Contents of this weekly column are (mostly) based on the sefer: EIM LAMIKRA HASHALEIM, by R' Nissan Sharoni, Ashdod, a guide to correct pronunciation of Hebrew, specifically in davening and Torah reading.
Look what happens in English to the “s” at the end of a word to make the word plural. Cap - caps and cab - cabs. Say those words a couple of times and listen to the S. After the voiceless P in CAP, the S sounds like an S (SAMACH). But after the B of CAB, the S sounds like a Z (ZAYIN). PATS, PADS. Same thing. CLOCKS, CLOGS. Hear it? B, D, and G are voiced letters and the pluralizing S follows suit, sounding like a Z. But the P, T, and K are voiceless and so is the S that follows them. The basketball game is judged by 2 REFS and the airplane REVS its engines. There it is again. An interesting question, that has nothing to do with davening, is why LEAF and KNIFE got changed to LEAVES and KNIVES in the plural. Would LEAFS not sound as good? REEF didn’t change. ROOFS but HOOVES. HOOFS is accepted too. But ROOVES isn’t. Go figure.
Another topic, briefly revisited. Combination of topics, actually. Let’s use this week’s sedra for examples.
Now look at this word. Cast or weld four gold rings on the four corners of the ARON... ya-TZAK-ta, past tense, you welded. v’ya-TZAK-ta, and you welded, v’ya-tzak-TA, with the accent shift to the last syllable, and the tense switches from past to future (or command). And you shall... That’s how the word is pronounced in 26:37, when the command to cast copper or bronze foundation sockets for the posts that support the entrance curtain. v’ya (secondary accent on this third from the last syllable) tzak-TA la-HEM... But with the rings of the ARON in 25:12, the phrase is v’ya- TZAK-ta LO... and the accent which was MIL’EIL in the past tense form of the word and became MILRA in the VAV-switch to future, now recedes back to the MIL’EIL pronunciation because of the NASOG ACHOR rules.
But if he reads the other one (and most of the others in Tanach) v’ya-TZAK-ta, there the meaning is changed and he is supposed to repeat the phrase.
You have to remember two things.
So here’s one more thought on the subject of switched accents that change the meaning of words. Is it possible (just a thought) that a Baal Korei who is not very discerning of which syllable to accent and reads many words with the wrong accent, that his improper accent of a word that makes a difference in meaning might not be considered an error that he has to correct.
Again, just speculation. Say an AYIN as silent as an ALEF (as we Ashkenazim do) and you cannot claim that saying AYIN-MEM, with just like ALEF- MEM, is a mistake. Pronouncing a CHET like a CHAF, even if the meaning of the word is different cannot be counted as a mistake, because we do it all the time. Is this really so?
And if it is, then do we fault the guy with terrible accenting for the once in a while that the meaning of a word changes?