Begadkefat (also begadkephat, begedkefet) is the name given to a phenomenon of spirantization affecting the non-emphatic plosive consonants of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic when they are preceded by a vowel and not geminated. The name is also given to similar cases of spirantization of post-vocalic plosives in other languages, for instance, in the Berber language of Djerba.[1] Irish Gaelic has a similar system.

The phenomenon is attributed to the following consonants:

letterplosive fricative
beth ב[b]becomes[v]
gimel ג[ɡ]becomes[ɣ]
daleth ד[d]becomes[ð]
kaph כ[k]becomes[x] ~ [χ]
pe פ[p]becomes[f]
taw ת[t]becomes[θ]

The name of the phenomenon is made up with these 6 consonants, mixed with haphazard vowels for the sake of pronunciation: BeGaDKePaT. The Hebrew term בֶּגֶ״ד כֶּפֶ״ת (Modern Heb. pronun. /ˌbeɡedˈkefet/) denotes the letters themselves (rather than the phenomenon of spirantization).

Begedkefet spirantization developed sometime during the lifetime of Biblical Hebrew under the influence of Aramaic.[2] Its time of emergence can be found by noting that the Old Aramaic phonemes /θ/, /ð/ disappeared in the 7th century BC.[3] It persisted in Hebrew until the 2nd century CE.[4] During this period all six plosive / fricative pairs were allophonic.

In Modern Hebrew three of the six letters, ב (bet), כ (kaf) and פ (pe), each still denote a plosivefricative variant pair; these variants are, however, no longer purely allophonic (see below). Although orthographic variants of ג (gimel), ד (dalet) and ת (tav) still exist, these letters' pronunciation always remains acoustically and phonologically indistinguishable.[note 1] In Yiddish, also ת (tav) can denote a fricative variant, which is [s].


In Hebrew writing with niqqud, a dot in the center of one of these letters, called dagesh ( ּ ), marks the plosive articulation:

A line (similar to a macron) placed above it, called "rafe" ( ֿ ), marks in Yiddish (and rarely in Hebrew) the fricative articulation.

In Modern Hebrew

As mentioned above, the fricative variants of [ɡ], [d] and [t] no longer exist in modern Hebrew. (However, Hebrew does have the guttural R consonant /ʁ/ which is the voiced counterpart of /χ/ and often coincides with Mizrahi Hebrew's fricative variant of [ɡ] ḡímel as well as Arabic's غ ġayn, both of which are /ɣ/~/ʁ/. Modern Hebrew ר resh can still sporadically be found standing in for this phoneme, for example in the Hebrew rendering of Raleb (Ghaleb) Majadele's name.) The three remaining pairs /b/~/v/, /k/~/χ/, and /p/~/f/ still sometimes alternate, as demonstrated in inflections of many roots in which the roots' meaning is retained despite variation of begedkefet letters' manner of articulation, e.g.,

in verbs:
  בוא ← תבוא/bo/ → /taˈvo/("come" (imperative) → "you will come"),
  שבר ← נשבר/ʃaˈvaʁ/ → /niʃˈbaʁ/("broke" (transitive) → "broke" (intransitive),
  כתב ← יכתוב/kaˈtav/ → /jiχˈtov/("he wrote" → "he will write"),
  זכר ← יזכור/zaˈχaʁ/ → /jizˈkoʁ/("he remembered" → "he will remember"),
  פנית ← לפנות/paˈnit/ → /lifˈnot/("you (f.) turned" → "to turn"),
  שפטת ← לשפוט/ʃaˈfatet/ → /liʃˈpot/("you (f.) judged" → "to judge "),
or in nouns:
  ערב ← ערביים/ˈeʁev/ → /aʁˈbajim/("evening" → "twilight"),
  מלך ← מלכה/ˈmeleχ/ → /malˈka/("king" → "queen"),
  אלף ← אלפית/ˈelef/ → /alˈpit/("a thousand" → "a thousandth"),

however in Israeli Hebrew plosive and fricative variants of ב, כ and פ are sometimes distinct phonemes, compare e.g.:

  אִפֵּר – אִפֵר/iˈpeʁ//iˈfeʁ/("applied make up" – "tipped ash"),
  פִּסְפֵּס – פִסְפֵס/pisˈpes//fisˈfes/("striped" – "missed"),
  הִתְחַבֵּר – הִתְחַבֵר/hitχaˈbeʁ//hitχaˈveʁ/("connected" – "made friends (with)"),
  הִשְׁתַּבֵּץ – הִשְׁתַּבֵץ/hiʃtaˈbets//hiʃtaˈvets/("got integrated" – "was shocked"),

and consider, e.g.:

    לככב "to star", whose common pronunciation /lekχev/ preserves the manner of articulation of each kaf in the word it is derived from: כּוֹכָב /kχav/ "a star" (first plosive, then fricative), as opposed to the prescribed pronunciation /leχkev/, which regards the variation in pronunciation of kaf /χ/ ←→ /k/ as allophonic and determines its manner of articulation according to historical phonological principles; or:
    similarly, לרכל "to gossip", whose prescribed pronunciation /leʁaˈkel/ is colloquially rejected, commonly pronounced /leʁaˈχel/, preserving the fricative manner of articulation in related nouns (e.g. רכילות /ʁeχiˈlut/ "gossip", רכלן /ʁaχˈlan/ "gossiper").

This phonemic divergence might be due to a number of factors, amongst others:

  קפץ ← קיפץ/kaˈfats/ → /kiˈpets/, historically /kipˈpets/("jumped" → "hopped"),
  שבר ← שיבר/ʃaˈvar/ → /ʃiˈber/, historically /ʃibˈber/("broke" → "shattered"),
  שכן ← שיכן/ʃaˈχan/ → /ʃiˈken/, historically /ʃikˈken/("resided" → "housed"),
  syllable-initial /f/ (e.g. פברק /fibˈʁek/ "fabricated"),
  non-syllable-initial /p/ (e.g. הפנט /hipˈnet/ "hypnotized")
  non-syllable-initial /b/ (e.g. פברק /fibˈʁek/ "fabricated"), ג׳וֹבּ /dʒob/ "job", קוּבּ /kub/ "cubic meter", פָּאבּ /pab/ "pub").

Apart from this partial phonemic distinction, common Israeli pronunciation no longer always concords with the original phonological principle "plosive variant after a consonant; fricative after a vowel", although this principle is still prescribed as standard by the Academy of the Hebrew Language, e.g.:


  1. In modern Hebrew, the letter gimel modified by the diacritic geresh – ג׳ – is pronounced as the affricate []; this, however, denotes a separate phoneme, not connected to the phenomenon of spirantization: compare e.g. גז /ɡez/ ("fleece") ←→ ג׳ז /ez/ ("jazz"); חג /χaɡ/ ("holiday") ←→ חג׳ /χa/ ("the Hajj"). Conversely, dalet and tav with a geresh – ד׳ and ת׳ – respectively do denote the fricatives [ð] and [θ], however never as sounds in Hebrew words or even loanwords, but are rather used exclusively for the hebraization of foreign language texts or the transliteration of foreign names. Also these modern Hebrew variants have nothing to do with the phenomenon of spirantization.
  2. In non-Modern Hebrew texts, begedkefet letters at the beginning of a word preceded by a vowel are sometimes written without a dagesh and therefore pronounced as fricatives, e.g. "אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ פְרִי־עֵץ" (/aʃer bo fri ʕets/, Genesis 1, 29), but not always – e.g. "עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי" (/ʕose pri/, Genesis 1, 11 and 1, 12)[5]
  3. In modern Hebrew ktiv menuqad, the dagesh qal is marked also in the three begedkefet letters which can no longer denote a fricative variant – ג ([ɡ]), ד ([d]) and ת ([t]) – conserving the masoretic niqqud tradition.


  1. See for instance: Werner Vycichl, "Begadkefat im Berberischen", in: James and Theodora Bynon (eds.), Hamito-Semitica, London 1975, pp. 315-317.
  2. Or perhaps Hurrian, but this is unlikely, c.f. Dolgoposky 1999, pp. 72-73.
  3. Dolsopolsky 1999, p. 72.
  4. Dolgopolsky 1999, p. 73.
  5. Mechon Mamre Online Bible

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