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Why no ניקוד (vowels) in Your Daily Dose of Hebrew?

Wed | Nov 07

Why no ניקוד (vowels) in Your Daily Dose of Hebrew?

The Hebrew vowel system
The system of vocalizing Hebrew text – making it readable phonetically, so that even without understanding the word or context, you could sound it out – is called ניקוד
 (vocalized, נִקּוּד). The vowel marks themselves are called נקודות
– which means literally, points.
Early Hebrew speakers who could read, did so without ניקוד. Texts appeared with consonants only, as in this fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls:

 

 
The same is true for almost every Hebrew text printed today. Since Hebrew has been revived as a spoken language, Israelis had have no need for ניקוד as they discern pronunciation from their own vocabulary and from context. Many Israelis even find ניקוד a nuisance, getting in the way of their fluent reading.
ניקוד was introduced in the early middle ages by the rabbis of Tiberias who saw that Hebrew was being spoken less and less and feared that consistent pronunciation of holy texts and liturgy would be lost.
Today, ניקוד appears in Hebrew texts only when the word’s meaning is unclear from context (once every few hundred words).
 
Taking off the training wheels
When I first started publishing Your Daily Dose of Hebrew (back when it was known as קצת עברית
Ktzat Ivrit), I vocalized the text because recordings to help subscribers learn to pronounce their new vocabulary were not included. Over time I introduced recordings, but kept the ניקוד.
Revisiting things, however, I now realize that the best way to train you to read Modern Hebrew texts, not to mention encourage you to comprehend and use the spoken word, is to present these doses in the form in which you’re likely to encounter them – בלי ניקוד
, without vocalization. Instead of relying on ניקוד, you should guess how to pronounce the words based on your prior knowledge, and then check your guess against the recordings by clicking the button at the top of the email that says “listen to the Hebrew.”
Here’s the word ניקוד in a Hebrew sentence:
 הדרך הטבעית לקרוא עברית, היא בלי ניקוד.
The natural way to read Hebrew is without vocalization.

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