wa, fa, and questions about pronunciation

Trevor Peterson spedrson at netzero.net
Wed Dec 20 13:33:56 EST 2000

Let me begin with a disclaimer, that I'm by no means an expert on these
issues, and I await the contributions of others more knowledgable.  But
since I'm a first-year student in a new program, I have to open my mouth
when I'd better remain silent.  So here goes . . .


> Arabic having these two separate conjunctions lead me to the idea that =
> Hebrew waw+patah+dagesh forte and waw+schwa might be two completely =
> semantically and etymologically distinct particles that just happen to =
> sound similar in Hebrew as a result of diachronic phonetic drift. When =
> checking Waltke and O'Connor I noticed that every hypothesis that they =
> quoted for the origin of the wa(y) particle stemmed from the assumption =
> that it was at one time the we particle. Instead of growing apart, is it =
> possible that they grew together?

Good question.  I've always heard it presented that they grew apart.  Just
this semester we were discussing the role of the Hebrew conjunction and
the different Arabic and Akkadian forms.  Doug Gropp, my Hebrew prof.,
concludes that, whereas the form of the conjunction makes the difference
between a sequential relationship and a non-sequential one in those two
languages, in Hebrew it is the order of constituents that makes the
determination.  In other words, the fact that a verb is initial in a
syndetic clause establishes a sequential relationship to its context, not
the form of the conjunction per se (which I suppose would be either
incidental or a product of the constituent order).  Of course, this is
essentially a synchronic explanation which considers the we- of the
weqatal form as more or less equivalent to the way- of the wayyiqtol form.
 I don't recall the diachronic issue coming up.
> This leads me to pose a number of questions around the early =
> pronunciations of the letter waw. Could the Ashkenazi pronunciation =
> (vav) be older and more authentic? Could there originally have been a =
> Hebrew vayyiqtol which would resemble the fayaqtulu of Arabic? Seeing as =
> Akkadian possesses a preterite prefix conjugation which differs only =
> from its durative prefix conjugration by a dagesh forte, could vayyiqtol =
> be a fa+preterite?

I'm not sure that I follow your argument, especially pertaining to the
Akkadian.  First of all, isn't it a bit misleading to speak of a "dagesh
forte" in Akkadian?  Cuneiform uses no such mark that I know of (and often
doesn't do anything to show doubled consonants in the writing).  But if we
convert your remark to speak of doubling as the significant issue, it
seems to me that we would be dealing with an incidental comparison.  You
might as well compare the doubled Piel to the Qal (since Akkadian also
uses different vowel patterning between the two conjugations), and suggest
that such a correlation is logical grounds for suspecting that the
doubling of the prefix (which is not what you have in the Akkadian
durative; rather, it's the doubling of a radical) in the wayyiqtol is
significant to the issue.
> My biggest question, other than asking for general support or rejection =
> of the idea from listmembers, is about the origin of the various =
> pronunciations of the waw grapheme. If v is the original sound, then it =
> is easy to see how f would become v, but then how would w come from from =
> f or v?

No idea.  I always assumed the pronunciation of waw as vav was a result of
Germanic influence.  It's just that--an assumption--but I haven't heard
any other explanation.  If there is one, I'd be interested.

Trevor Peterson

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