This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Nuts and Bolts: niqqud.


Vowels (in English, a, e, i, o, u and, sometimes, y) are the sounds that let you join up the other letters without strangling yourself.

Poppy, for instance, is a lot easier to say than ppp. And it's easier to faff about then to fff bt.

Vowels are the butter on the crackers, the grease on the axle, the breath in the flute.

In short, they're different from the other letters.

Even though vowels are different, though, our English alphabet has similar signs for all letters whether they're vowels or not: y isn't so very different from g, for example, or i from j.

Some other languages do things differently. Some forms of Hebrew, for example, use a system called niqqud. Mostly, niqqud consists of small dots that stand in for the vowels. There have been several different systems of niqqud, but the one that's still used today was created before 1000 AD.

Text written with niqqud is called ktiv menuqad.

Niqqud sounds like a useful system to an English speaker, but nowadays people who speak Hebrew generally find they can get on very well without any vowels at all. So, nowadays, niqqud is only used in poetry (sometimes), in dictionaries, and in writing for children and other learners of the language.

To stop people getting confused (as an English person might get confused between bag and beg and big and bog and bug) a new system of spelling called ktiv maleh, full spelling, has been developed and was formally introduced in Rules for Spelling without Niqqud in 1996.

Here's what niqqud look like:
Example of biblical Hebrew trope.svg
That's Genesis 1:9: And God said, "Let the waters be collected".
The niqqud are in red.
Nd d y knw smthng? Prhps t wld mk thngs qckr t lv t Nglsh vwls, t.
Thing to consider today. A language without vowels. Niqqud comes from the Hebrew nikud, which comes from nekudot, dots.



  1. That is so fascinating! I can make out Hebrew with niqqud but it's very hard without it unless you're used to it. Would love to see a bit of Ktiv maleh! Will enquire with my friend and meanwhile look some up on t'internet..