[b-hebrew] Re: Prov. 30:19

Trevor Peterson 06peterson at cua.edu
Wed Oct 8 05:05:15 EDT 2003

Karl wrote:

> How do you know that it is not Arabic from over a thousand 
> years later that split one root into two? Even with 
> post-Biblical Hebrew, we see that one letter, sin, was split 
> into two: sin and shin,

I think you're confusing the issue. If anything, Hebrew migrated away
from the dual pronunciation of s(h)in after the biblical period. The
tendency became stronger and stronger to write samekh instead of sin,
since that was the way it was pronounced. The conservative spelling of
the MT was probably the major factor that held sin in existence. The
fact that the Masoretes used a dot to clarify the pronunciation should
not be taken as an indication that a letter with one pronunciation
became divided. Rather, it was a preservation of the two phonetic values
represented by one letter.

> other letters had taken on two 
> pronunciations, and this happened before the earliest example 
> of Arabic.

If you're talking about the bgdkft consonants, this was a purely
phonetic shift. There was no change in meaning, and it was clearly
conditioned by purely phonetic factors. We can also determine its
chronological relation to other changes by noting that internal vowel
reductions could not yet have taken place. This is quite a bit different
from the scenario with s(h)in.

> So how is it not speculation to claim that Arabic 
> with its split should take precedence over Biblical Hebrew 
> which has no evidence of such a split? Remember, Biblical 
> Hebrew gives indications that it was phonetically written, so 
> the lack of letters indicates that these were sounds the 
> language lacked.

This is false. If you're going to assert that BH was phonetically
written, you had better have some solid evidence to back it up. What we
do know is that the same writing system was used for Phoenician,
Aramaic, Hebrew, and several other languages and dialects throughout the
region. Whenever a language uses a writing system that was not developed
for that language, the result is a certain lack of one-to-one
correspondence between the signs and the sounds. We can see plenty of
evidence of sounds that were lost in these languages over time, probably
in many cases due to the fact that the writing system could not hold
them all. This is a well-established progression.
> To me it appears pure speculation to claim that the forms of 
> one language should take precedence over the forms of a 
> cognate language from over a thousand years earlier, 
> especially when there is no other evidence for it, nor any 
> allowance made for how languages change over time.

It is not pure speculation. While I would freely admit that Arabic has
been over-used in comparative studies, it is still significant in many
cases. You can't just write it off as pure speculation.

Trevor Peterson

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