About יונתן אור-סתיו | Jonathan Orr-Stav

Hebrew-English translator, editor, author. מתרגם עברית–אנגלית, עורך באנגלית, וסופר.

Cantillations—SimHebrew style

In light of his continued integration of SimHebrew in his system of Hebrew representation, I asked my friend Bob MacDonald if he found SimHebrew more amenable than phonetic or scholastic rendition in combination with Hebrew téamim (cantillation marks). In reply, he told me that there are several problems with it—e.g., the dots of the i could be confused with a revia mark—and of course, the font would cause problems for some technical environments.

He then followed this up with an interesting blog post on the topic, including his improvised method of representing téamim, and the issues of using the actual ones.

But in light of the SimHebrew approach of adapting standard ASCII characters instead of the traditional characters which require higher, double-byte Unicode encodings that are not available in many contexts (much like Square Hebrew itself), I wondered if it isn’t possible to use standard signs to stand in for the official téamim. This is something that has been at the back of my mind to check out at some point, so now was as good an opportunity as ever.

Continue reading

The SimHebrew Bible (MacDonald version)

If I have rather quiet on the Autumn Light front in recent months, it’s because I’ve been hard at work on the SimHebrew Bible, and other projects.

My friend Bob MacDonald, retired computing developer and musician, who has done an extraordinary amount of work in translating the Hebrew Bible and setting it to music (based on the original cantillation values), appears to have taken to SimHebrew, and in a matter of days has created his own Square Hebrew-SimHebrew Convertor to rival my own, and with it, has produced SimHebrew versions of the Book of Psalms, The Twelve [minor prophets], Isaiah, Exodus, Genesis, and the five scrolls.

‘Tis a thing of beauty—illustrating the concision and gem-like simplicity of the original Hebrew, revealing the word stems, preserving the distinctions between aleph and ayin, ḥet and khaph, tet and tav, etc. that are lost in phonetic transcription, but without the jumble of eye-glazing diacritics that characterize scholarly transliteration. It’s humbling that he rustled up a converter in a few days that took me and my programmer son and another programmer several months and tweaks to get to the same point. Although the project is currently viewable by invitation only, you can see an example in Bob’s post yesterday at https://meafar.blogspot.com.

Unlike my own SimHebrew Bible, which is based on a ‘full spelling’ (ktiv malé) of the Masoretic text, the Macdonald SimHebrew Bible uses the traditional deficient spelling (ktiv ḥaser) version, as used in the Leningrad Codex. I, too, did so initially, but halfway through the Book of Genesis, I realised that since the SimHebrew Bible is aimed primarily at a non-Hebrew-reading readership, it’s best to used the ‘full spelling’ version, as it helps the reader distinguish the presence of /o/, /i/, and /u/ vowels in the text, which is often not readily apparent in the deficient spelling version. Ultimately, however, both the full and the deficient spelling variations of the SimHebrew Bible will be required, so MacDonald’s endeavour is very welcome.

Q&A: What is the Moabite word for “Israel” in the Mesha Stele?

Exactly as in Hebrew—Yisrael ישראל (blue rectangle below)—as evident at the start of the third sentence (line 5), in which he describes how Omri king of Israel had oppressed Moab:

Top of Mesha Stele (b&w rendering) Source: en.wikipedia.com https://images.app.goo.gl/jzFsMqXUisxZAVFo8
Source: en.wikipedia.com https://images.app.goo.gl/jzFsMqXUisxZAVFo8
Continue reading

Q&A: What is the difference between the Hebrew words dabar and amar?

The verb d-b-r (דבר) is to speak—i.e. it is more formal and intentional. Hence words put in writing are also dbrim* (‘dvarim’); the Ten Commandments in Hebrew are Aseret Hadibrot (The Ten Proclamations); and religious prophets always warned civic leaders to honour at hdbrim awr H’ xivh* etc. (the things that the Lord commanded).

Continue reading

Q&A: What words or phrases tell me you’re from Israel?

Oh boy. Where to start?

The following examples are all drawn from my Hebrew-language guide to my Israeli clients on correct English usage, אל ףדיח (Al-Fadiḥ—stylised Arabic-Hebrew, meaning ‘Don’t Screw-Up’).

Like most non-native English speakers, Israelis will tend to make certain errors based on the use in their native language—such as:

Continue reading

Q&A: What is the meaning of the Hebrew proverb ”שמחת זקנתי בראש חוצות”?

It’s not a proverb so much as an expression of disdain or indifference. In common usage, only the first two words are used—with a suitable expression of boredom or nonchalance, while pointedly not looking away from whatever you’re doing at that moment: שמחת זקנתי… (Simhat zqenti…)

Literally, it means, ‘My old woman’s happiness for all to see’, and is a translation of the Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) expression, La gracia di tu mana (‘Your mother’s happiness’)—i.e., ‘[That might make my mother happy, but] I couldn’t care less’.

Q&A: Why might a translator use a calque?

[A2A] One would use a calque (a.k.a. loan translation) when there is no equivalent word or expression in the target language, but it captures the meaning so well and concisely that one is moved to recreate it by emulating the same word combination using native words in the target language.

In Hebrew, noted examples are:

Continue reading