that Yemenite Hebrew does not recognize the existence of a shewa nah. Traditionally, this (non-existent vowel) was simply left out. The only shewa that was written was the shewa na’.

Any shewa that begins a syllable is pronounced. Any shewa that follows a long vowel is pronounced, unless it’s at the end of a word. The long vowels are: QameS, Hiraq maleh, Holam, and Shuraq maleh (אָ אִי אוֹ אוּ).


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5 Responses to Notes on Yemenite Hebrew

  1. PrinzEugen says:

    I am not a Jew, but I do dabble in languages from time to time. Interesting that Yemenite Hebrew sounds a LOT more like Arabic, with the ‘Ayin letter actually pronounced as a separate sound:

    • jewamongyou says:

      Thanks for the YouTube link. His pronunciation is pretty good. Definitely better than the vast majority of young Israeli Yemenites. Yes, to the untrained ear, Yemenite Hebrew may sound like Arabic.

  2. Miles Teg says:

    Are there any books or other sources out there with transliterations of Yemenite Hebrew?

  3. Pingback: I'm a Rare and Dying Breed - JewamongyouJewamongyou

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