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How should one transliterate the well-known Jewish Holiday that usually takes place in December (or late November)?

Hannukah

or

Chanukah
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  • What is the spelling in standard dictionaries?
    – Kris
    May 16, 2012 at 8:15

3 Answers 3

10

It depends on what the purpose of the transliteration is.

If it's just to be recognizable in writing, then any of the common forms will do. However, if the goal is to signal the correct pronunciation, then "Hanukah" (or "Hanukkah"), while common, fails to capture the gutteral at the beginning of the word and beginning with "ch" is better. I hear lots of people say the word with a soft "h", presumably because of this transliteration; it's clear what they mean but they're mispronouncing the word.

If the purpose is to unambiguously indicate how the word is spelled in Hebrew, which is חֲנֻכָּה‎, then there are three problems:

  • The initial letter is one of two gutturals [*]. It's common to render that sound as "ch" (as in German), but that's ambiguous. The academic-style transliterations that I've seen use "ch" for chet (the letter here) and "kh" for khaf (the other possibility).

  • The final "h" is silent and is sometimes left off ("Chanuka"), but it corresponds to the Hebrew hei so include it.

  • The kaf, corresponding to the "k" sound, has a dageish in the Hebrew. A single "k" ("chanukah") would properly indicate that sound but would not necesarily make the presence of the dageish clear. A common practice is to double consonants that hava a dageish; another example is the "b" in "Shabbat".

So the most precise transliteration would be "Chanukkah". However, many popular sources including Wikipedia instead render it "Hanukkah".

A final note: since the nun does not have a dageish, doubling the "n" isn't technically correct. Nor does it convey anything about pronunciation. So regardless of the other decisions you make, you should stick with one "n".

[*] Yes yes, there are really five, but only two that make this particular sound. I'm simplifying.

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  • 1
    Another way to distinguish the guttural ch from the English ch (as in the English word such) is to use the dotted Ḥ.
    – Double AA
    Aug 19, 2012 at 7:44
  • @DoubleAA, good point. Transliteration doesn't need to be limited to ASCII. Aug 19, 2012 at 14:54
  • The two guttural sounds you mention merged in Modern Hebrew, the final "h" sound is never pronounced, and consonants are no longer geminated ("double"). Apr 25, 2018 at 14:00
  • @YuvalFilmus right. Those distinctions matter in the case where you want people to get from the transliteration to the correct Hebrew spelling (I see that sometimes in academic texts), but it's not going to change your pronunciation. (I was taught that a final "h" with a mapik is voiced, but I might have had an overly-pedantic teacher. That doesn't apply to חֲנֻכָּה‎, of course.) Apr 25, 2018 at 14:14
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I believe the correct and widely used term is Hanukkah (note that this is slightly different than your version starting with 'H'). Main reason for that is that 'H' replaces the 'Het' (ח) of the Hebrew alphabet, while 'Ch' replaces 'Chaf' (כ) without a emphasis.

Most online sources I reviewed uses the term 'Hanukkah'.

I hope this helps.

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IME, it is usually known as

Hannukah

however that is not necessarily a good transliteration. As so often, the word entered the consciousness through hearing first, so this may have influenced the spelling.

This form is probably better understood, but if you have sufficient context, the

Chanukah

form may be a better spelling.

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  • (IME = in my experience?) Jul 6, 2012 at 14:55
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    @AdamMosheh - yes. I thought it was sufficiently commonly known not to be a problem. Sorry for the confusion. Jul 6, 2012 at 15:06
  • @SC - I don't know some of these acronyms, it's my fault, not yours. Don't blame me. Jul 6, 2012 at 15:13

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