I live in the US, and I've noticed that "challah" seems to be generally pronounced by Americans as something like /hala:/ (or possibly /ha:lə/), with either equal stress on both syllables or a slight stress on the first.

However, for some reason, I've generally assumed that the stress should be on the second syllable. Wikipedia seems to confirm this with ‎[χa'la], and I seem to remember seeing similar pronunciation when watching an Israeli TV show.

Why is there such a discrepancy in stress? I wouldn't be surprised if American English speakers used something like /h/ in place of /χ/, but it's slightly strange that stress patterns have shifted. Is this just part of a normal shift in variation (similar to other treatments of foreign loanwords), or is there a deeper reason for this difference? (I would suspect so, but I lack the expertise to tell.)

Edit: Note: I am not exactly asking for something akin to "Why does American English have /dænts/ instead of /dɑːns/?" or "Why is there a discrepancy in the pronunciation of the English 'department'and the French 'département'?" One of the key things I'm interested is whether this might a result of variable pronunciation of חלה (and some Jewish groups being possibly more prominent in the US), similar to how there is variation in Hebrew pronunciations of religious terms (e.g. discrepancies between the Modern Hebrew, Israeli pronunciation and the traditional Ashkenazi ones, as far as I know).

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    Do you know how khale was stressed in Yiddish? That would probably have had more influence on the US pronunciation than the Hebrew. Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 10:28
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    And indeed, this webpage (I can't vouch for its accuracy) says khale was stressed on the first syllable in Yiddish. So Americans who stress the syllables equally have actually moved closer to the Hebrew. Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 10:36
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    Regarding literally any word, "X", you can ask "why is X so pronounced in [dialect Y]". The question is almost meaningless or perhaps unanswerable, pointless, unfortunately.
    – Fattie
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 12:32
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    "I ain't no Challah-back girl"
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 12:58
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    @Maroon - For any topic related to pronunciation of anything related to Yiddish and Hebrew in the U.S., there is a wonderful resource: Leo Rosten. Edifying and entertaining. Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 13:04

2 Answers 2


Following up on aparente001's suggestion (in a comment above) to consult Leo Rosten, I offer this brief entry from his Hooray for Yiddish! (1982):


khale (standard)

Pronounce it KHOL-leh, with a German or Scottish kh.

The braided white bread, glazed with egg white, which is a Sabbath delicacy.

Rosten is evidently giving the Yiddish pronunciation; and as you can see, the first syllable is stressed in that pronunciation. Non-Yiddish English speakers undoubtedly patterned their pronunciation of the word on what they understood Yiddish speakers to be saying, as Peter Shor observes in a comment above. Where I live (the San Francisco Bay Area), some people pronounce the kh at the beginning of the word, but the more frequent pronunciation drops the k to leave HOL-leh (where the first syllable is indistinguishable from the usual West Coast pronunciation of hall). To my ear, at least, the first syllable generally receives more emphasis than the second.

In this area—which produces excellent breads of various kinds—challah is a common option at supermarkets/grocery stores as well as at bakeries, and I believe that the word is widely recognized and understood. One upscale grocery store near where I live sells three competing brands of challah. Unlike Rosten, sellers generally spell the word challah, with an h at the end.

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    In the East, the first syllable is that of holiday and not of hall (these are the same on the West Coast, but can be quite different in other American dialects). Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 17:54
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    And this pronunciation matches well with English (and Germanic languages generally, of which Yiddish is one) default stress patterns which are usually trochaic (Strong-Weak) instead of iambic (Weak-Strong). Borrowed words will therefore typically follow this pattern.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 17:57
  • Accepting this because this addresses my main point of interest (whether the pronunciation might be due to something other than English speakers having different stress patterns). The other answer covers the main other possibility but isn't quite as satisfying.
    – Maroon
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 18:19
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    Please note, Rosten's notation system is that when he uses an O, as he did in KHOL-leh, it is supposed to sound like the O in Tom or Thomas. Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 2:22

No one knows for sure when reading (even hearing) another language how its words are accurately pronounced so they use their own pronunciation rules.

So for 'challah', similarly written words like 'gila', 'Allah', 'Scilla', 'megillah' (note two of those are semitic), whatever their pronunciation is in the original, do not have stress on the last syllable. The most likely pronunciation in English would be on the first syllable. And that's what it is in English.

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    Challah is a word that would be picked up more by ear than by reading. Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 13:02
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    @aparente001 I disagree. I've seen it mostly only on menus and on packages in grocery stores and not by talking to Yiddish or Hebrew speakers.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 13:09
  • I would think the general availability of challah is a fairly recent phenomenon. Also, I don't think it's as universally available as, say, English muffins or bagels. Just curious -- what part of the country do you live in? Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 13:27
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    Challah has been in the U.S. since I was a kid, and that was nearly 60 years ago, I'm sorry to say. Big cities certainly had it, but some not-so-big either. My best friend at age six or so was Jewish and I would have it at her house. It's general availability may be new, but if you lived around and interacted with a Jewish community, you would have known about it.
    – ewormuth
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 14:27
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    I don't believe that stress on challah is any different in the Jewish community (although the first consonant is as likely to be /x/ as /h/). And the Jewish community certainly wouldn't have changed the stress because of the spelling. Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 15:56

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