Henry Churchyard churchh at
Sat Sep 30 13:13:23 EDT 2000

> Subject: Re: shtayim
> From: "Dave Washburn" <dwashbur at>
> Date: Wed, 27 Sep 2000 12:40:36 -0700

> Henry, Thanks for the info on the orthographic situation of this
> word.

Orthographic _and_ phonological  ;-)

> Do you have any historical insights on why it was pronounced that
> way in the first place?

That's the forward-looking question of why A in a language at a
certain time developed into B at a later time, instead of developing
into C -- which is generally very difficult to answer.

However, Hoberman points out that in early Semitic, the stem of "two"
was one of the few, along with the stems of "name" and "son", which
did not originally have a stem-internal vowel (i.e. _thn_, _sm_,
_bn_); this is seen in Arabic, and from the fact that it was precisely
the roots "two" and "son" in which _n_ became _r_ in Aramaic, etc.  So
in Hebrew the feminine form _shintay(m)_ or _shittay(m)_ could have
been changed to _shtay(m)_ in order to more closely parallel the
masculine form _shnay(m)_.  Also, Bravmann points out that in a [sh]
sound, the tongue is basically in the same position as an [i] vowel,
which could have led to the _sh_ sound phonetically swallowing up the
_i_ vowel of _shittay(m)_ to some degree (though I think the analogy
would have been the main factor).  All this helps to explain the
disappearance of the original extra syllable in _shintay(m)_ /
_shittay(m)_, but the deletion of the vowel and final consonant of
this syllable must have taken place many hundreds of years before the
Masoretic period, so that such factors don't really explain why
_shtayim_ persisted as an anomaly all the way down into Tiberian
(ca. ninth century A.D.), rather than being regularized into
[sh at thayim], say.  Here what's most relevant is that in many languages
sibilants tend to have a privileged position in syllable structure
(this most often applies to plain [s], but sometimes also to other
sibilants such as [z], [sh] etc.).  So in English, the only clusters
of three consonants which can begin a word are those in which the
first consonant is [s] (spl-, spr-, spy-, str-, skr-, sky-, skw-,
skl-, and in British also sty-); the only clusters of two consonants
in which the second consonant is not [l], [r], [w], or [y] that can
begin a syllable are those in which the first consonant is [s]; and
syllable-finally no other consonant other than [s] shows distributions
like those in "wasps", "asks", etc.  So cross-linguistically, it's not
at all rare for "s"+stop combinations to have distributions similar to
that of a single consonant in syllable structure.  (Also, in Old
English poetry, normally only the initial consonant of each word is
relevant for alliteration, but in the case of words beginning with an
"s"+stop cluster, both consonants are relevant for alliteration.)
This broad cross-linguistic tendency giving special status to
sibilants -- and especially sibilant+stop clusters -- in
syllabification was probably the factor that preserved _shtayim_ as an
anomaly long enough to eventually be written down in the Tiberian

Henry Churchyard   churchh at

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