Is wikipedia wrong when it suggests that the hebrew schwa/shva has never been pronounced as 'ə'?

Looking at these two wikipedia links

"The word schwa is from the Hebrew word shva (שְׁוָא IPA: [ʃva], classical pronunciation: shəwāʼ [ʃəˑwɒːʔ]), designating the Hebrew niqqud vowel sign shva (two vertical dots written beneath a letter): in Modern Hebrew, it indicates either the phoneme /e/ or the complete absence of a vowel. (The Hebrew shva is also sometimes transliterated using the schwa symbol ə, but the schwa vowel has never been pronounced that way, neither in Modern Hebrew nor in any earlier pronunciation, such as the Tiberian vocalization. " https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shva "It is transliterated as "e", "ĕ", "ə", "'" (apostrophe), or nothing. Note that usage of "ə" for shva is questionable: transliterating modern Hebrew Shva Nach with ə or ' is misleading, since it is never actually pronounced [ə] – the vowel [ə] does not exist in modern Hebrew – moreover, the vowel [ə] is probably not characteristic of earlier pronunciations either (see Tiberian vocalization → Mobile Shwa = Shwa na')."

Isn't it the case that Ashkenazim and Sephardim/Mizrahim, pronounce it as (ə)

Modern israeli hebrew might pronounce it as (e)

Here are some examples that come from audio records of somebody reading from the Torah.

One is ashkenazi one is sephardi but it doesn't matter because either way I think it makes my point that they do a vocal shva like a shwa (ə).

These examples come from Genesis chapter 1

https://clyp.it/5mlbt1wv Yehee
The word has two syllables, Yuh-Hee The first syllable has the hebrew shva/shwa. I put it to you that the sound you hear there listening to that first syllable, is (ə) the IPA Schwa.

https://clyp.it/w0qzxcba Pnei Tehoim
Here we have two words, Pnei, then Tehoim. The first word Pnei, has two syllables, Puh-Nai There is a hebrew shva on the first syllable. I put it to you that the sound on the Puh of Puh-Nai, is (ə) the IPA Schwa.
The second word Tehoim, has two syllables, Tuh-hoim The first syllable has a hebrew shva. I put it to you that again, the sound there on the first syllable of tehoim, is (ə) the IPA Schwa.
(source- https://torahreading.dafyomireview.com/cd/torah-ashkenaz/01-Bereshit-01-PBereshit-Part01.mp3 )

https://clyp.it/l0qg1kq3 Mrachefet
Here we have a word Mrachefet, the first syllable has a vocal shva, and same as all my other examples, it seems to me that that first syllable has the sound (ə) the IPA Schwa.

Wikipedia could be trying to say that the hebrew shva isn't pronounced as (ə) in any pronunciation, not modern hebrew , not earlier than modern hebrew. Or it could be saying it's not modern and not ancient, but is not denying that ashkenazi and sephardi/mizrahi pronunciation is as (ə). But it seems to me to suggest that it's not pronounced like that and is just a wrong transcription.

If we look on google books at a classic book on biblical hebrew "A grammar of biblical hebrew" by Paul Joüon (Author), T. Muraoka (Author) here We see that it says

On page 47 $8 the authors write "The vocalic shva usually transliterated with either [small superscript e] or [upside down e], something like the 'a' in english about.

on page 50, the end of $8, marked f, it says "In Contemporary Israeli pronunciation there is no phonemic distinction between slient shva and vocal shva pronounced e, the latter being a positional and non-obligatory allophone. Thus [gdolim] is perfectly normal and acceptable alongside [gedolim] for גְּדוֹלִים Similarly, e is heard as a rule at morpheme boundaries, e.g. מְדבר [medaber], יְדבר [yedaber], בְּספר [besefer], וְגָדוֹל [vegadol]"

So that book says no doubt talking about how the shva na (vocal shva) is pronounced, that it's pronounced "something like the 'a' in english about."

And funnily enough the wikipedia article on shwa admits that is how shwa is pronounced "'a', as in about [əˈbaʊt]"

Funnily enough there is a shva/shwa on the first syllable of the word shva/shwa(the hebrew vowel / half vowel known as shva/shwa), and wikipedia describes the pronunciation of shva/shwa as [ʃəˑwɒːʔ]) in "classical pronunciation".

So for wikipedia to say " the schwa vowel has never been pronounced that way, neither in Modern Hebrew nor in any earlier pronunciation" seems wrong and even contradictory. If by earlier it means earlier than modern. If by earlier wikipedia means pre classical thus simply it isn't stating about ashkenazi and sephardi/mizirahi pronunciation of shva, and it's trying to suggest that they have deviated from an original/earlier pronunciation .

Also since that grammar book by Muraoka says "In Contemporary Israeli pronunciation ........Thus [gdolim] is perfectly normal and acceptable alongside [gedolim] for גְּדוֹלִים " it seems it's saying that in modern hebrew, guh-dolim i.e. with the ə is acceptable and normal, alongside e(apparently modern israeli pronunciation pronounces vocal shva as eh like the e in 'bed').

So, is wikipedia wrong on that, and have I got that right?

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    I don't understand the second-to-last paragraph. "[gdolim]" doesn't contain ə at all, does it? Even though [gdo] may sound like it starts with "guh" to an English speaker, that doesn't mean that schwa has to be phonetically present between the [g] and the [d]. – sumelic Jan 10 at 5:26
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    @tobiornottobi Modern Hebrew allows lots of unwieldy-looking clusters that disregard the sonority hierarchy: [gd kt pt bd dg tk] etc. and even non-voicing-congruent ones like [pg kd]. – TKR Jan 10 at 22:37
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    @tobiornottobi most Slavic languages also have no issues with [gd] onset or even far "worse" ones, e.g. the Polish city of Gdańsk. – Mark Beadles Jan 10 at 23:33
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    @tobiornottobi: I don't think release implies the presence of a phonetic vowel. (I don't know about "syllabic element", since I think that's harder to define in phonetic terms.) – sumelic Jan 11 at 0:08
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    @tobiornottobi Phonologically they're certainly clusters. Phonetically their realization varies and I haven't looked at spectrograms, but I and most speakers pronounce them with minimal separation between the stops; to the point of the OP, there's definitely nothing there that one would normally transcribe with [ə]. – TKR Jan 12 at 18:02

Wikipedia is correct that the Masoretic pronunciation of shva was [ă], not [ə̆]. The fact that shva was pronounced with the quality [ε] or [e] across all the European variants of Hebrew (and Israeli Hebrew, in which it is [e] when pronounced) and [a] in Tiberian allows for the possibility that they might have both derived from a vowel quality [ə], but that is not unambiguous evidence for (or against) such a pronunciation as a phoneme at any specific point of time before the Masoretic pronunciation. However, to say the vowel was never pronounced [ə] is a more extraordinary claim that is hard either to support or falsify.

The Masoretic pronunciation of the shva is the best-documented of the early pronunciations. Aharon ben Asher's description (Dikduke Hatte'amim par. 11-14) is the primary source. This is briefly his description of its pronunciation (since the question is about vowel quality, I leave out the cases where the shva is unpronounced, since that is a matter of orthography, not phonology).

  • In general, pronounced [ă] (he treats it as an orthographic variant of chataf pattach). The exceptions are

    • as the first vowel in a word, pronounced [ɛ] (his example: בְּרוּךְ [bɛ̆rux]), unless marked by a ga'ya (בְּֽבוֹא [băβo])

    • before a glottal or pharyngeal consonant, pronounced like the following vowel as the first vowel in the word (בְּהֹנוֹת [bŏhonoθ], תְּאֵהֲבוּ [tĕʔehăβu] or after a geminate consonant (וְנִבְּאוּ [wɛ̆nibbŭʔu], נִדְּחֵי [niddĕħe]), but not in the middle of a word after a non-geminate consonant (פִּינְחָס [pinăħɔs])

    • before [j], pronounced [i] (בְּיוֹם [bĭjom])

So [ə] was not the Masoretic pronunciation of the vowel.

Wikipedia does give /ə/ as a phoneme for the Secunda's version of Hebrew, but I didn't read its source. From the data on Greek transliterations of Hebrew in this article, the Secunda usually transliterates the shva with either α, ε, or both alternately (כְּרוּב for which both χερουβ and χαρουβ are attested), or nothing (כְּסִיל χσιλ, בְּסֻכָּה βσοχχα). There are also a few cases of duplicating the following vowel (מְהֵרָה μηηρα), or preserving a non-reduced vowel (כְּמָרִים χωμαρειμ, cf. singular כֹּמֶר). This dissertation about the Hebrew of the Secunda (p. 311 and following) argues that the shva was possibly phonologically a null vowel that could be realized phonetically as [ə~ε] in certain cases. If so, [ə] would be an allophone of the shva.

I'm not sure what the provenance of your recordings is, but modern audio recordings aren't a good source for older pronunciations than the Tiberian vocalization. [ə] exists as pronunciation of shva, if nothing else, by students who were taught to pronounce it that way. Simialrly, I have heard Americans pronounce the shva as what seems to me to be [ɨ] (apparently also reflected by transliterations such as yirushalayim for ִיְרוּשָלַם). Both pronunciations exist (the latter seems to be from the influence of English, which has [ɨ] as a reduced vowel), but this isn't to say that they are heirs of an older reading tradition.

  • Thanks.i'm interested in also in what ashkenazi and sephardi/mizrahi pronunciation of (simple i.e. non-composite, vocal) shva is. I think those recordings cover that. Would you agree that from those recordings, it's [ə] ? (When wikipedia said "early" I figured it might just mean pre modern israeli.. so e.g. including in 1800 or 1900, and 1800 or 1900 is likely the same as ashkenazi and sephardi/mizrahi today) – barlop Jan 10 at 16:21
  • @barlop I am not trained for exact identifications of vowels so I don't want to pass judgment on the recording. Wikipedia has pages for all those varieties if you're interested (e.g. Sephardi Hebrew here). As far as I know, all European pronunciations have [ɛ~e] and Yemenites (and I believe Persians) have [æ] (whether it's pronounced short or not depends on the dialect and point in time; and Ashkenazi Hebrew often omits the vowel entirely) – b a Jan 10 at 17:04
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    Joshua Blau in his "Phonology and Morphology of Biblical Hebrew" from 2010 writes concerning the pronunciation of the mobile schwa (שוא נע): "The mobile šwa, according to Modern (Sephardic) Hebrew and as it is taught at the universities, is a neutral (ultra-)short vowel (ə). It seems likely that this is its original pronunciation, and in this book we have transcribed it accordingly. According to the Tiberian Masoretes its basic pronunciation is ă, identical to ḥaṭaf pataḥ [...]" – pinnerup Jan 10 at 20:29
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    This raises the question, however – if the masoretes meant the same sound by schwa and ḥaṭaf pataḥ (and that seems well established), why would they come up with two different signs to represent the same vowel? – pinnerup Jan 10 at 22:21
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    @barlop In the three clips you give, I think the first one has [ɛ], the second one has [ə] and the third one could be either. That's my impression at least, but I'm no phonetician. A pronunciation of כְּבַר without a vocal schwa is unproblematic; [kvaʁ] is a perfectly possible pronunciation. Even if an initial consonant cluster like [kv-] may be difficult to people whose native language doesn't allow for such initial consonant clusters, there's nothing per se difficult about it. – pinnerup Jan 11 at 11:36

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