[b-hebrew] Why assume the Masoretes recorded spoken Hebrew?
VadimCherny at mail.ru
Wed Feb 9 04:12:30 EST 2005
Modern spoken Hebrew completely lost schwa and dagesh, certainly dagesh kal, in only a century since its reinstatement as living language. Is it plausible that schwa and dagesh persisted for millennia, to be heard by Masoretes? Hardly so.
No other language has general plosification of word-intitial fricative, or the fricative following closed syllable. The dagesh kal does not correspond to any existing phonological tradition.
So why Masoretes added schwa and dagesh? They did not write grammar, but faithfully recorded the synchronic phonetics. Could the actually "hear" schwa and dagesh?
For a possible answer, note that other masoretic marks are only used for singing. Why assume that schwa and dagesh were intended for speech? What if the Masoretes intended them only for cantillation, and Ben-Yehuda wrongly applied schwa and dagesh to spoken Hebrew?
The dagesh kal and schwa are clearly pronounced--exactly where the Masoretes put them--in singing. After phonological experiments with opera singers (special thanks to Irene Zarutzki), several facts became clear:
while post-tonic gemination occurs in speech, plosification (dagesh kal) and vocal schwa consistently occur only in laryngeal singing
since singing requires the consonants to be "coated" with vowels on both sides, schwa after closed syllable must be vocal
when two consonants occur in a row, stop must be made between them to clearly sing the second consonant (nata n.bakar; niz.kar). After-stop fricatives tend to be sung more like plosives.
Syllable-final consonants are softened, "fricativized." The resulting elongation of "fricativized" consonant turns into semi-vowel, making the vocal schwa.
Two plosives in a row are not pronounceable. This is why word-initial plosification is lost after b, k, l prepositions (boker - b(e)voker), but not after the sustained m preposition (m:boker).
I also tested the singing of the sophit letters. They are indeed sung differently from the medial counterparts, because their--and only their--amalgamation with subsequent word-initial consonant, especially with plosive, requires an epenthetic sound (mele kh(u)zadok). This effect, evident is singing, is only slightly perceptible in speech, suggesting that ancient language was more musical.
I presume throughout that Masoretes intended each mark for a single phenomenon. The dagesh (both hazak and kal) is a stop; gemination or plosification is straightforward phonological consequence of stop. All schwas were intended as vocal.
I would appreciate comments and discussion of this topic.
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