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The Hebrew letter Ayin (ע) was traditionally a voiced pharyngeal fricative, but has mutated to a glottal stop in Modern Hebrew, merging it with the letter Aleph (א).

How can I learn the pharyngeal pronunciation of this letter if my native language does not include the sound? I do recognize that merging the sound with Aleph is standard in Israel today and that pronouncing it differently would give my speech a marked quality, but I'm interested in learning the sound from a historical or linguistic perspective.

To be clear, I'm not asking a usage question. I'm aware that using a pharyngeal ע to order a cab in Tel Aviv would get me strange looks.

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    Aleph and ayin are not even glottal stops in modern Hebrew, fyi. They just become a vowel for the most part. Just look at the word עברית. No glottal stop - just vowel sound. Anyway, to learn the ancient sound you just need to practice with an Arabic speaker or a Yemeni Israeli who still speaks the old way. I wish modern Hebrew retained the ancient pronunciation. Would sound much better in my opinion.
    – AML
    Feb 13, 2020 at 0:27

2 Answers 2

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What is your native language? If it helps you, Ayin is rather close to Russian "ы", but more to the throat and shorter. Start with the phoneme /ɨ/ (more rear or upper than i) and try to pronounce it even shorter and more rear. You can also listen to songs of Arik Einstein - he pronounces ayin.

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First of all, true ayin is not entirely extinct in Israel. Educated speakers will pronounce it (sometimes) to avoid ambiguity.

Second: be aware that it's close to impossible to pronounce ayin unless there's an 'ah' vowel to one side of it. So don't kill yourself trying to say עניין. Go with למען or עמידה. This is true now and was true 3000 years ago, as you might surmise from the fact that various phonetic rules "raise" (ie make ah-like) the vowels near an ayin. (This is true of Arabic too BTW.)

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  • Hi and welcome to Language Learning Stack Exchange. Please bear in mind that this is a site for questions about methods for learning or teaching languages, not for explanations of specific phonological, grammatical or lexical issues. This is why the format of the question is "How can I learn to pronounce [x]?" and not "How is [x] pronounced?" Hence, answers that explain "[x] is pronounced in this way" are not valid on this site.
    – Tsundoku
    Jul 16 at 13:38
  • I give advice in my second paragraph. The rest is context — helpful to anyone actually interested in learning Hebrew. So don't be petty. Jul 16 at 16:38

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