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The Hebrew Alphabet

The Hebrew language is written with the Hebrew alphabet. Lines are written from right to left. A square letter form, developed from Aramaic script, is used. Handwritten Hebrew is more circular than the square letter form. The difference in appearance between typed and handwritten Hebrew is pronounced. The Hebrew alphabet is known as the "alphe bet".

tHe square letter form is derived from the Aramaic alphabet and can be traced back to the 3rd century BC. This style became standardized during the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE and has since changed little to this date. Talmud rules regarding the alphabet has prevented substantial changes to its form.

The Modern Hebrew alphabet has 22 consonants, final letters and diacritics, for a total of 27 symbols. The consonant letters alef, he, waw and yod double as long vowels. Five letters, ikef, mem, nun, pe and tzade, have dual characters, one for when the character is at the end of a word and another for all other positions within the word.

The Hebrew alphabet does not contain vowels. The language is written with consonants, spaces and punctuation similar to that of Western languages. There are five vowel sounds in Hebrew, which are indicated by a system called "Niqqud". Niqqud is a method of dotting which was devised during the 400's CE. It is generally only used today in religious texts, poetry and children's literature. An exception is where there is ambiguity in words; in this case, the Niqqud system is utilized. Biblical Hebrew had three forms of vowels: short, long and interrupted. All three forms of vowels are pronounced in Modern Hebrew similarly, although there were pronunciation distinctions in early Hebrew.

Consonants are called "itsurim" in Hebrew. Consonants sounds are all expressed with a single letter. Hebrew has developed a pronunciation system of consonant strengthening. There are two types of strengthening. Light strengthening is indicated by a dot at the beginning of the word or after a consonant. Heavy strengthening is indicated by dots after vowels and is applicable to specified consonants. Heavy strengthening has heavy structural and complementing heavy subcategories.

"Mater lectionis" are letters which indicate consonant sounds. "Matres lectionnis" are used as vowel markers. The letters used for these functions are he, vav and yod. Spelling that includes matres lectionis is known as male and spelling without these letters is called haser.

One-letter prefixes may be added to words for the purposes of definite articles and prepositions. These prefixes are referred to as "Letters of Use".

Stress is more commonly placed on the last syllable of a word, although it may also be placed on the next-to-last syllable in some instances. Rules determine where the stress is placed. There is no symbol for stress and it is unmarked.

The subject is followed by the verb in Modern Hebrew. Hebrew words have roots of three consonants separated by vowels. There are male and female genders. Prefixes and suffixes can be added to change the meaning of the word.

Approximately 8 million people speak Modern Hebrew.