Volatilization (vowel reduction) and Hebrew origins?

Shai Heijmans shaih at post.tau.ac.il
Wed Jul 10 19:11:41 EDT 2002

Dear Joshua,

Here a a few comments.

> One place where I have seen where volatilization does not *seem* to apply
> (but I could be ignorant in this assessment) is in prefixed theophoric
> elements. I could be missing key information here, but it appears that
> prefixed theophoric names in Akkadian like Iauhaz[i] for Hebrew Yehô’âchâz
> and from the Murašu texts the handful or so names prefixed with "Yahu-"
> indicate that the original vowels are retained and not reduced. 

1. The prefix yeho- is considered to be a result of a (very late) phonological development *yau- >  yeho-. Presumably, this change occurred after the end of BH as a spoken language. See Beer's article in ZAW 1914 and Bergstrasser, paragraphs 16c, 30m. Therefore, it cannot serve as evidence regarding vowel reduction.

> Similarly
> (but probably not the best examples) see Judg 8:33 MT habe‘âlîm LXX baalim;
> 1Ch 12:6 MT ûbhe‘alyâh LXX baalia. I could be misinterpreting the evidence,
> but it appears possible.

2. Transliterations cannot serve as evidence, either, for two reasons. One, Neither Greek nor Latin posses a shwa mobile, so it is expected to be transliterated in the form of a vowel or a null (see, e.g., Bronno, Studen..., p. 318ff, regarding the hexapla). Two, it is not sure which pronunciation tradition served as a basis for the translators.

> Another example that could possibly advocate the lack of volatilization is
> found in the Samaritan Hebrew dialect; it is noted that in the Samaritan
> Hebrew tradition there might not have originally been a shewa ("A Grammar of
> Samaritan Hebrew" by Ze’ev ben-Hayyim, p. 333; Ben-Hayyim notes there is
> disagreement whether this is an expression of an ancient form of Hebrew or a
> development in the Samaritan dialect, p. 53f; "A History of the Hebrew
> Language" by Saenz-Badillos notes this also on p. 153).

3. As for samaritan hebrew, you must bare in mind, that the samaritans have parted from the jews some thousand years before the tiberians have vocalised the MT, and have since replaced their mother tongue twice: into aramaic and from aramaic into arabic. It is very hazardous to draw conclusions form this dialect regarding the vowels.

> Does anyone know of any books or Journal articles
> that deal with this issue? Also, what books and articles are suggested in
> comparing the differing vocalization systems presented by the Yemenites,
> Babylonian, and Palestinian systems?

4. The issue of vowel reduction is one of the most complicated in hebrew vocalisation, and huge amount of paper has been written regarding this subject. I would suggest you start by reading thoroughly paragraph 21 in Bergstrasser's book. I know of very few who done it and lived to tell the tale.

5. As for the vocalisations system of hebrew, you might want to refer to Morags article in Encyclopedia Judaica (I think it is called "Pronunciation of Hebrew", under the letter P). The best books are: for the yementes - Sh. Morag, Ha'ivrit shebefi yehudei teiman, Jerusalem, 1959; for the babylonians - I. Yeivin, Masoret halashon ha'ivrit hamishtaqefet banikud habavli, Jerusalem, 1980. The palestinian pronunciation has been studied mainly by Revell, I imagine a you could find the references at the end of Morag's article in EJ.

Shai Heijmans
Tel Aviv Univeristy

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list