BH phonology finis, thoughts

Vincent DeCaen decaen at
Tue Sep 1 12:19:50 EDT 1998

it is interesting to note Al's reaction to my working paper while
simultaneously looking at Churchyard vs Goerwitz. because the answer
in both cases is to spot the *common* mistake: failure to appreciate
the phonetics vs phonology distinction in theory and method. there are
common questions too, for ex, both are vitally concerned with length
in the system. I think we are maybe reaching the end of this thread,
if so, here are some thoughts triggered by looking at various

1. graphically the Tiberian phonetic vowel-signs number 7 + schwa.
therefore the null hypothesis is a 7fold, quantity-insensitive
phonetic system. this is confirmed for the earliest sources, with
special attention on the purity in the distinctions tzere-seghol,
qametz-pathah. the burden of proof is on something else. I can't see
the burden being met. (maybe that's just my lack of imagination,
though I'm told have quite a one)

2. the sociology and motivation for "something else" is not generally
raised. surely, three sources, the last of which is never raised to my
knowledge. (1) confusion over vowel letters and relation to diacritic
system. (2) reconciling sefardic-type pronunciations (5-point) and
Tiberian (7-point). and (3) the strict relation in Aramaic: *a as
pathah and *aa as qametz, etc.

3. as to the common mistake which such divergent treatments as
Churchyard vs Goerwitz share. it seems to me the question is length.
we assume that there is an underlying system i, ii, a, aa, u, uu.
Goerwitz says with Kahn there is no reason to suspect the Tiberian
*phonetic* transcription marking length, therefore it's not present.
Churchyard and most sane people see length being required.

4. but as I was getting at, there are *two* separate questions. the
phonetics of Tiberian and non-Tiberian readings; and the phonological
analysis required to explain patterns and distributions. These two
questions are methodologically separate.

5. for instance, it is possible to have length in the underlying
phonological system but no length in the pronunciation. such
mismatches are possible. and once you get comfortable with the idea,
then you see the **many** analyses, some more interesting than others.

6. for instance, there is some motivation for i,a,u, but we're not
locked into such a straightjacket if Hebrew data suggests something
else. there is freedom to play with underlying representations, and
I've suggested one way to go.

7. underlying representations are theoretical constructs to account
for Hebrew data. methodologically, Hebrew data should project *back*
to an underlying system. what I'm complaining about is taking Arabic
or Akkadian representations as underlying, then projecting the Hebrew
data. there is no reason to assume Hebrew is Arabic with a bad accent.
this is a critical methodological question.

8. any interpretation of Tiberian phonetics can be shown to relate to
underlying phonology in some fashion: how could it not? most of
Churchyard's argumentation amounts to showing a connection between the
assumed underlying system and the Qimhian interpretation. well, yes,
but so what? it must follow, as night the day.

conclusion. the reason why scholars are talking past each other, and
why I think I will continue to be misunderstood, is that there are in
fact two separate questions. there is a great deal of room to *play*,
mixing and matching. my own project is to continue to play, till I
find something satisfying. what I am currently tickled with right now
is an underlying system /i/,/e/,/o/,/u/ that *has* length, paired with
the Tiberian length-insensitive phonetic transcription [i],[e],
seghol, [a], qametz, [o], [u]. I would claim that a streamlined
elegance is the result, capturing generalizations as required.

for what it's worth. maybe Goerwitz is right, I should jump into this
area and start publishing. but I don't see any great interest in this
area compared to syntax and semantics and discourse. there 're only so
many hours in the day. ;-)


Vincent DeCaen, Ph.D.		 	 	     <decaen at>
Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto

Hebrew Syntax Encoding Initiative
c/o Deparment of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations
4 Bancroft Ave., 2d floor,  University of Toronto,  Toronto ON,  M5S 1A1


All you need is positivity.	--Spice Girls

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