[b-hebrew] linguistics, was Re: Prov. 30:19

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Thu Oct 9 17:56:57 EDT 2003

On 09/10/2003 11:17, Karl Randolph wrote:

> ...
>Just that you don’t know of any such observation merely means that you don’t know of any such observation, not that it didn’t happen. ...
True. But if you want to hypothesise a unique, or otherwise unattested, 
phenomenon, you need to offer some good evidence. And I have yet to see 
any evidence in favour of your theory, just a rejection of the 
(admittedly not always unambiguous) evidence that I have mentioned, 
balanced only by your "I think".

> ...
>As I read your response, you claim that scholarly reconstruction equals evidence. What if the scholarly reconstruction is wrong? How would we know? What is their evidence?
>As for the evidence of the German pronunciation change, it is from written documents and place names. For example, Stratteburg became Straßburg over a period of time (before it got its modern, French spelling). That’s just one of many examples. Because German spelling remained fluid until relatively modern times, pronunciation changes such as these could be mapped, so what do you mean “there is equally "no evidence"”? 
And I could quote similar evidence for different spellings of place 
names in and around the land of Israel, and other written documents 
going back hundreds of years before biblical Hebrew, including Ugaritic, 
Egyptian, Akkadian, Eblaite etc, as well as early inscriptional Hebrew, 
Phoenician, Moabite (e.g. the text I just sent you), Aramaic etc etc, 
quite apart from later evidence such as Greek, Arabic and Ethiopic. This 
adds up to a huge body of evidence from which scholars have 
reconstructed rules of phonetic change in just the same way that they 
have reconstructed the German rule which you quote. All this adds up to 
a strong body of evidence that Hebrew sin was pronounced as a lateral 
fricative, like a voiceless l, as still in the modern Semitic language 

>For me, the strongest evidence for Biblical Hebrew is precisely the surviving, unpointed, written documents. I think ...
Think what you like, but the evidence does not support your speculation.

>... the points, particularly in bgdkpt and sin/shin, represent a later development of the language from a period after when Hebrew was no longer spoken in the home and on the street, but was the language of religion and high literature.
> ...
>When an alphabet is adopted from one language to another, the examples I have seen indicate that it is rare that the alphabet is adopted unchanged. ...
Well, I have seen evidence of lots of different Semitic languages 
written with precisely the same set of 22 letters. So that is plenty of 
counter-examples to your alleged rule, which may apply to modern Western 
scripts but not to ancient Near Eastern ones. It seems highly improbable 
that all ancient Semitic languages had precisely the same set of 
consonant phonemes, indeed it is easily proven that they did not.

>Looking back at the history of Scandinavian languages, it seems we can chart additions of phonemes over the last 1200 years. When my ancestors burst out of the cold north to terrorize England, Ireland and France, they were literate, using a 16 letter phonetic ...
What is your evidence that it was phonetic? It seems highly unlikely. I 
don't think any known modern language has as few as 16 phonemes.

>... alphabet called “Futhork”, commonly called runes. These 16 letters represented the 16 phonemes in use at that time, though it is possible that it did not represent all the phones the people spoke. Over time, dots and other marks were added to various glyphs to indicate phones, later phonemes, that were not represented by the 16 glyphs. Some of the original phonemes split apart, such as the ‘k’ to ‘g’ and ‘k’, the ‘a’ to ‘a’ and ‘æ’, and so forth. ...
I don't have the evidence to prove it, but I am almost sure that the 
reconstruction of Indo-European phonology, part of which you quoted to 
me, will indicate that these dots and other marks were added to indicate 
distinctions which were already in the language but had been 
underspecified in the written language. Just like the Hebrew sin and 
shin dots.

>... And today, I wonder if the addition of ‘j’ after ‘g’, ‘k’, ‘s’ and ‘t’ in Norwegian represents a modern bifurcation of previous phonemes.
You can wonder, or you can look at the evidence. I don't know much 
Norwegian, but I understand that after words like skirt and skip (also 
skiff), which I mentioned before, were borrowed from Norwegian into 
English, the Norwegian pronunciation changed so that Norwegian skip is 
now pronounced like English (from west Germanic) ship. Before some 
vowels a j sound is added to indicate this pronunciation. Unless you can 
provide evidence to the contrary, I will expect that this is a regular 
case of phonetic change conditioned by the environment.

>Therefore, if Biblical Hebrew was phonetically written, which I believe the evidence indicates, ...
What evidence? There is none, only an a priori assumption which can be 
demonstrated to be improbable both from the general history of the 
alphabet and from a look at Hebrew phonology.

>... the 22 letters represent the consonental phonemes they had. There was nothing to prevent the ancient Hebrews from adding letters if the alphabet did not cover all their consonental phonemes. That they did not do so indicates that they did not need to.
No, it does not. For a simple counter-example, look at English and many 
other western languages which have not added any vowel letters to the 
inherited Latin alphabet to cover all their vowel phonemes etc.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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