Web Translation Projects/Translation of Ancient Hebrew Terms into English and Polish

[project at the beginning stages of development]


The aim of this project is investigation of rules governing the translation of some examples of ancient Hebrew proper names into English and Polish. While these terms seem to have quite set equivalents in English, there is still a lot of inconsistency in Polish translations that possibly stems from divergence between transcription and transliteration and their various usages by Polish scholars and publishing houses. Basing on the rules of Hebrew names translation to English the present project presents the possibilities of their translation into Polish.

Translation of Ancient Hebrew Names and TermsEdit

Status questionis. It seems that the ancient Hebrew terms have quite set equivalents in English and definitely are used in more consistent way in English than in Polish, however, that may result from the amount of literature on the antiquity in English and in Polish, which in case of the latter is decidedly smaller. The Polish author S. Wronka in the paper entitled Transkrypcja i transliteracja alfabetu hebrajskiego (Transcription and transliteration of Hebrew alphabet) noticed that diverse writing systems are used by various authors of the same nationality and sometimes even one author uses various systems in one work. According to the author, these problems stem from editorial omissions, typographical difficulties in taking into consideration all the diacritical marks [1], and the fact that it is not a simple matter to render Hebrew text in Latin alphabet [2]. There are several issues that may help to reach some level of consensus. Firstly, it is necessary to distinguish transcription from transliteration. Secondly, it is necessary to follow the rules established by a particular publishing house. And finally, not only much attention but also further research is required to achive consistency in one's own work and in the field.

Problem with definitionEdit

Due to problem with definitions of proper names, that is the circularity in defining the proper names, and because of these issues are outside the scope of this project I propose to refer only to some categories of proper nouns refraining from defining them. The extensive analysis of definition problems and attempts at formulating an unified theory of names have been made for example by W. Van Langendonck [3], whose work I follow by choosing some types of proper names from his typology of proper names. [3]

Transliteration vs. transcriptionEdit

Translating Hebrew text into English or Polish the first question is how to render Hebrew characters into Latin writing system. The process of rewriting or conversion of the text from one script to another is known as transliteration or transcription, which are very often improperly used interchangeably. What is a difference between transliteration and transcription? “Transliteration is concerned primarily with accurately representing the graphemes of another script, whilst transcription is concerned primarily with representing its phonemes” [4]. In other words, transliteration concerns only the script and means rendering the letters and sounds of one alphabet into another, while transcription shows how the particular sounds are pronounced in a writing systems (also known as phonetic transcription, phonetic script or phonetic notation) [5]. Therefore, transliteration system is used when studying some aspects of language without wider reference to the phonetic system in linguistics, academic works, and bibliographic data, whereas transcription is common in all kinds of scientific works for general public [2] but also in academic works with a focus on phonetic systems of different languages and their sounds. Concerning Hebrew language there is also a broader term used, namely romanization of Hebrew, which serves in identification Hebrew words in Latin alphabet and means either transliteration of Hebrew letters or transcription of its sounds. [6]

Transliteration and transcription of Hebrew consonants into English and PolishEdit

The Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 consonants [7].

Letter Name Transliteration Transcription into Comment
English Polish
א ʾā́lep̱ ʾ ’ or omit; silent ‘h’ like in ‘honest’ (-) The consonant is silent, so only its vowel is heard (see part: vowel signs). In transliteration it is represented by the sooth breathing sign, e.g. אָ is ʾā or אֶ is ʾe
בּ ב bêṯ and ḇêṯ b, ḇ, (bh) בּ is ‘b’ and ב is ‘v’ b and w
גּ ג gî́mel and g̱î́mel g, g̱, (gh) גּ is hard ‘g’ as in ‘go’ and ג is like a guttural ‘r’ g For General-Purpose Style [transcription] in The SBL Handbook of Style ג is gh (as spirant). [8]
דּ ד dā́leṯ and ḏā́leṯ d, ḏ, (dh) דּ is ‘d’ and ד is the same as ‘th’ in ‘the’ d General-Purpose Style: ד is dh (as spirant)
ה h h h ה represents also â
ו wāw w v or w w ו represents also û and ô
ז záyin z z z Polish name: zájin
ח ḥêṯ ḥ with dot underneath to distinguish it from ה or as ‘kh’ ch Sound ‘h’ is like the ‘ch’ in Scots word ‘loch’
ט ṭêṯ dull ‘t’ produced by placing the tongue against the palate t
י yôḏ y (in Polish: j) y j Polish name: jōd; י represents also î or ê
ך כּ כ kāp̱ and ḵāp̱ k, ḵ , (kh) כּ is ‘k’ and כ is a harsh ‘ch’ as above k and ch General-Purpose Style: כ is kh (as spirant)
ל lā́meḏ l l l
ם מ mêm m m m
ן נ nûn n n n
ס sā́mek s s s
ע ʿáyin ʿ ‘ or omit (-) Produced at the back of the throat, difficult to pronounce. Polish name: ʿájin
ף פּ פ pē and p̱ē p, p̱, (ph) פּ is ‘p’ and פ is ‘ph’ or ‘f’ p and f
ץ צ ṣā́ḏê ts c a hissing ‘s’
ק qôp̱ or kôp̱ q or ḳ ‘k’ at the back of the throat like a cawing of crow q
ר rêš r r r
שׁ שׂ śîn and šîn ś, š שׂ with a dot over left-hand corner is ‘s’ and שׁ over right-hand corner is ‘sh’ s and sz
תּ ת tāw and ṯāw t, ṯ, (th) תּ is ‘t’ and ת is ‘th’ like in ‘think’ t

Five consonants assume special forms at the end of words: ץ, ף, ן, ם, ך. In the table they are marked with yellow.

Six consonants have alternate forms: without a dot, when they are soft or spirant, or with a dot, which hardens them. In the table they are placed in the light blue cells. The dot in the heart of these letters is known as daghesh lene.

A dot may appear in all consonants with exception of the gutturals (אהחע) and the letter ר. This dot known as dagesh forte means that the letter is doubled. Doubled letters should be doubled in transcription with exception of צ and שׁ.

The dot may also appear in a final guttural ה indicating that it is not taken as a vowel letter but as a morphologically significant consonant. This kind of dot is known as mappîq. [9]

Three letters - הוי - represent both vowels and letters, and they are known as vowel letters to indicate in writing the main long vowel sounds. In the table they are placed in the green cells (see comments in the table).

Transliteration and transcription of Hebrew vowels into English and PolishEdit

The original Hebrew alphabet consisted of consonants only. Beginning from the last centuries BCE and through the first centuries CE the long tradition of stabilization of the biblical text extends reaching its final form between the eight century and the end of the Middle Ages [10]. The tradition resulted in the creation of nearly complete textual unity in the form of Masoretic manuscipts with the complete apparatus of Masorah. The standardized Masoretic texts contain the apparatuses of vocalization and accentuation as well as the fixation of the consonants. [7]


Short vowels

ַ– is -a-
ֶ– is -e-
ִ– is -i-
ֻ– is -u-
ָ– is -o-

Long vowels

ָ– is -ā-
ֵ– is -ē-
י ֵ- is -ê-
י ִ- is -î-
וּ is -û-
וׄ is -ô-
ׄ– is -ō-

Reduced vowels

ə בְּ is -- or -be-
ă חֲ is -ă-
ĕ חֱ is -ĕ-
ŏ חֳ is -ŏ-

In the tables dash “—” over vowel-signs stands for Hebrew letters.

Most vowel signs is placed below the consonant (e.g. בַּ is ba) and only šûreq and ḥōlem are placed after it (e.g. בּוׄ is ).

There are two similar vowel signs qāmeṣ and qāmeṣ-ḥāṭûph. The latter ָ– = -o- is in a closed, unaccented syllable, but ָ– = -ā- elsewhere. [9]

When consonant closes a syllable (except at the end of word) there is beneath it the Shewa sign (שְׁוָא‎) [11]: –ְ which represents vowelless letter (silent Shewa), for example in ‘my king’ Shewa is under ‘l’: מָלְכִּי and it is not transliterated. However, in other cases Shewa may also represent reduced vowels.

Reduced vowels are transliterated in the top index after a consonant.


In transcription there is no distinction between short and long vowels. All vowels, including reduced vowels, are written simply as: ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘u’, ‘o’. Only Shewa which indicates reduced vowel [ə] is marked, so בְּ is be. The pronunciation of Hebrew vowels is closer to Polish than to English. Nevertheless, there is no difference between transcription of vowel-signs into English and Polish.

Practice of specialist publishing housesEdit

The SBL Handbook of StyleEdit

The second edition of The SLB Handbook of Style (2014) [8] includes rule changes supplementing and updating several areas. The first edition (1999), which occurred to have introduced standardization to the field, was thoroughly consulted and corrected. The handbook is intended to supplement The Chicago Manual of Style. [12] For authors is given a choice between an essentially phonetic general-purpose transliteration style (i.e. General-Purpose Style; similar to what is here called transcription) recommended for a general readership and Academic Style which is fully reversible in reproducing the Hebrew characters exactly (i.e. transliteration).

Journal of Jewish StudiesEdit

The Journal for Jewish Studies [13] is a peer-reviewed academic journal of international renown. It is aimed at promoting research into Jewish studies from Biblical times to the present day. The journal is published by the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. [14] The journal’s style guideline recommends the use of transliteration where possible and refers to The SLB Handbook of Style. [15]

Polish publishing housesEdit

In general Polish publishing houses explain their practice concerning the individual work in its introduction. Some examples are as follows:

Pardes Lauder [16] in its edition of Tora preserves personal names used in their original forms known in Jewish world but using simplified transliteration. Hebrew place names well-known in Polish stay in their common use, the others according to the general rule used for personal names. Also, Hebrew titles of Tanach were preserved.

The publication of Miszna [17] by Wydawnictwo DiG and La Rama uses original Hebrew names and terms in their simplified Polish transliteration [that is: transcription] omitting א [alef], ע [ayin], silent Shwa, mater lectionis at word ends and gemination with the exception of the names of Talmudic sages and words which sound improperly because of their Polish equivalents (e.g. sukka, rabban). Terms used in their original forms were explained in footnotes. Also, the names of sages were presented in their original sound-forms, where besides alef and ayin also ק [khof] was not distinguished. There were several individual choices applied: ח [chet] as ch; כ [kaf] as k; ה [he] as h.

In turn Suplement to Studia Judaica[18] for edition of Paradygmaty religijności w judaizmie rabinicznym [19] adopted simplified Polish transliteration preserving khof as q, alef [’] and ayin [‘].

Transliteration, transcription or translation: examples of strategiesEdit

Prototypical proper namesEdit

This category contains countable and nongeneric proper names such as personal names and place names. [3]

Personal namesEdit

Hebrew name Transliteration [SBL Academic Style] Transcription or translation into Comment
English [SBL General-Purpose Style] Polish
רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא בֶּן יוֹסֵף‎ Raḇî ʿĂqīḇāʾ ben Yôsēf Rabbi Akiva [or Akiba] ben Yosef [or Joseph] Rabbi (or Rabi) Akiwa [or Akiba, or Aqiwa] ben Josef Polish transcription: alef and ayin omitted; khof: k instead of q; (cf. variant name [20])
רבי שמעון בר יוחאי Raḇî [Šimʿwn bar Ywḥaʾy]* or Raḇî Šimʿôn bar Yôḥaʾy Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai [or Yoḥai] Rabbi Szymon bar Jochaj also called Simeon bar Yoḥai (cf. variant name [21]); *unvocalized form
רַבִּי יְהוּדָה Raḇî Jehûdā Rabbi Jehudah Rabbi Jehuda or Juda* *established in Polish translation of the Bible
יוסף בן מתתיהו‎ Yôsēf ben Matiṯîāhû Yosef ben Matityahu; Flavius Josephus* Josef ben Matatia; Józef Flawiusz* *form established from Latin cognomen

Place namesEdit

Hebrew name Transliteration [SBL Academic Style] Transcription or translation into Comment
English [SBL General-Purpose Style] Polish
יָם כִּנֶּרֶת, הַכִּנֶּרֶת Yām Kinneret, haKinneret Kinneret or Kinnereth; Lake Tiberias, Sea of Galilee; Lake of Gennesaret morze Kinneret, Jezioro Tyberiadzkie, Jezioro Galilejskie, Genezaret [22] Hebrew biblical name Kinneret (Numbers 34:11) [23]; not used in Polish; Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:18; 15:29; Mark 1:16; 7:13); “the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias” (John 6:1); Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1) cf. [24]
יָם הַמֶּלַח Yām ha-Melaḥ Yam ha-Melah, Dead Sea, lit. Sea of Salt, Lake/Sea of Lot Morze Martwe, lit. Morze Sodomy, Morze Lota, bib. Morze Słone [25] Also known in the Bible as the Sea of the Arabah (ים הערבה) Yām ha-‘Ărāvâ, Polish: Morze Araby cf. [26]

Nonprototypical proper namesEdit

Nonprototypical proper names are the names that can be used as common nouns due to its generic potential (e.g. second Latin language refers to the phenomenon of past Latin prevalence), and they divide into countable and uncountable subclasses. [3] Nonprototypical names include among others titles.


Hebrew name Transliteration [SBL Academic Style] Transcription or translation into Comment
English [SBL General-Purpose Style] Polish
* תַּנַ״ךְ Tanak Tanakh; Hebrew Bible Tanach, Biblia hebrajska * acronym; other English forms: Tanah, Tanach, Tenakh, Tenak, or sometimes the Miqra (מִקְרָא‎) cf. [27]
מִשְׁנָה Mišnāh Mishnah or Mishna Miszna


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diacritic
  2. 2.0 2.1 Wronka, Stanisław (2004). Transkrypcja i transliteracja alfabetu hebrajskiego. Ruch Biblijny i Liturgiczny 57(1):45, p. 24. doi: 10.21906/rbl.480. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319089330_Transliteracja_i_transkrypcja_alfabetu_hebrajskiego
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Van Langendonck, Willy (2007). Theory and Typology of Given Names. Berlin [&] New York: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 6–118; 186-187; 223-225. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110197853
  4. https://scriptsource.org/cms/scripts/page.php?item_id=entry_detail&uid=gslmka8xq3
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonetic_transcription
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanization_of_Hebrew#Comparative_table
  7. 7.0 7.1 Weingreen, Jacob (1959). A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew. Oxford University Press, p. 1
  8. 8.0 8.1 The SBL Handbook of Style. For Biblical Studies and Related Disciplines. 2014. Second edition. Atlanta, Georgia: SLB Press. https://www.sbl-site.org/publications/sblhandbookofstyle.aspx
  9. 9.0 9.1 Lambdin, Thomas O. (2009). Introduction to Biblical Hebrew. London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, pp. 24-27.
  10. Tov, Emanuel (2015). “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Textual History of the Masoretic Bible” in Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, Qumran, Septuagint. Collected Essays, Vol. 3. Leiden, Boston: Brill, p. 314-324
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shva
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chicago_Manual_of_Style.
  13. https://www.jjs-online.net/
  14. https://www.ochjs.ac.uk/publications/journal-of-jewish-studies/
  15. https://www.jjs-online.net/authors/style_guide
  16. http://www.pardes.pl/
  17. Marcinkowski, Roman, Miszna [Naszim] (2016). Warszawa, Bellerive-sur-Allier: Wydawnictwo DiG and La Roma, pp. 10-11.
  18. https://www.ejournals.eu/SJ/
  19. Marcinkowski, Roman (2004). Paradygmaty religijności w judaizmie rabinicznym. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Antykwa, p. 15.
  20. https://data.cerl.org/thesaurus/cnp01404484
  21. https://data.cerl.org/thesaurus/cnp01323378
  22. https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jezioro_Tyberiadzkie
  23. https://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0434.htm#11/
  24. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_of_Galilee
  25. https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morze_Martwe
  26. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Sea
  27. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_Bible#cite_note-1