I have read that in Mishnaic Hebrew, some pronounced the 6th letter as waw/w and some as vav/v What is the evidence of this?

I see it mentioned here https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/%D7%95-vav-waw-pronunciation.2878084/ "In Mishaic Hebrew, there is already some confusion between bet and vav, showing that they were pronounced the same (at least by some people) at the time."

Also I heard that some evidence for it being v in mishnaic times. "a poet named Eleazar ben Kalir from 6th century in the land of israel. So 1500 years. And he's rhyming Levi(לוי) and Navi(נביא). All Jews agree that the V exists in hebrew, bet without a dot. So anyhow, this poet rhymes Levi with Navi. It wouldn't work with Lewi like the yemenites pronounce it. " (Not sure what poem it was?)

I'm wondering if that's correct and if there's any other evidence besides that poet.

Also, this book "The Doctrines of God" By Dr. Al Garza, some other sources/info is mentioned.


Refers to Mishna Rosh Hashana 4:2 (Ms Kaufman A50 76v), and Mishna Avot 4:4 (Ms Kaufman A50 171v)

Another argument is https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/%D7%95-vav-waw-pronunciation.2878084/page-2

"“Take for example the words אביב (aviv, "spring") and אביו (aviv, "his father"). Today, these words are pronounced exactly the same, but at some point historically, "spring" was pronounced "aviv", while "his father" was pronounced "aviw". The question is then whether these two words were pronounced the same way in Mishnaic Hebrew. The confusion I was referring to is when someone writes a vav when the word should have a bet, or when someone writes a bet when the word should have a vav. There is evidence that such confusion existed in Mishnaic Hebrew, proving that some people already pronounced words like "his father" and "spring" the same way.”

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    In "A History of the Hebrew Language", 1996, page 183, its author Angel Sáenz-Badillos mentions an example of bet and waw used interchangeably: the name of the Israeli city Yavne (Modern Hebrew: יַבְנֶה), the Biblical Jabne, in Mishaic Hebrew could be written as both יווני (yawnǣ) and יבנה (yab̲nǣ). – Yellow Sky Aug 10 '20 at 15:57
  • Not in Yemenite community – Josef Klimuk Aug 14 '20 at 6:40

Regarding the argument there based on spelling of Yavneh

Yavneh occurs three times in the Mishna. The Kauffmann manuscript has it spelt a different way each time.


Here it is with a Vav Rosh Hashana 4:2

enter image description here

And with a Vet in Avot 4:4


enter image description here

And here with double vav Rosh Hashana 4:1

enter image description here

- So perhaps Yavneh spelt with a Vav is a spelling error not of Vet, but of Vav Vav. (i.e. maybe he missed a vav when he spelt it with one vav)

The word Yivneh (different of course to Yavneh), is yud vet nun heh, and the manuscript spells it as such. If he had spelt that word of any other word with a vav(rather than a vet), then there would be more of a case.

I don't know re aviv(his father), and spring.. there may be cases of that but I don't have references.. if I find that, then a further question may be, given that evidence.. is there a case that mishnaic hebrew or at least hebrew at the time of the manuscript, had that variation. That manuscript is from italy or israel. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaufmann_Manuscript "t was written in the 10th or 11th century, probably in the land of Israel or perhaps in Italy (the experts disagree). "


The oldest variant is "waw".

  1. Proofs for "ו" being pronounced as "w":
    a. Pronunciation of the analogous letter w in Arabic;
    b. Pronunciation of the analogous letter in Aramaic (there are small communities which speak Aramaic today);
    c. Pronunciation of this letter in Yemenite Jewish community;
    d. Proto-Semitic for "ו" must have been *w.

Besides, Letter "ב" for "v" is a late development, originally this letter was pronounced *b. Rhyming Levi(לוי) and Navi(נביא) can only happen in a quite late form of Hebrew, in early Hebrew this would be impossible: *lewi, *nabi'

  1. Proof that in Mishnaic Hebrew "ו" was sound as "w":
    a. We have no evidence that mistakes between "ו" and "ב" are frequent in Mishnah.
    b. Mishnah was composed in the Land of Israel, so we can presume that not only territorial continuity was preserved, but linguistic continuity as well.
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    "it is impossible that two letters will have the same pronunciation"--what is this based on? It clearly isn't always true for all languages – brass tacks Aug 14 '20 at 2:22
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    Modern Hebrew has several examples of letters that have the same pronunciation: e.g. ב and ו. English has k, c and q; Japanese has ジ and ヂ – brass tacks Aug 14 '20 at 6:48
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    The key word is "modern". But originally every letter had its own pronunciation. that is why if you will see the first part of the answer is to prove that these two letters in general had different pronunciation. Then proof was given for Mishnaic Hebrew period. Can you provide an example of the same pronunciation in any original alphabet in its initial period? – Josef Klimuk Aug 14 '20 at 8:10
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    @JosefKlimuk Kappa and qoppa in Greek. (The two represented different sounds in Phoenician, but afaik no Greek dialect ever actually used them for distinct phonemes.) Similarly, C and K in Latin both represented /k/ from the beginning. – Draconis Sep 13 '20 at 3:17
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    “But originally every letter had its own pronunciation…” Yes (mostly), originally, but we're not talking about how people spoke originally when the alphabet was first adopted. A language changes a little bit with each generation. – Anton Sherwood Sep 21 '20 at 4:28

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