The diacritical point placed in the center of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet to indicate either their intensified (doubled) pronunciation, or, in the case of the letters (b, g, d, k, p, t), their hard (unaspirated) pronunciation. The root "dagash" means in Syriac "to prick" (compare Targ. to Prov. xii. 18); but the context in which the term "dagesh" first occurs militates against deriving it from this signification of the root. The use of "dagesh" as the name of the point indicating the intensified pronunciation is only a secondary one, for in the old Masoretic texts and in the Maḥzor Vitry (ed. Horowitz, p. 228), "dagesh" indicates the intensified pronunciation itself, in contrast to "rafe," the weak pronunciation. The root "dagash" occurs only once in the traditional literature, in a reference to the letter ד (d) of the word ("eḥad," Deut. vi. 4), and that, too, in a sentence of the Palestinian Talmud which is known only from a later quotation (Ṭur Oraḥ Ḥayyim, lxi.). A reference to the dagesh, though without the use of the specific term, is to be found in the Pesiḳta Rabbati and in "Sefer Yeẓirah."
From the Masorah the word passed into the terminology of the grammarians in its earlier sense, as, for instance, in Ben Asher and Saadia Gaon. The latter called one part of his grammatical work "The Book of Dagesh and Rafe"; preserving, as did the Karaite lexicographer David b. Abraham, even in the Arabic text the Hebrew-Aramaic terms. Saadia uses Arabic noun and verb forms derived from the word. Ḥayyuj uses in their stead the corresponding Arabic terms "shadid," "mushaddad," "khafif," "mukhaffaf"; and he was followed in this by others writing in Arabic. From the time of Abraham ibn Ezra, however, philologists writing in Hebrew reestablished the use of the word "dagesh," from which various nominal and verbal forms were derived and added to the terminology of Hebrew grammar.
There is no trace among the early writers of a classification of the various uses to which the dagesh was put, such as became became customary later, though the relation in which the six letters stood to the dagesh was of course emphasized; the letter ר, because of its double pronunciation by the Palestinians, was added to the six in "Sefer Yeẓirah" and in Ben Asher. The term "dagesh ḳal" (light dagesh), to denote the hard unaspirated pronunciation of the letters , occurs perhaps first in David Ḳimḥi's "Miklol " (ed. Venice, 1545, p. 49a). The rules for the "dagesh ḥazaḳ" (strong dagesh, that denoting a doubling of the letter) were first formulated by Elijah Levita ("Pereḳ Shirah," 54a et seq.), who enumerates eight cases in which it occurs. Later grammarians have superseded this division by a more extended one (see König, "Lehrgebäude der Hebr. Sprache," i. 52 et seq.).
Graetz has shown that the use of the dagesh is anterior to the use of the vowel-points, for which it was, in a measure, a substitute. It distinguished the absolute from the construct state, the quiescent shewa from the mobile, and at times stood in place of the "matres lectionis." The regular use of the dagesh and its representation by means of a point seem to be a peculiarity of the Tiberian vowel-system. In the so-called superlinear, or Babylonian, system, the point was originally not used at all, nor was dagesh indicated in all cases which required it. In Berlin MS. Or. quart. 680, which, according to Kahle, originally contained the true Babylonian punctuation, the dagesh has the form It is used with the six letters , in such cases as require regularly the dagesh forte, but generally only where a mistake might be made; also in the letter resh, in alef when that letter is consonantal; and with lamed, especially in enclitic words. The dagesh is found four times with the alef in the Masoretic system (Stade, "Der Masoretische Text," § 42b) and often in the Karlsruhe MS. (see "Proc. Fifth Or. Congress,"II. i. 136). The dagesh is also used with the preposition , and is often retained at the end of a word, a practise not adopted by the Tiberian system.
In the peculiar fragments of shortened Hebrew published by M. Friedländer ("Proc. Soc. Biblical Archeology," 1896), the sign for both dagesh forte and dagesh lene is , while rafe is expressed by . The alef when consonantal is also provided with the dagesh. This system is also employed in the Maḥzor fragment published by Levias ("Am. Jour. Semit. Lang." xv. 157). In certain genizah fragments at Cambridge and in others in the possession of Elkan Adler, the dagesh is indicated by a line placed over the preceding vowel; though at times a point is used for dagesh lene. In the St. Petersburg codex of the Prophets, also, dagesh forte is represented by a line over the preceding vowel; dagesh lene, by a point in the letter as in the Tiberian system. The point, however, is used occasionally for both dageshes. In all these cases the use of the point seems to be an intrusion from the Palestinian system. The irregularity in the use of the dagesh may also be seen in MS. Berlin Or. quart. 578, from which Praetorius has published the Targum of Joshua (1901).
- Bacher, Die Anfänge der Hebr. Grammatik, Leipsic, 1895;
- G. Margoliouth, in Proc. Soc. Biblical Archeology, 1893, pp. 170 et seq.;
- M. Friedländer, in ib. 1896, pp. 86 et seq.;
- Levias, The Palestinian Vocalization, in Am. Jour. Semit. Lang. xv. 157 et seq. (see also xiv. 129);
- Harris, in Jew. Quart. Rev. i. 233;
- Kahle, Beiträge zur Gesch. der Hebräischen Punktuation, in Stade's Zeitschrift, 1901, pp. 273 et seq.;
- idem, Der Masoretische Text des Alten Testaments, pp. 6, 11, 34.