Goal: To make it easy for people using any type of computer to work with Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts. And to do this without needing any special software or fonts. Only a way to edit text using the English alphabet is required.
Main Inspiration Neo-paleo transliteration is based on the idea that the modern Latin alphabet is derived from the ancient Hebrew alphabet. English, and most modern writing systems, use Latin and Greek based aphabets. Latin and Greek in turn derived their alphabets from those of the Hebrews. Neo-paleo transliteration does not try to represent exactly how Hebrew originally sounded. The diversity of Hebrew pronunciation among Jews today, and among languages that are offshoots of Hebrew, shows there is no authoritative answer as to what the original language sounded like. Neo-paleo transliteration is meant to give the world's population a strong sense of the link between modern writing systems and Hebrew.
Doesn't Lose Information In neo-paleo transliteration, one Hebrew consonant is given exactly one English letter. This makes it possible to transfer text between Hebrew and English, then back again into Hebrew without losing any information. This is important, because some transliteration schemes confuse teth with tav, and samekh with shin.
Computer Friendly Some transliteration schemes include multiple letters, such as "sh" for the letter shin, or "th" for the letter teth. Allowing such multi-character combinations makes it harder for computer programmers who want to convert between a transliteration scheme and actual Hebrew, such as in the UTF-8 format. In todays world of fast computers, we don't have to worry about making the computer do extra work, but everything that requires more computer programmer time is to be avoided, since that is the major cost these days.
No Vowel Points Vowel points were not present in the original Hebrew texts of the Bible, and they are rarely used today in day to day Hebrew writing. Neo-paleo transliteration does not have any provision for vowel points. If vowel points are important to you, I recommend the UTF-8 encoding standard.
Conversion Software Available A script to convert Hebrew from UTF-8 format into Neo-paleo format is available free of charge.
Why E for hey? The letter E is in the same alphabetical position as the Hebrew letter hey. If you pronounce the "eh" sound with a little bit of breath behind it, it is just like the Hebrew "hey", although in reverse. Also, H is already in use for the Hebrew letter chet.
Why V for waw?In linguistics, it is known that the V, the U/W, and the F sounds are often interchanged and equivalent. Since the V sound is the middle ground, and is often pronounced as F and U/W in the various European languages, I felt it was a good representative for the letter "vav". The W letter is already used for the letter shin, and historically it was just two of the letter V side by side. The letter U in the Latin languages is generally used the way English uses the letter W. Also, U and V were historically interchangeable in English, and in Latin there was only V; the letter U in old Latin inscriptions and manuscripts looks like V.
Why H for chet? The letter H has the same place in the Latin alphabet as the letter chet does in Hebrew. The H sound of English is close enough to the "ch" sound of the word "Bach" to stand in for the letter chet.
Why T for teth? The letter teth originally looked like a cross surrounded by a circle. If you take away the circle, you have the lower case letter t in modern English. Sometimes when Christians draw the sign of the cross, they draw it shaped like the uppercase letter T. This establishes the correspondance between the modern letter T and the original Hebrew letter teth. And the TH/DH sound of the letter teth is related to the sound of the letter T. In Greek, teth became the letter theta, which does have the TH sound.
Why I for yod? I is in the same alphabet position as the letter yod. Usage of the letter I in the Latin derived languages shows that its usage and pronunciation were originally identical to that of the Hebrew letter yod. The use of I instead of Y is not confusing to people with some historical background, and provides a nice link to the Latin intermediary stage between the Hebrew and English alphabets.
Why C for kaf? If reversed, the letter C looks identical to the modern Hebrew letter for kaf. And C wasn't being used for anything else.
Why O for ayin? I know ayin is a voiced pharyngeal fricative with no accurate representation in English. But when I hear how modern Hebrew speakers pronounce it, it often sounds just like the "aw" sound in "father". The letter O is often associated in English with the "aw" sound, as opposed to the Latin languages which pronounce it as "owe". Also, the letter O is in the exact same spot in the alphabet as the letter ayin. Finally, the paleo-hebrew symbol for ayin looks identical to the letter O.
Why J for zayin? The letter J has a soft sound "zh" in
languages like French. For example,
ajourd'hui is pronounced
J'ete is pronounced
zhe-aytay. This frees
up the letter Z to represent the Hebrew letter tsade. But there is more!
The letter Zayin is in the same position as the letter G in Latin
alphabets. The letter G did not originally have the hard G sound of the
letter gimmel, but made a soft J sound. Even today some words retain the
original pronunciation of the G sounds. This is why the names Jerry and
Gerry sound the same.
Why Z for tzade? There are lots of Jews today who pronounce the "tsade" sound as a Z sound. Z is the closest letter in the alphabet to the tsade sound.
Why W for sin/shin? Because in paleo-hebrew inscriptions, the letter shin looks just like the letter W. In paleo-hebrew, there was no distinction between the letters sin and shin. Therefore, they are treated as the same letter. Also, the letter S was already taken by the Hebrew letter Samekh.
Why X for tav? Because in paleo-hebrew inscriptions, the letter tav looks like the letter X. And the letter T is already being used for the letter teth/theta.