The sixteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Its numerical value is seventy. In its earlier form it was a circle, a rude picture of the eye, hence its name ("'Ayin" = "eye"). This form is still to be seen on the Moabite Stone, and also on the old Hebrew inscription found in the Siloam Pool. Its pronunciation in modern time ranges from no sound at all, as in the Judæo-German pronunciation, to the nasal ng of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. One reason for this wide range in pronunciation is that there were originally two distinct sounds in Hebrew, as in other Semitic languages, both represented by an 'Ayin: the one a rough breathing (still retained in Morocco and Syria), the other a soft palatal. The distinction between the two, still indicated in the transliteration of proper names in the Greek version of the Old Testament, was gradually lost; in certain districts the Jews retained in their pronunciation traces of the palatal (which accounts for the Sephardic pronunciation), in others all traces of the letter disappeared, and the rough breathing became purely vocalic (see Zimmern, "Vergleichende Grammatik der Semitischen Sprachen," § 7). The letter 'Ayin, along with the Aleph, Waw, and Yod, has been used quite extensively in the Yiddish orthography as a vowel letter, indicating short e.

J. Jr. G. B. L.
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