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“Se on täyttää heprea,” say the Finns when it’s all Greek to them. Heprea, is… well, Hebrew in Finnish.

So much has already been said about the sound of Hebrew to foreigners (particularly Anglos, I’m sure the Dutch don’t really mind our guttural, fricative ways), yet it seems like the famous “ch” sound always gets a good laugh.

One of the most serious questions concerning this sound (coming second after “how the hell do I produce it with my tender palate?”) is how to represent it with English characters. Ch? Chag Same’ach chèr Charles? Or maybe Kh? What about just writing H and hoping people will know what to do with it? Hello, hevre’, hope you have some humus left? According to the IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet, it’s none of the above. Think of Don Quixote going on a trip to Mexico and watching a statue of Xesus. Using the letter X is indeed fun. However, it can also turn out a bit funny sometimes. Although it’s not such a popular consonant and therefore isn’t as confusing as the “ch” combo, please try to read the following line out loud:
Xaim, don’t be a nebex, go ask for some xalah and xumous, after all it’s the mishpuxe’, it’s not like you’re a xazer with a lot of xutzpe’.

If this looks weird to you, think of the even more complex dilemma of writing down the Israeli “LOL” equivalent in chats – in Israel you don’t go ha-ha, you go, um… xxx! It’s as terrible as you imagine. This response has become sort of epidemic. There have even been some attempts to protest against the abundance of the use of this almost inhumanly sounding exclamation (to no avail, of course), but, thank G no one actually spells out each letter – as of yet. I personally know people who would respond to almost everything with ch-ch-ch (though it varies from 2 to basically infinite occurrences, perhaps allowing more self expression, x-x-x…).

2 Comments

  1. Loved the use of a Finnish phrase! very original ! Looking forward to read more of your articles.

  2. Are those dancing Chet, Tav or Hei? Try as I may, I can not duplicate the “mother tongue”. That is quite a sound, much more difficult than rolling the spanish “r”.

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