[b-hebrew] Hebrew with Aramaic, Phoenician etc in scholarly publications

Peter Kirk peter.r.kirk at ntlworld.com
Wed Jul 16 14:18:39 EDT 2003

On 16/07/2003 10:34, Trevor Peterson wrote:

>>===== Original Message From Peter Kirk <peter.r.kirk at ntlworld.com> =====
>>I disagree.
>I know you do. We've been through this before.
>>It can be very useful to our understanding of Hebrew to see
>>its relation with cognate languages, where loan words come from etc.
>Yes, it can. I'm not disagreeing with that. How are you going to see, though, 
>if you can't read the relevant texts?
>>recent discussion on this list of the background of SARIS would have
>>been impossible, for me and for most of us on the list, if the related
>>Akkadian forms had been given in KB/HALOT etc in cuneiform - even if
>>this list could handle cuneiform.
>Honestly, I lost interest somewhere along the way, so I just went back and 
>read the whole thread. My first reaction is that the discussion had a lot to 
>do with citing authorities and not much real knowledge of the languages 
>involved. I think, from your last remarks on the issue, that you at least 
>might realize that a proto-Semitic shin pretty much remains a shin. What I 
>don't think anyone brought up is that shin seems to have been pronounced 
>differently in Assyrian and Babylonian (two Akkadian dialects). At any rate, 
>it is standard scholarly practice to assume that where an Akkadian shin comes 
>across into Hebrew or Aramaic as a samekh it was loaned from Assyrian (and 
>where it remains a shin, it was loaned from Babylonian). This is a completely 
>different issue from the fate of PS sin, which is marked by the Masoretes and 
>preserved (although no longer pronounced) with a distinctive sign in Ethiopic 
>but otherwise lost almost universally. The Shibboleth incident probably points 
>to a situation where some dialects preserved the original sound, while it had 
>merged with samekh in others.
Thanks, Trevor. I realised that we hadn't got to the bottom of this 
issue, but we had got in as deep as I could and probably deeper than 
others could. I hope at least they realised in the end that they were 
out of their depth.

>Anyway, what I wanted to say was that HALOT or TWOT says what it says, and you 
>can assemble an arsenal of scholarly sources that all agree on a point, but 
>evaluating their arguments without any real knowledge of the languages 
>involved is impossible. Most of the same arguments could have been made if you 
>had simply said, "HALOT says this is an Akkadian loan," regardless of what the 
>Akkadian word looks like. And maybe you'd have a little more information to 
>work with if you also knew that HALOT thinks the Akkadian word in question is 
>really two words, but even that doesn't require reading the actual word. And I 
>notice that the Akkadian was transliterated in some of the cited sources with 
>s and in some with shin, but maybe that was just sloppiness in someone's 
>reproduction. In any event, it's worth asking how you get from Akkadian shin 
>to Hebrew samekh, and that quesiton was asked, but I don't think anyone came 
>up with the answer. Maybe it's also relevant (I doubt it in this case, but how 
>would you know?) that cuneiform tends not to distinguish very well between 
>sibilants. ...
Just like Latin script in e-mails!

>... You would probably never get that from looking at a transliterated 
>citation, though.
>In short, I'm not questioning whether the comparative evidence in HALOT has 
>any value to those who don't know the other Semitic languages--just how much 
>value it has for being written in Latin characters. Lexica cite a lot of 
>comparative arguments that might not really hold much water. But aside from 
>comparing them with each other to see if they disagree, there's not much you 
>can do to attack the question without knowing the languages they're citing. 
>And anyone can compare two lexica and see whether they're citing the same 
>evidence, even if it's in a script you don't know. ...
Not really. If I see slightly different shapes, numbers of dots etc in a 
script I don't know, I don't know if these are meaningful differences or 
glyph variations.

>... A transcription might make 
>you feel better, but it doesn't really provide that much useful information. 
>It shows you enough to get the idea of what the lexicographer thinks makes the 
>case reasonable. It will never show you enough to judge for yourself whether 
>the lexicographer is right or not.
>I'm not trying to be elitist, just realistic about how much can be 
>accomplished without doing the real work of learning a language. I think you 
>brought up a good example of what people who don't know Akkadian can do with 
>Akkadian citations in a Hebrew lexicon. I also think it's a good example of 
>what they can't do, and frankly, I don't see where having the evidence in 
>transliteration makes a difference.
Trevor, I think you are failing to appreciate properly the field of 
comparative linguistics. If so, you are not alone, because it is not a 
fashionable field. But non-specialist students can learn a lot about 
languages and their relationships, and thence about history and other 
fields as well, from the kinds of comparative tables of the same word in 
different languages, all in Latin script, which are found in books like 
"Comparative Semitic Linguistics" by Patrick Bennett. Even if these 
students did know all of the different original scripts involved, using 
them in the tables would obscure the evidence because parallels between 
different languages in the same script would be less visible. Those who 
master this material (not me, I have only skimmed it) will know enough 
about the various languages to make intelligent use of citations in 
dictionaries etc, but only if it is in a script they know.

>Trevor Peterson
Peter Kirk
peter.r.kirk at ntlworld.com

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