The ten Hebrew vowel signs we learned in the last lesson (“Adding Vowels,” BR 07:04) took us far along the way to correct pronunciation of words. Here we will learn about some additional pronunciation aids, the dagesh and the shewa, bringing us closer still to reading some Hebrew sentences in the Bible.
Some Hebrew consonants may represent two distinct sounds: The distinction is marked by the presence of a dagesh, a dot in the letter. Bet with a dagesh in it (B) has the sound of an English b, but without dagesh (b) it sounds like v. Similarly kaf (k) and peh (p) have a hard pronunciation with the dagesh, k and p, and a soft pronunciation without it, ch and f. Three additional letters may be marked with this dagesh: gimel (GÖg), dalet (DÖd) and tav (TÖt), but in these the pronunciation of the consonant is not changed; they are pronounced hard, g, d and t. (In the past, without a dagesh a g was pronounced “gr,” a d as “dh” and a t as “th”; these sounds, however, have been lost.) The six consonants that take this dagesh are called the BeGaD KeFaT letters, after their acronym.
A dagesh can also indicate the doubling or lengthening of a consonant. hT;a' (masculine “you”), for example, would be transliterated as atta because of the dagesh in the tav.