Monday, December 6, 2010

Under Hanukkah's Spell

Ever wonder why there are so many different spellings of Chanukah, to wit:


Okay, I'm exaggerating just a tiny bit here. And technically, when it's spelled with an H instead of a Ch, there's supposed to be a dot under the H, which indicates that it's pronounced as the guttural "ch" sound that is not found in English, but is present in some other languages, such as German (ach du lieber!).

For some, it's quite the conundrum, and the subject of a lighthearted song by the LeeVees:

Of course, there is one standardized way to spell the name of this holiday, and that's as follows:

See, it's spelled cheit, nun, vav (which represents the "oo" sound in this context), kaf, hei. Simple! That's going right to left, of course, because that's the direction you read and write in in Hebrew, and there are no vowels represented (aside from the vav indicating "oo"), which is typcially the case in Hebrew, although it is possible to fill in vowels using diacritical marks.

The process of translating from one writing system to another is called transliteration, and is a separate issue from the process of translation itself, which has to do with the meanings of the spoken language. And we often don't acknowledge the fact taht learning another writing system is a separate and distinct task from learning another language, and of course it's much easier to just learn another language that uses the same writing system, for example learning French when you know English (although you do have to learn about the extra accent marks), or learning Hebrew when you already know Yiddish (a German dialect which is written in Hebrew, but uses the Hebrew alphabet in a slighty different way to accomodate itself to the different sounds of Yiddish).

You see, there's a lot you can learn from going to Hebrew School...

So, with just two more nights of Chanukah coming up, here's a very nice original song about Chanukah performed live by the rock group Barenaked Ladies--the video is not much to look at, but it's the sounds that count.

Anyway you look at it, it's a spellbinding holiday!

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