[b-hebrew] Perception influenced the origin of the Hebrew alphabet?
jc.bhebrew at googlemail.com
Thu Jan 21 18:59:11 EST 2010
Firstly, we are talking here about perception. More specifically we are
talking about the perception of the inventors of the alphabet. Your use of
the word 'ancients' to include many different peoples with different
languages is far too broad and is not in the slightest indicative of what
the inventors of the Hebrew alphabet perceived.
I am more than sure that if somebody sat down with the inventors of the
Hebrew alphabet and said but surely you can hear the difference between ba,
bi and bu and accentuated those differences their perception of these
differences would be tuned. As you mention the 3 Alephs in Ugaritic show
that one group certainly perceived the difference (at least with Aleph as
the lead consonant) and felt the need to improve the alphabet.
The same can be said of the moderns. Train a Japanese man to hear the
difference between r and l sounds and he will eventually get it. Sit down
with an English man and point out the difference between the 'th' sound of
'the' and of 'thought' and his perception of the difference will be better
tuned. Ironically, even though we have to point this difference out to many
people if we were to pronounced either 'the' or 'thought' with the wrong
'th' sound they would perceive the pronunciation to be wrong without any
formal training. This suggest an active perception and a passive perception.
This example is not perhaps the best because in this case it is the alphabet
which has influenced the perception rather than the perception formulating
the alphabet but still...
We can extend this principle to the Hebrews. I have no doubt that if someone
pronounced a ba instead of a bi the quirky pronunciation would be perceived.
However, their active perception evidently didn't perceive a large enough
difference to warrant the invention of a new symbol. This situation was not
rectified until the advent of the Tiberian pointing system.
2010/1/21 James Spinti <JSpinti at eisenbrauns.com>
> Then what of the Ugaritic alphabet, with the 3 'Alephs, one for each
> primary vowel sound? And, does that mean that the Akkadian scribe was
> likewise unable to distinguish vowels and consonants; you have
> ba/bi/pa/pi occurring as allophones of the same symbol. But, since the
> cuneiform system was taken over by the Hittites, with an Indo-European
> language, then we can say that the ancients didn't know the difference
> between vowels and consonants?
> Sorry, way too simplistic and far too many holes. The current theories
> may have some holes, but they are much better at explaining all the
> changes that occur over time. Language change generally follows very
> strict rules (of course, there are exceptions, but they can usually be
> Expand your data to include more ancient languages, such as Hittite,
> Sumerian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, etc. Granted most of those are cuneiform
> and therefore syllabic, but how they make their languages work with the
> existing signs could be very illuminating. For example, Hittite using CV
> and CVC signs and still managing to get consonant clusters consisting of
> 3 consonants!
> Or, am I misunderstanding what you are trying to say?
> James Spinti
> Marketing Director, Book Sales Division
> Eisenbrauns, Good books for more than 30 years
> Specializing in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical Studies
> jspinti at eisenbrauns dot com
> Web: http://www.eisenbrauns.com
> Phone: 574-269-2011 ext 226
> Fax: 574-269-6788
> -----Original Message-----
> From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
> [mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of James Christian
> Sent: Thursday, January 21, 2010 10:39 AM
> To: b-hebrew
> Subject: [b-hebrew] Perception influenced the origin of the Hebrew
> Hi all,
> I wanted to present the following idea to you. Before I start I should
> perhaps mention that I have an MSc distinction in Human Language
> (amongst other computationally linguistic MSc's, MA's) and a large part
> my formal training was in that of speech recognition and speech
> Another thing that readers of this theory should know about me is that
> despite my extensive academic background I try to avoid getting bogged
> with academic terminology as it often serves only to confuse the
> of the concepts being presented.
> Before getting on with presenting to you my theory about how perception
> influenced the origin of the Hebrew alphabet I will make a few
> about various alphabets and their shortcomings. We can largely divide
> writing systems into categories such as logographic (pictures
> concepts) and phonetic (symbols represent perceived sounds). Those of
> who are hard core academics please don't get hung up on the official
> difference between terms like phonetic and phonemic. It will only
> you from seeing the simplicity of the concepts being presented. So,
> call alphabets pictoral and sound alphabets instead to prevent any
> unnecessary confusion. It is evident that all sound alphabets are
> That is to say that we can find symbols which can represent a variety of
> perceivable sounds and in various points in history alphabets have been
> revised. No doubt, one of the best attempts to make an unambiguous sound
> alphabet is that of the IPA (call it phonetic, call it phonemic, call it
> whatever you like if it helps you to follow the theory being presented).
> However, when we open up a file like a .wav and take a look at the
> signal things start to get a little bit more objective and we start to
> that there even the IPA leaves a lot to be desired. Symbols from the IPA
> align onto a variety of wave patterns. The main differences are in the
> beginning and end of the wave pattern as they depend on which sound
> and which sound follows. It is for this reason that speech recognition
> systems that use a sliding window and n-phones rather than phones as the
> unit of recognition are more successful.
> This brings us into the area of psycholinguistics and of that of
> What gives rise to ambiguity in attempts to form even the most
> of alphabets such as the IPA is the fact that we are limited by our
> perception when we invent such an alphabet. In the same way every people
> that ever invented an alphabet was also limited by their own perception.
> so it is evident that when we look at phonetic/phonemic alphabets (call
> what you like. it is irrelevant to the simplicity of what I am
> we can gain insight into the perception of the inventors of that
> That is to say that it is evident that the inventors of the latin and
> alphabets made perceptual distinctions between vowel sounds. It is also
> evident that the inventors of the Tiberian vowel pointing made
> distinctions (even if they may not be the same ones).
> So what can we say about the perception of the inventors of the Hebrew
> alphabet? Can we say that they could only hear consonants? Evidently
> could also hear vowels passively as this information helped them to
> potential ambiguities in speech signals. But could they hear them
> That is to say, did they perceive them as distinct enough sounds to
> them in their alphabet? Evidently they didn't? They perceived only
> (a higher level compared to consonants and vowels) and therefore used a
> of (to us) ambiguous symbols for their alphabet. That is to say that Ba,
> Bu were all perceived as the same syllable by the inventors of the
> and thus all these 'allosyllables' were represented by the same symbol
> The implications of this seem to strongly suggest that the state of the
> language of the inventors of the Hebrew alphabet was predominantly (if
> entirely) of CV structure.
> James Christian
> b-hebrew mailing list
> b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> b-hebrew mailing list
> b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
More information about the b-hebrew