The ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is טֵת (tet). If you’re unfamiliar with the Hebrew alphabet, you can remember the sound this letter makes by its similarity to the way a teapot looks:
Well, they sort of look alike.
Anyhow, ט is one of three Hebrew letters that are classified by Semitic language researchers as emphatics – that is, their sound somehow stands out from other sounds. The three Hebrew emphatics are צ (TSAH-dee), ק (koof) and ט. They correspond to their non-emphatic counterparts, ס (SAH-mekh), כ (kahf) and ת (tahv).
How did these emphatics sound two, three thousand years ago in Hebrew?
For generations people thought that the Yemenite Jewish pronunciation was the most authentic, most similar to the sounds uttered in ancient Israel. Therefore, the emphatics way back when sounded like today’s Arabic emphatics.
However, my professor of Hebrew phonology at Yeshiva University, Dr. Richard Steiner, says otherwise. He claims that the most likely pronunciation was similar to the way the Ethiopian Jews speak – they stop their flow of breath for a brief moment and make the s, k or t sound… and out comes the most likely version of the ancient Hebrew emphatic.
Listen to Bekalu, a native Amharic speaker,
pronouncing these sounds.
Click the link above
(or visit the site, if you’re reading this via email).