Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav


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If ancient Israel had Quora, what kind of questions would they ask?

Ooh boy—that’s a great question. Here are a few, to titillate the palate:

Post-Exodus:

  • Are we there, yet?
  • Why isn’t God allowing Moses to enter the Holy Land? Isn’t that mean, considering all he’s done?

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Meet Targo—my helper and occasional stand-in

1170401-TargoYesterday, after ten years of research and development at the University of Waterloo—including two years of collaboration with yours truly and a small collection of other selected translators and editors around the world—I took delivery of a device that will allow me to take real vacations (not the kind pseudo-vacations I usually have, where I furtively try and get some work done as Mrs. Autumn Light yells at me to get off my laptop and join her in seeing the sights or just truly taking it easy on the beach).

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What are some guidelines to transliterate Italian to Hebrew?

 

Broadly speaking, it’s fairly easy, as Italian uses the same vowels as in Hebrew (in fact, it’s a common way of explaining Hebrew vowels to English speakers). By default, the /a/ sound is assumed, and the /i/ sound is indicated by using a yod as though it were the letter i in Italian. If the vowel is an /e/, /o/ or /u/ sound, use niqqud to state a ségol, ḥolam, or shuruq, respectively. However:

  • If the word starts with a vowel, use an aleph to “carry” it—e.g. אוניברסיטה
  • If the /a/ sound is at the end of a word—e.g. università—indicate it with a héh sophit (e.g. אוניברסיטה)

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How do I determine the gender of a Hebrew word?

There are many rules and exceptions on this point, which are founded on the notion that language rules can be formulated, like mathematics, on simple If X, then Yprinciples that always apply—such as, “If it ends with ah, then it must be feminine.”

But language is not like mathematics: the real determiner of any aspect of it (in any language) is what sounds right to native speakers and to anyone with an “ear” for the language. For example, the Hebrew word lailah (“night”) is masculine because lailah tov (“good night”) sounds OK, whereas lailah tovah sounds odd—and the reason for that is probably because all day-related terms, such as boqer (morning), yom (day), erev (evening) and even shavua (week) are masculine. So there is logic, but it is more subtle than a simplistic “If X, then Y.”

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