Monday, February 13, 2006

Tree tree tree, tree tree tree

I was listening to NPR during the eight crazy nights, and they interviewed a rabbi about all the different ways to spell Chanukah / Hanukkah / Hannuka / etc. He had his own preferred spelling (chet nun vav kaf hey), and his congregation had set an official one so that they could be consistent (Chanukkah), but when you get down to it, all the spellings are valid and it's just a question of personal preference.

The same is not true for the New Year of the Trees, which was observed last night and today. "Tu Bishvat" is correct (even though it's only #4 on Google), and the more popular "Tu B'Shevat" and "Tu B'Shvat" are WRONG WRONG WRONG.

Here's how it works:
The name of the 11th month is Sh'vat or Shevat. There is a sheva under the first letter, and it's a sheva na (vocal sheva) because a sheva under the first letter is always na (if SHF reads this, she may disagree about shtayim, but that's just an exception that probes the rule). The name of the month is prefixed with the preposition b' or be -- that's the letter bet with another sheva. Hence, many think that the result is "B'Shevat" or some such. BUT there is a rule that a word may not begin with two shevas. Thus the preposition becomes bi -- the sheva is lengthened to a chirik (that's the vowel that's just one dot under the letter). The sheva under the shin becomes nach (quiescent), since it's no longer at the beginning of a word; now it's just at the end of a closed syllable (bish).

Let's stop this phonological scourge by boycotting all "Tu B'Shevat" seders! Think globally, act locally!

For those who are interested, here are the Google rankings. Note that Google treats apostrophes, spaces, and hyphens as identical. These rankings are incomplete; feel free to contribute more possible spellings. All searches below are in quotes.

  1. tu b'shevat 318,000
  2. tu b'shvat 196,000
  3. tu beshvat 87,000
  4. tu bishvat 83,300
  5. tubshvat 54,100 [this one, and #8, showed up mostly in URLs]
  6. tu bisvat 21,100
  7. tou bichvat 18,600
  8. tubishvat 11,500
  9. tu bish'vat 2500
  10. tu bshvat 1110
  11. tu bishevat 792
  12. tu bi'shevat 786
  13. jewish arbor day 784
  14. tu bischwat 663
  15. tubeshvat 604
  16. tu bshevat 588
  17. tu bi'shvat 503
  18. tu beshevat 478
  19. tu be'shvat 382
  20. tu b'sh'vat 332
  21. tu be'shevat 175
  22. tu bishbat 174
  23. tu b'shebat 44
  24. tubeshevat 41
  25. tu beshbat 28
  26. tube'shvat 28
  27. tubi'shvat 22
  28. tubi'shevat 19
  29. too bishvat 7
  30. tou b'chvat 7
  31. too beshvat 5
  32. too bshvat 4
  33. tu besh'vat 4
  34. too b'shvat 1 [Googlewhack!]


  1. Library of Congress romanizes it as "Tu bi-Shevat" (dots under the ts)

  2. I take it that "tou bichvat" was on French websites and "tu bischwat" was on German/Swiss ones? I agree with your analysis and will try to be more careful about this in the future.

  3. so you're saying the apostrphe is a sh'va nah? :-p

  4. Why not "Tu vishvat" (with Italki/Sepharaddi kames) ir "Tu vishvot" (with Ashkenazzi/Temani kometz.)

  5. >The sheva under the shin becomes nach (quiescent), since it's no longer at the beginning of a word; now it's just at the end of a closed syllable (bish).

    Oh my. Can you cite a source (Gesenius/Kautzsch/Cowley; Weingreen? etc)

  6. "Gesenius §28a. According to §26m a half-syllable, i.e. a consonant with Ŝewâ mobile (always weakened from a short vowel), can only occur in close dependence on a full syllable. If another half-syllable with simple Ŝewâ follows, the first takes a full short vowel again3. This vowel is almost always Ḥireq. It most cases it is probably an attenuation of an original ă, and never a mere helping vowel. In some instances analogy may have led to the choice of the ĭ.

    3. Except ְו and, which generally becomes וּ before a simple Ŝewâ, cf §104e."


  7. Benjamin - yes, but it's a sh'va na, not nah, because na ends in an ayin. Na' would be even better.

  8. I half agree with you. What happened to the na' under the shin? You've turned it into a nach, in which case it would be BISHBAT since there's nothing that would cause the dagesh kal to drop out of the second bet. So correct is: Bishevat or Bish'vat.


  9. Whoa. So is it a sheva meracheif (cf. malchut - not malkut or malechut)?

  10. Don't think so, because the word is Shevat. Can you think of a na' that's converted into a merachef because of a prefix?


  11. The discussion is appropriate if you interpret the words as transliteration intended to help pronounce the Hebrew words. As an English name for the holiday it is better to use notation that separates the "B" from the "Shevat" to help readers understand the structure and meaning of the words. Probably especially helpful for Sunday morning Hebrew School students

  12. In my personal orthography, I lowercase the prefix and upper case the first letter of the root word.


    Tu biShvat
    Hotzianu miMitzrayim
    Ba'al haBayit
    Kaddish d'Rabbanan
    haMalach haGo'el Oti

  13. OJ: What do you do in cases where the word in question would not be capitalized if it were an English word? (In other words, when it's not a name or title of anything?)

  14. I try not to get too caught up in grammatical arguments online (L?rd knows I do that enough in real life), but couldn't resist this nudge:

    Tu B'Shvat seems like an acceptable possibility here, if you consider the B as its own separately pronounced syllable (bee-shvat). It may not be elegant (B'elegant?), but it's not wrong.

    In any case, I try to resist telling people their transliteration is wrong. It's enough work trying to get them to improve their Hebrew!

  15. Also, transliterating it "Purim" could be an acceptable possibility, as long as the "P" is pronounced "T", and "rim" is pronounced "bishvat".

  16. Finally someone who puts this right!
    BZ is correct - it is a שוא מרחף, not a שוא נח. If the latter were the case, we'd have a dagesh qal in the vet that follows it.
    True, that שוא used to be a נע. Now it is called מרחף precisely because it took on some characteristics - though not all - of a נח.
    A שוא מרחף behaves exactly like a נח in syllabification and pronunciation.
    So there really is only one correct transliteration: tu bishvat (bish-vat).

  17. @Miriam Meir: FINALLY!!!

    @OJ (Jan. 24, 2010): Don't you mean "haMal'ach"? (I would use "haMal'akh.")

  18. Updated Google Search results data (December 31, 2011):

    tu b'shevat 361,000 results
    tu b'shvat 289,000 results
    tu bishvat 236,000 results (formerly #4)
    tu beshvat 199,000 results (formerly #3)

    Of note, Wikipedia agrees with you BZ:

  19. Unfortunately, Google is now less reliable for this sort of quantitative research, now that the search algorithm includes non-exact spellings in the results (although this may make it more useful for actual searching).