Assyrian Hebrew?

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Tue Aug 10 11:20:02 EDT 1999

Henry is of course right that this shift cannot be fully explained in 
a short E-mail. But it is interesting that this long A to O shift 
seems to occur rather regularly, including a second time in Hebrew. 
Thus we have the following changes in Hebrew:

2nd millennium BCE    long A becomes (long) O (holem)
1st millennium BCE ?  some short A's lengthened to long A
1st millennium CE ?   new long A becomes O in Ashkenazi pronunciation

A similar change has happened to the Arabic long A when borrowed into 
Farsi and Uzbek: Arabic SALAAM has become SALOM in both these 
languages (with the more open of the two O vowels in both languages; 
the Farsi vowel is sometimes transliterated as a long A but is 
generally pronounced more like O).

An analogous process happened in English in the 14th-17th century, 
when long A acquired a different sound quality from short A, but in 
this case the change was different, long A became more like an E 
sound. Thus for example the difference in sound between "fat" and 
"fate" was originally in length (at least after the final short E 
vowel was lost), but the long A in "fate", which is still reflected in 
the spelling, has come to be pronounced more like an E (though also as 
a diphthong).

Basically what is happening each time is that the distinction between 
long and short vowels tends to become lost and so to make the 
distinctions of meaning clear people start to pronounce the long 
vowels with a different quality. Often the long A moves backwards in 
the mouth and the short A moves forward (in English the long A moved 
upwards instead of backwards). The back A already sounds rather like 
an O and often acquires rounding (as that seems to come naturally with 
back vowels) and turns into a true O vowel, but low in the mouth, like 
the sound in English "law" or "all" (though that depends rather on 
your English accent). I would guess that the second vowel in SHALOM 
was originally pronounced rather like that but later moved higher in 
the mouth (more like the Spanish "o", French "eau"), especially when 
qamets also acquired an O sound in Ashkenazi pronunciation (and also 
in Sephardi pronunciation when short, qamets-hatuph).

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Re: Assyrian Hebrew?
Author:  gs02wmr at panther.Gsu.EDU at internet
Date:    08/08/1999 16:15

On Sat, 7 Aug 1999, Henry Churchyard wrote:
> Yes, the original, linguistically reconstructed, theoretical
> proto-Semitic form of the word for "peace" has a long a-vowel in the 
> second syllable (as in Arabic salaam), but the shift of the long
> a-vowel in this syllable to a long o-vowel has nothing whatever to do 
> with Assyrian influence.

Hmmm. I fully understand your explanation behind the evolution of the 
word, but I am still a bit confused as to why exactly the shift in word 
occured at all. Why wasn't the original rendition preserved? Why 
specifically did the Canannites alter this to what we have today? (ShalOm)

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