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2001 Translation

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    Pronunciation of ‘c’ and ‘ch’ in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew words

    Most English-speakers mispronounce Biblical names that contain the letters C or CH. How so?

    There is no ‘soft C’ pronunciation; it is always a hard C, like in the English word ‘call’. Even when a CH is used, it is the same, like in the word ‘CHrist.’

    Pronouncing C

    So the name Caesar was actually pronounced more like Kaiser. The faithful woman Priscilla had her name pronounced like Pree-skee-lah. The town of Laodicea was called La-oh-dee-kay-ah, and so on.

    However, the mispronunciations are so deeply entrenched in English, that it’s probably better to deliberately pronounce well-known names incorrectly. Yet, when it comes to less familiar names, there’s nothing wrong with trying to pronounce them properly.

    For example, consider the name of the sons of Chet, or the people called the Chaldeans. These names were originally pronounced as with a ‘K.’ So why not pronounce these correctly?

    Pronouncing CH

    Both Ancient Hebrew and Ancient Greek had two letters pronounced like a K.

    In Greek, one letter looks like a K and is pronounced that way, and we always transliterate this as a C, as described above. However, the other one looks like an X and is pronounced with the tongue touching the soft palate at the back of the mouth, which gives a breathier or more guttural sound. We always transliterate this as either C or CH.

    You can hear the difference in the English words Kill and Christ. If you say these words aloud, you’ll notice the slightly different parts of your mouth that your tongue touches. That’s why there’s a letter for K and another for CH in both the Hebrew and Greek languages.

    So when you see CH, it also sounds like a K, but it’s a softer and a slightly more guttural sound.

    Why did the Ancient Greeks bother have two different letters for such a small difference in sound?

    They didn’t have an alphabet until about the time of their classical poet, Homer. They then borrowed or adapted their alphabet from the Hebrew (if you examine both alphabets from that period, you will see the similarities). Yet Hebrew is a much more guttural language, so their letter cheth (from which the Greeks got their letter X) has a far more pronounced palate sound.