The holy day of [??]

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From Elijah Granet:

In Trump’s recent remarks on the Squirrel Hill synagogue shooting, he (at ~1:12 in the linked video) refers to the shooting taking place “on the holy day of Sabbath”, pronouncing “Sabbath” in a bizarre way, with the vowels completely off. My best guess—and a few people on Twitter seem to agree— is that the teleprompter actually said “Shabbat”, but Trump was unsure how to pronounce it, and ended up saying “Sabbath”. Still, it seems a bit strange since Shabbat is not a particularly hard word to read phonetically, and given that Trump’s daughter and son-in-law are shomer shabbos, one would think he had heard the word before. It’s equally possible that Trump didn’t know the word “Sabbath” and was trying to give it a “Jewish” pronunciation, and thus over-corrected.

The audio for the phrase "on the holy day of Sabbath":

And just the pronunciation of "Sabbath":

The video version

This is one of those cases where I'm not sure that vowel qualities are well captured by formant measurements and the IPA vowel chart, but the floor is open for suggestions.


  1. GeorgeW said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 6:57 am

    Shot for 'shabbat' and hit 'sabbath' with mixed results. I suspect.

  2. SMK said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 6:58 am

    I think, I hear him say "..Shάbuth"

  3. Yerushalmi said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 7:12 am

    He's basically using the vowels in "shabbos" (well, close to) and transposing them into the consonants of "Sabbath". What's probably happening is that he's used to hearing "shomer shabbos" in his personal life, had that word in mind, but kind of merged it with the "Sabbath" that the speechwriter used.

    [(myl) A persuasive analysis, which should have occurred to me. But this is a kind of speech error — merging the consonant stream from one word and the vowel stream from another — that I haven't heard (or heard of) before. I wonder whether it's more common among speakers of languages with non-concatenative morphology.]

  4. AntC said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 7:36 am

    Would it have been too disrespectful to Anglicise as "on the holy day of the Sabbath"?

    Why was the speechwriter making so much of a stretch?

    I find it implausible Trump doesn't know the word 'Sabbath'.

    (Also: I know these remarks were just before a rally speech, but I found the cheering and whooping from the crowd highly inappropriate. I would expect restrained applause, murmurs of respect and condolence.)

  5. John Shutt said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 7:48 am

    He also had to do a retake on the vowels in the preceding word "holy". Maybe his tongue was numb.

  6. Thitherflit said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 8:35 am

    Maybe he compared it with the word "Sabaoth"?

    Maybe I'm too generous…

  7. Levantine said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 8:42 am

    John Shutt, I also thought he was saying “holy” twice, but it’s actually “on the holy”.

  8. Charles in Toronto said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 8:43 am

    AntC: While I'm sure many Jews do say Sabbath in English, especially while talking to non-Jews… from my own Jewish-Canadian perspective I've always felt that when non-Jews use the Christian words for Jewish things, it just ever-so-slightly erases the Jewishness of the words. So on an occasion like this it seems particularly important to call it Shabbat in a speech and not "The Sabbath".

  9. John Shutt said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 9:27 am

    Levantine: Oh. (At least I'm not the only one who had to do a double-take on that.)

  10. Chris Henrich said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 12:32 pm

    To me the most striking aspect of the video was that he was obviously reading from a teleprompter — and having a hard time doing it. It makes me wonder if he has struggled all his life with dyslexia. This might explain much. The thought actually raises my regard for him, just a bit.

  11. David Eddyshaw said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 1:51 pm

    "But this is a kind of speech error — merging the consonant stream from one word and the vowel stream from another — that I haven't heard (or heard of) before."


  12. Brett said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 7:49 pm

    My immediate reaction was that Yerushalmi's explanation was right. I have occasionally heard things like this before, especially with cognate words that exist in both Hebrew and English, but with slightly different pronunciations. While speaking English but talking about topics related to Judaism, one can get confused about which pronunciation to use—resulting in a hybrid. One example that comes up not too infrequently is pronouncing "Rebecca" as "re-VEK-ah," influenced by Modern Hebrew "Rivkah."

  13. Andrew Usher said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 10:12 pm

    The phrasing 'the holy day of (the) Sabbath' seems redundant and unidiomatic. Just 'the Sabbath' is normal, whether referring to the Jewish or Christian variety. I believe it is the same with Shabbat/Shabbos.

    Indeed the likely explanation (besides a simple mental malfunction) is his seeing 'Shabbat' while already thinking 'Sabbath' – the oddity is why he didn't correct himself after this obvious failure. I reckon Trump simply doesn't correct himself; I've never heard him do so in contrast to other presidents.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  14. J Silk said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 2:24 am

    @David Eddyshaw
    it's an example (in this understanding) of what is called in Hebrew ktiv (what's written in the text) and qre (what you actually read out). This is what you find in BHS for instance in the margin, since the textus receptus cannot be touched (this seems incidentally to be the reason that there is still no critical edition of the Hebrew bible which dares to actually emend the text of the MT…

  15. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 6:45 am

    I'm not sure if there's a straightforward and accurate "spelling pronunciation" of Shabbat out there, not least because it seems to exist in both first-syllable-stress and final-syllable-stress variants, with some tendency for the vowel in the unstressed syllable to be reduced. And of course over the course of his lifetime in and around NYC the president has no doubt encountered "Shabbos/Shabbes" as well as Shabbat. I pronounce Shabbos/Shabbes with something very close to the same stress pattern and vowels with which I pronounce Sabbath. This site gives more or less that pronunciation (modulo the final consonant) as the "British" pronunciation for "Shabbat," while changing the stress pattern and thus the vowels for the "American" pronunciation.

  16. Rodger C said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 6:47 am

    @Chris Henrich: I used to wonder if GWB had some neurological fluency problem, and that ridicule as a child might have influenced his strutting personality. Can anyone confirm/deny this?

    @Brett: And on top of that, many of us hesitate between Ashkenazic and Sephardic/Israeli pronunciations.

  17. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 9:25 am

    I should perhaps clarify that on further introspection I think I pronounce Shabbos/Shabbes with my LOT/PALM vowel in the first stressed syllable when I am focused on the word and articulating carefully, but it may slide over into my TRAP/BATH vowel in rapid/inattentive speech. The president's insertion of what I guess is his LOT/PALM vowel into "Sabbath" in lieu of his TRAP/BATH vowel goes the opposite direction, and thus isn't something I would expect to do, although I can't say there's no variety of English where that would be plausible.

  18. Philip Taylor said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 9:56 am

    JWB : Somewhat confused. Should I infer from your immediately preceding contribution that for you, LOT and PALM merge, as do TRAP and BATH ? For me (British), PALM and BATH merge, LOT and TRAP are distinct from each other and also from PALM/BATH.

  19. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 10:14 am

    @Philip T.: yes, like the vast majority of American speakers (Canadian as well) I have the TRAP/BATH merger and also the LOT/PALM (alias father-bother) merger. I suppose it follows from that that I have a PALM/BATH split. I have tried to minimize the amount of time I listen to the president speaking, so I will defer to others with a stronger research interest to assess how the presidential vowels may differ from a generic/default General American accent.

  20. mg said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

    @Brett – "Rivka" isn't modern Hebrew; it's the Biblical Hebrew name that is translated into English as Rebecca.

  21. dainichi said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 10:31 pm

    > the vowels completely off

    As for the first vowel, isn't this just the usual AmE TRAP – LOT confusion with 'a's in foreign-looking words, such as "Nevada" and "Colorado"? I think it's possible that Trump usually pronounces it with TRAP, but in the last moment he thought LOT might be more correct, and so overcorrected.

    As for the second vowel, what's wrong with it? That it sounds less like a schwa and more like an [o] or something? How do people usually pronounce the second vowel of "Shabbos"?

  22. Rodger C said,

    October 30, 2018 @ 7:03 am

    the LOT/PALM (alias father-bother) merger

    I think we've been here before, but I pronounce "father" and "bother" as exact rhymes but have different vowels in "lot" and "palm."

  23. dainichi said,

    October 30, 2018 @ 1:26 pm

    Then you must have a father-palm split and/or a lot-bother split.

  24. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 30, 2018 @ 1:35 pm

    dainichi: In my youth, when I heard "shabbos" much more often than I do now, I generally heard the second vowel as a schwa. (But IANAL.)

  25. Andrew Usher said,

    November 1, 2018 @ 6:42 pm

    But Trump I hear as using something in the FOOT/GOOSE area as the second vowel. I'm pretty sure that doesn't match any pronunciation of Shabbos, Shabbat, or Sabbath.

    dainichi: He presumably, as with many Americans, says the word 'palm' with THOUGHT (this variant normally has non-silent L). The lexical set PALM remains =LOT.

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