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Re: West Syriac Prayer Songs etc in You Tube

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  • Dr. Thomas Joseph
    It is tedious to engage in conversations on Syriac pronounciation in a medium which is not rich enough and in a forum where the majority are not initiated to
    Message 1 of 3 , Aug 31 11:45 PM
      It is tedious to engage in conversations on Syriac pronounciation in a medium which is not rich enough and in a forum where the majority are not initiated to the basics of the Syriac language and quite likely indifferent. However, since the message is on the pronounciation of a few of the meager Syriac phrases that Malankara Syrian Orthodox remain familiar with, I feel compelled to respond.

      1. 'taw' - the last letter in the Syriac alphabet - is one of 6 letters - 'beth,' 'gomal,', 'dolath,' 'kof,' 'phe,' and 'taw' - which have two pronounciations - one hard (in linguistic terms, 'plosive;' 'qushoyo' in Syriac) and the other soft ('fricative,' or 'rukhokho' in Syriac.) These are usually referred to by the mnemonic - 'bged-kfath.'

      There are several rules that govern the pronounciation of these letters; this is not the place to elaborate upon those. (Refer to Dr. George Kiraz's "New Syriac Primer" which comes with a CD.) The qushoyo 'taw' is properly pronounced similar to the 't' in "tea" while the rukhokho is pronounced like 'th' in "thin." In Malankara, the corrupted pronounciation for qushoyo 'taw' is "th" and the rukhokho is "sa."

      In "mawto," the "taw" follows a dipthong ("aw") and hence pronounced qushoyo; in "moyootho," the "taw" follows an open vowel ("oo") and is pronounced rukhokho. Hence the "mawtho" and the "moyooso" in Malankara pronounciation. Even though corrupted, it does follow the rukhokho-qushoyo rules.

      In Malankara, the pronouncation of "zayn," (properly 'z' as in zebra), 'sodhe' ('S' as in Sleebo), simkath (pronounced as the Malayalam 'sa') and the rukhokho "taw" without distinction are all transliterated in Malayalam and pronounced as "sa." Imagine how Malayalam would become incomprehensible if one similarly ignored the phonetic distinctions between the variants of "ka," "pa," "da," etc.

      2. The word/phrase referred should be properly transliterated as "`alayn" and "moryo raHem`alayn o`adarayn." Note the ` in the transliteration. This is the alphabet `é - among the Semitic sounds, this is the most difficult for a non-Semitic speaker of Syriac (or Hebrew or Arabic for that matter) to master. The sound is produced by closing the glottis (the elongated space between the vocal chords.) It is a consonant but the untrained ear cannot easily recognize it as such. An uninitiated non-Semitic speaker often ignores the sound; the best they often do is a rather abrupt break in pronouncing a word where the letter appears.

      Malankara faithful ignore `é entirely and pronounce it incorrectly as 'rahemelainoowadarayn.' - This has more than one error:

      a. the Heth is incorrectly pronounced as hé. It should be pronounced from deeper in the throat - like the 'ch' in Bach as pronounced in German.

      b. "raHem `alayn" not "raHemelayn"

      c. o`adaryn - note the `é again. 'Help' in Syriac is `adar, not adar (If it were 'adar', the word would start with an olaph. 'Adar' in fact is the seventh month of the Syriac year.)

      For a trained ear, our pronounciation would be comical - much like my reaction when I hear some of our young ones raised in the West pronounce the Malayalam "nari" (woman) in "vimalatha nirayum naarikalee ..."

      But given the great difficulty in pronouncing the sound, it is futile to insist on the correct pronounciation from a Malayalee congregation. The best I think we can do would be to say - "raHem; alayn - o; adarayn." Break the pronounciation abruptly at each semi-colon but only pause briefly.

      Similarly we should try to pronounce "men`olam wa`damo l`olam `olmeen ameen" at least as "mena; olam wa;damol; olam; olmeen ameen." (Note: the 'a' in 'mena' is pronounced as a very short vowel - the phonetic schwa - not a long "mena".)

      Having said that, I'm pragmatic and entertain no hope of correcting such long-entrenched pronounciations.

      Thomas Joseph, Ph.D.
      Tech. Editor, Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies [ http://bethmardutho.cua.edu/Hugoye/ ]
      Web Master, Syriac Orthodox Resources [ http://sor.cua.edu/ ]

      --- In SOCM-FORUM@yahoogroups.com, Vatachal Thomas John wrote:
      > I listened to the West Syriac Prayer Songs etc in the You Tube with keen interest and piety.
      > In this connection I may submit the following:
      > 1. West Syriac people say Eth-raaham Alaayne    and
      > Malankara Makkal say...... Esraahaam Me-laayne. The last letter Taav of West Syriac is pronounced in two different ways in Malankara as th & s. Thus Taav in Moutho (death) is pronounced as it is but coming to the word Moyootho (not death but mortality) we say Moyooso. Thus we convert Ethraaham into Esraahaam. The second is Alaayne Vs
      > Me-laayne,.Alaayne in W Syriac( upon us) is Njangalute Me-l in Malayalam.
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