History of Northwest Semitic alphabet...

Henry Churchyard churchh at usa.net
Mon Nov 15 15:19:31 EST 1999

Did anyone read the article in Sunday's _New York Times_ on early
2nd. millennium B.C.E. "pre-proto-Sinaitic" inscriptions found in
central Egypt that throw a new light on the history of the
Northwest Semitic alphabet?

From the structural relationship between the 30-letter Ugaritic
alphabet and the 22-letter Phoenician alphabet, a number of
people (Blau, Albright, etc.) have postulated that the original
Northwest Semitic alphabet (or at least a very early one that is
the ancestor of both Ugaritic and Phoenician) contained 27 letters
(a distinct letter for all the proto-Semitic phonemes except the
fricative laterals) -- and I fully agree with this reconstruction
(see my Arabic siin/shiin paper).  However, the fragmentary 2nd.
millennium B.C.E. non-cuneiform alphabetic material hasn't really
been able to confirm this reconstruction in detail so far;
possibly, this might change with the new discoveries (though the
newspaper article says that the new inscriptions are mostly
undeciphered as yet).

By the way, have the proto-Sinaitic inscriptions really been
fairly well deciphered?  I remember looking though Albright's
book a number of years ago (not the most recent treatment, to be
sure), and thinking that not much was really 100% securely-
deciphered beyond LB`LT ("to the Lady").

Henry Churchyard   churchh at usa.net   http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/

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