Pointing and canonical authority

Henry Churchyard churchh at usa.net
Mon Oct 30 10:33:33 EST 2000

[Was going to reply to this thread, but lost track of the file on my
hard drive where I had put Peter's message, and then forgot about it
for a while...]

> Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2000 17:57:46 +0500
> From: "Peter Kirk" <Peter_Kirk at sil.org>
> Subject: Deut. 4:26: Pointing and canonical authority

> You two may agree that "no canonical authority is invested in the
> pointing", but I'm not sure that I agree with you.  [...]
> evangelicals usually consider the canonical text to be that "as
> originally given".  It's hard to define that properly for the Hebrew

> Bible.  But the pointing, although it was not written down at first,
> is very probably derived from an unbroken tradition of pronunciation
> going back to the authors.  (It was certainly not "added by the
> Masoretes" in the sense that they invented it; they just wrote down
> what they heard.)  Therefore the pointing is a witness to the
> meaning intended by the authors, and to this extent it surely has
> canonical authority, perhaps even as much as the consonantal text.
> There is of course a separate issue of the reliability of
> transmission.  Very probably the consonantal text has been
> transmitted to us more reliably than the other aspects of the
> pronunciation tradition, as now witnessed in the pointing.  So for
> this reason we are justified in emending the pointing more freely
> than the consonantal text.  But this is not a matter of difference
> in authority

The question of the authenticity of the pointing is a slightly complex
one.  I have no doubt that in the vast majority of cases the pointing
is "authentic" in the sense that even if not always ultimately the
correct reading, it does reflect an actual persisting tradition (as
opposed to Kahle's speculations about artificial self-conscious
Masoretic innovations).  However, there are some features of the
pointing which reflect a phonological situation which did not yet
exist at any time we would call "Biblical".  For example, the
segholate nouns -- here external transcriptions into other languages
abundantly reveal that while epenthesis in the unsuffixed forms of
certain CVCC-stem nouns (where the third consonant has much more
phonological sonority than the second consonant) may be somewhat old,
the phonological change which made epenthesis occur in the unsuffixed
forms of _all_ such nouns (regardless of the sonority relationship
between the second and third consonants) is very late, only occurring
in the A.D. period, and probably not in the first few centuries of the
A.D. period either.

This doesn't mean that I regard the change of the spread of segholate
epenthesis from a few CVCC-stem nouns to all such nouns as being in
any way linguistically unnatural, or "artificial" in the sense of
Kahle -- on the contrary, this is a very natural linguistic change,
which can be explained within Ito's 1986 phonological theory as simply
resulting from the change of one binary phonological parameter
("Word-level Extrasyllabic Licensing"), as explained in chapter 4 of
my dissertation.  However, the fact remains that when you pronounce
a segholate noun's epenthetic vowel, in the majority of cases you're
using a pronunciation that probably would have been unknown to anybody
at any time that anybody would call "Biblical"...

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

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