In order to learn the Hebrew language, it’s important to learn the Hebrew (or ‘Ivrit) alphabet. The letters play a big role in the “Milhamah: Fighting Words” comics and games series because they affect how characters, objects and the fictional world of Avgad relate to one another.
Note: The name “Avgad” is based on the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet!
In Hebrew, the alphabet is also called the alefbet, since those are the first two letters. Hebrew has 22 main letters, and each has at least one way to pronounce it. Each letter also has its own numerical value, which is sometimes called gematria.
א is called alef. Its sound is formally a glottal stop, but for practical purposes, it usually sounds like a vowel. Occasionally it is quiescent, or silent. Sometimes, to show the glottal stop in the middle of a word, “Milhamah” transliterates alef with a diaeresis, as in “ë.” This letter’s numerical value is 1.
ב is called bet. Sometimes it sounds like a hard B, as in “boy.” And in Modern Hebrew it has a soft form that sounds like a V, as in “violin.” This letter’s numerical value is 2.
Note: Some Hebrew letters fall into a pattern called begadkefat, in which they have hard and soft forms.
ג is called gimel. Nowadays it just sounds like a hard G, as in “gust.” In ancient times, it may have also had a guttural Gh sound. It is a begadkefat letter. This letter’s numerical value is 3.
ד is called dalet. These days it only sounds like a hard D, like in dog. In ancient times, it may have also had a Dh sound, similar to the word “the.” It is a begadkefat letter. This letter’s numerical value is 4.
ה is called hë, which sounds like “hey.” It sounds like an H, though it often serves as a silent letter at the end of many feminine words. Its numerical value is 5.
ו is called ṿaṿ in Modern Hebrew and waw in ancient Hebrew. It usually sounds like a V or a W, respectively. However, it can sometimes represent an O or U. In “Milhamah: Fighting Words,” this letter is represented as Ṿ to distinguish it from the V in a soft ב. Its numerical value is 6.
ז is called zayin. It sounds like the Z in “zipper.” Its numerical value is 7.
ח is called ḥet. You may see this letter represented as ch or, more ambiguously, as just h. It makes a guttural sound, like how some people pronounce Bach or chutzpah. In ancient Hebrew, it may have sounded like a breathier “H.” This letter’s numeral value is 8.
Note: “Milhamah: Fighting Words” uses Ḥ for virtually all words except the “h” in the “Milhamah” title. That decision was a practical one. We want to make it easy to search for the series online!
ט is called ṭet. This letter sounds like the T in “truck” in Modern Hebrew, but may have sounded like an emphatic T in ancient Hebrew, articulated further back in the mouth. We represent this letter as T-dot to distinguish it from the T found in Taṿ. This letter’s numeral value is 9.
י is yod. This letter usually sounds like the Y in “yellow” but occasionally signals a “ee” sound. This letter’s numeral value is 10.
כ is kaf. Sometimes it sounds like a hard K, as in “kite.” The soft form sounds like a guttural “kh.” It is a begadkefat letter. Its numerical value is 20. Kaf is also a sofit letter, which means that its appearance changes at the end of a word. Its sofit version is ך.
ל is lamed. It sounds like the L in “lion.” Its numerical value is 30.
מ is mem. It sounds like the M in “money.” Its numerical value is 40. As a sofit letter, it appears as ם at the end of a word.
נ is nun. It sounds like the N in “nice.” Its numerical value is 50. As a sofit letter, it appears as ן at the end of a word.
ס is samekh. It sounds like the S in “same.” Its numerical value is 60.
ע is ‘ayin. In Modern Hebrew it’s often said the same way as alef, like a vowel. Ancient Hebrew used to pronounce it as a guttural sound deep in the throat. Its numerical value is 70.
פ is pë, which sounds like “pay.” It sometimes is pronounced like the hard P, and other times it sounds like the F in “fake.” It is a begadkefat letter. It’s also a sofit letter. Its numerical value is 80. As a sofit letter, it looks ף like at the end of a word.
צ is tzade, which sounds like the end of “its” in Modern Hebrew. In ancient Hebrew, it may have sounded like an emphatic “s” articulated further back in the mouth. We transliterate tzade as “tz,” though some people write it as “ts” or s with a dot underneath. Its numerical value is 90. As a sofit letter, it looks like ץ at the end of a word.
ק is qof, which sounds like a hard K like “key” in modern Hebrew, just like the hard version of kaf. However, in ancient Hebrew, it might have sounded like a more emphatic K, articulated further back in the mouth. We spell qof with a Q. Its numerical value is 100.
ר is resh, which either sounds similar to a Spanish R or to the French R in Modern Hebrew, depending on accent. In ancient Hebrew, it most likely sounded like the former. Ancient Hebrew might have had hard and soft ways to say resh, but it currently is not a begadkefat letter. Its numerical value is 200.
ש is shin or śin. Either way, it has a numerical value of 300:
- Shin sounds like the Sh in “shine.” We spell it as “sh,” though some people write it as “š.”
- Śin sounds like the S in “same” in modern Hebrew, though it might’ve had a stranger ancient Hebrew pronunciation that doesn’t neatly correspond with English. We spell it as “ś” to distinguish it from the “s” of samekh.
Note: You can tell the difference between the two forms when the Hebrew uses dots, or nequdot. Shin has a dot in the upper-right corner, and sin has a dot in the upper-left corner. Here’s a way to remember. Satan (שטן :Śaṭan) is sinister, and sinister comes from Latin and refers to the left side. So the sin dot goes on the left!
ת is taṿ. In Modern Hebrew, it always sounds like the T in “Tom.” In ancient Hebrew, it might’ve had an second soft pronunciation like the “Th” in “kith.” As a result, it’s a begadkefat letter. It has a numerical value of 400.
Learning a new alphabet and writing style takes time. Be careful in recognizing the subtle differences in certain letters, like ד and ר, or י and ו, or ו and ן, or כ and נ. Even ancient scribes and copyists usedmixed up letters sometimes when being too careless!
One alphabet, different styles
The Modern Hebrew alphabet comes from squarish Aramaic letters, and it’s by far the most important to master in order to understand the language.
However, you may see other Hebrew fonts out there. The most common modern alternative is cursive, but Rashi font, paleo-Hebrew font (ketav ‘Ivri) and even proto-Sinaitic font are other ways to spell the same letters. In “Milhamah: Fighting Words,” the Otiyot foundation letters that Ha-Shem used to create the world look like paleo-Hebrew.