[b-hebrew] GAGA Hebrew ?! (was Perception . . .)
randallbuth at gmail.com
Fri Jan 22 10:12:26 EST 2010
Extending the name from YitzHaq's GIGO Hebrew thread to "GAGA":
GAGA Hebrew ?! (was Perception . . .)
The 'perception' proposal in a recent thread seems to have missed
some fundamentals. The problem is/wasn't the Hebrews perception.
Nor does our perception have anything to do with it either. Nor
does our perception of their perception have anything to do with
the character of the language.
Does JamesC realize that his "no distinguished-vowel-perception
proposal" is a proposal for a ONE VOWEL language?
If the Hebrews did not differentiate any meanings based on vowel
sounds as they perceived them, then by definition they can be said
to have ONE VOWEL PHONEME. There is only one 'vocoid
sound-unit' in their system. And they wouldn't need to write it since
it wouldn't distinguish any meaning.
By definition they would not distinguish any word based on a 'vowel'.
I.e., no meaning would be distinguished by a vocoid sound
(continuant open-mouth, sound). In phonetic waves,
it would include any and every vowel sound to outsiders.
JamesC's Hebrews and Phoenicians would only have 22 syllables:
the 22 symbols of consonant+ unwritten vocoid continuant.
This would produce what could be transcribed as 'A, BA, GA, DA, ...
'AGA, BA-GA, GA-GA, DA-GA, etc.
(where the symbol 'A' would mean any continuant sound between
consonant sounds. Here, "A" does NOT refer to 'lower-tongue vocoids'.
And it does does refer to any particular continuant sound. Just to any
OK, enough already. I hope it's clear what a ONE-VOWEL language
This borders on being a non-human language.
Linguists would also view this as preposterous inside a language
family where older, genetically-tight sister languages have established
three-vowel systems. For a theoretical discussion of the possibility
of "one-vowel languages" see
"Logic and Philology: Incommensurability of Descriptions of One-Vowel
Systems" by Alexis Manaster Ramer and Belinda J. Bicknell
Journal of Linguistics, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Mar., 1995), pp. 149-156
Cambridge University Press
* Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4176302
That is why I am a little 'hard' on the Hebrew proposal.
It is NON-VIABLE.
Which is a polite way of saying that GAGA Hebrew is
wrong, not to be followed, not to be listed as a possibilty
So if the Hebrews understood a meaning difference between
[yashab], [yesheb], [yashob], and [yashub], if they perceived
those as four different words, or at least two different words,
then by definition the vowel sounds were
meaningful, and thus phonemic. Minimal pairs exist
by the multitude: sim, sam, "put!", "he put" (minimal pair on a vowel),
sam sham (minimal pair on a consonant that was underdifferentiated
by the Hebrews). [PS: minimal pairs are how linguists go about
establishing what the internal perceptions of language users are.]
This requires a conclusion that the Hebrew alphabet system was an
under-differentiated system that only wrote consonants, not vowels.
Underdifferentiation of various types is commonplace in writing systems.
(In fact underdifferentiation is a logical necessity of alphabets, but we
don't need to discuss this here.)
The good news:
We should credit the Hebrews and Phoenicians and Canaanites with
a brilliant invention. They revolutionized a horrible writing system that
had been known out west in Canaan.
Akkadian had a HORRIBLE writing system since
they built a mult-syllabic inventory of syllables in the hundreds.
They used extra syllable-signs for different vowels and for closed
syllables, too. (Yes, ancient Semitic languages had closed syllables
long before the Exile, but that is another thread.)
The Canaanite alphbets decided to write consonant-only and dropped
the vowels from the writing system.
Ugaritic partially paralleled this, though they did 'keep' a three-symbol
distinction for alef. Which incidently shows the three-vowel phonemic
status for that closely related language, as Spinti mentioned at the
beginning of the thread.
there is not much to add. The people of Ugarit (14-12c BCE) had
three vowels (meaningfully perceived sound-units) in their phonology
but only wrote consonants. the Phoenicians only wrote consonants,
the Hebrews only wrote consonants. the Aramaens only wrote
consonants, the Arabs only wrote consonants.
It was a brilliant revolution over the Akkadian syllabaries,
and has worked up to the present day, as long as we don't promote
or teach someone "GAGA Hebrew".
BRKT ('blessings' 'braxot')
Randall Buth, PhD
randallbuth at gmail.com
Biblical Language Center
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