Last updated - 26.06.2002
Author - Oleg Granovsky
Translated and edited by Noam Primak
About the Hebrew Language
1. General Comments
2. Noun Conjugation
3. Acronym Formation
5. Radio Code
Throughout the years, many books and articles were written
dedicated to the IDF, or in some way related to it. Many English-speaking
authors often unfortunately make some mistakes with Hebrew terms
This has inspired us to write an article not necessarily directly
related to the IDF or military history, but to the Hebrew language
To help the reader understand the Hebrew terminology
that appears in the articles, some comments are in order:
1. Hebrew has 22 letters, representing only
consonant sounds. Vowels are represented with dots (nekudot)
placed under, over, or left of the letter (Hebrew is written
right to left). Vowelization (nikud) is used in children's
books, dictionaries, textbooks, poetry and scripture. Otherwise
it is used only for individual words that have multiple vowelizations.
The "ee" sound is often represented by the letter
"yud" instead of the corresponding vowel, while
the "oh" and "oo" sounds are represented
by the letter "vav."
2. Hebrew is a "phonetic" language.
Unlike English, it does not have long and short vowel sounds.
Hebrew vowel sounds correspond to the English long vowels
in their "shape", but their "length" is
shorter, and they lack the "roundness" which foreign
speakers of English find so difficult to pronounce. Therefore,
we will write words like rove (rifle) without the usual 'h's
that are used to convey the Hebrew vowel sound (see below).
Instead of "roveh" (which suggests something like
"row-vay") we will opt for rove.
4. Alef, hey, khet, kuf, and a'in represent
guttural sounds. Alef and a'in are, in practice, silent for
most speakers (though some Israelis, especially those from
Arab countries, pronounce the gutturals distinctly, so that
one can hear a difference between khet and khaf, etc.) Khet
represents a sound like the German or Scottish ch, but more
guttural. Kuf and hey correspond to the English K and H respectively.
A hey at the end of a word is silent, but represents a vowel,
usually "a" or "e".
5. The root of a Hebrew word consists of 3
letters (sometimes 2 or 4). Thus merkava ("chariot",
or the Israeli-produced tank), and rekhev (vehicle), both
derive from the root R-Kh-V (reish-khaf-vet).
6. Reish is pronounced by most Israelis like
the French or German 'R', but usually "harder",
or more guttural. An alternative, equally acceptable, pronunciation
is very similar to the Spanish or Italian 'R'.
Nouns are conjugated if two or more follow consecutively. In
the case of a noun immediately following another noun, where
the first is singular feminine, or plural masculine, the ending
of the first noun is modified. A military brigade numbered 101
would be khativa 101, but the IDF paratroop brigade is khativat
ha-tzankhanim. The final tav ('t') indicates the possessive
attribute of the phrase.
Hebrew makes liberal use of abbreviations (rashey tevot), especially
in military jargon. Most are read as acronyms rather than sets
of letters, and there are no hard-and-fast rules for forming
these acronyms. Compare the English APC (armored personnel carrier)
to its equivalent NaGMaSh, which is formed from Nose Gyasot
MeSHuryan (the capitalization is used to illustrate that the
acronym is formed from four Hebrew letters; henceforth such
words will be written as NAGMASH). The 'a's in NAGMASH are just
a vowelization, to make the word easy to say in Hebrew. It would
be inefficient (and tiresome) to pronounce each letter, since
in Hebrew some letter names are multi-syllabic (i.e. the above
APC, which is actually written NGMSh, would be a "nun-gimel-mem-shin").
Most acronyms are vowelized with the a sound, but if they contain
a vav or yud, they can be read with the o/u or i sound, respectively.
As another example, take MAGAV (Israel's Border Police) formed
from Mishmar ha-GVul (first letter and first two letters). Some
acronyms are read as letters: mem-mem for mefaked makhlaka (platoon
commander); mem-pey for mefaked pluga (company commander).
Each Hebrew letter has a traditional number "equivalent"
derived from Jewish numerology. This is used in certain numbering
systems (most notably in the Hebrew lunar calendar) and appears
in a few military terms. For example, the М48/М60 tank series
is termed MAGAH (mem-gimel-khet). In gimatria this corresponds
to 40+3+8, i.e. 48+3, for the М48А3 tank (the first model standardized
by the IDF). As new models were obtained, the following terms
were used: MAGAH-3 (М48А3), MAGAH-5 (М48А5), MAGAH-6 (M60) MAGAH-7
The phonetic alphabet
Individual letters are spoken in military communication using
the so-called "phonetic alphabet" (alef-bet foneti).
For compasion - Alpha Code, the standard radio code used in
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