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

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Fri Oct 10 18:47:13 EDT 2003


Dear Peter:

I think I recognize where our differences lie: it is philosophic with linguistic overtones, and not linguistic per se.

>From your responses I get the impression that you hold the present to be the key to the past. That is a very common belief, and it is the basis for many of the conclusions even of great scholars. When you question the historical evidence that early Viking Scandinavian had only 16 phonemes because no modern language has that few, that is indicative of that philosophical presupposition. Many, if not most or possibly even all, of the unnamed scholars you allude to, share(d) this philosophical presupposition, that the present is the key to the past.

However, is this the way to do historical research? Or should we start with evidence as it stands and evaluate it according to its own situation? After all, in trying to reconstruct Biblical Hebrew, we are dealing with a historical question: just how did the Hebrew language develop? Did Semitic languages always have the number of phonemes and roots as indicated by modern Arabic and other modern Semitic languages, obscured in ancient Hebrew by an ill fitting 22 character alphabet, or was the 22 character alphabet evidence of the original number of phonemes in ancient Semitic languages, some of which phonemes later split into two or more daughter phonemes, just as early Viking speech with 16 phonemes developed into modern Norwegian with roughly double that amount?

I happen to reject that presupposition, as should be pretty clear by now. The original 22 character alphabet is evidence for the original 22 consonental phonemes present in the original Hebrew language, such as what David spoke about 1000 BCE and Moses wrote four centuries earlier. My philosophical presuppositions color how I percieve the development of the Hebrew language.

Do you agree that we are dealing with differences that are more philosophical than linguistic? If so, we should leave off arguing as linguistic arguments will not resolve philosophical differences.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: Peter Kirk <peterkirk at qaya.org>

> On 09/10/2003 23:34, Karl Randolph wrote:
> 
> > ...
> >
> >
> >What evidence do you have? How do you prove that the specific followed the pattern of the general and was not an exception?
> >
> >It appears that your methodology is backwards: it should go from the specific to the general, but you seem to be applying the general to the specific.
> >  
> >
> I don't have a methdology or the evidence. I rely on the results derived 
> by many scholars over the last at least 150 years. These scholars 
> amassed huge quantities of specific evidence and derived generalisations 
> from this evidence. One specific may be an exception; hundreds of 
> specifics doing the same thing are not an exception but a rule. Now the 
> work of these scholars may need more careful review than I am able to 
> give it. But it should not be rejected without proper consideration.
> 
> >  
> >
> > ...
> >
> >How many adopted the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet? Ugaritic didn?t. Eblaite didn?t (though that?s unfair, as Eblaite predated the earliest surviving examples of Hebrew alphabet), Ethiopic didn?t, Arabic didn?t. Moabite was so close to Hebrew it could almost be called a dialect thereof. Was not the same true of Edomite? The Greeks and Romans both took the alphabet and changed it. Correct me if I?m wrong, but it looks as if the 22 letter alphabet was adopted by only a relatively small number of closely related Semitic languages.
> >  
> >
> Aramaic. Syriac. Phoenician. Punic. Palmyrene. Nabataean. Samaritan. 
> Early Arabic. Mandaic has added just one letter. Manichaean has added 3. 
> Thaana has 24 basic consonants. Balti (?). Osmanya consonants. A 
> remarkable degree of consistency in number or letters and in letter 
> names over thousands of years and when the letter shapes have changed 
> beyond recognition.
> 
> >Then there are some who claim that Hebrew was the pre-Tower of Babel language, and examples of very ancient Hebrew writing, in the 22 letter alphabet, are found world wide. You wouldn?t happen to be one of those, are you?
> >  
> >
> No. But the 22 letter alphabet is found from Carthage to Kashmir.
> 
> >  
> >
> >>>...
> >>>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.
> >>    
> >>
> >
> >This was not a modern language 1200 years ago. Furthermore, we can find variences in spelling indicative of dialectal differences from region to region.
> >  
> >
> My point was that if none of the 6000 current languages have as few as 
> 16 phonemes it is highly unlikely that a historic one has.
> 
> >  
> >
> >>>... 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 ??, 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.
> >>    
> >>
> >
> >I wrote phonemes, not phones. I wouldn?t be surprised ...
> >
> And I would be. But let's stop trading opinions. And you referred to a 
> phonetic alphabet when I presume you meant a phonemic alphabet.
> 
> >... if they had different sounds, phones, not indicated by their limited alphabet, but they were not phonemically significant until later. When it became important to differentiate between phonemes, then dots were added to the glyphs. ...
> >
> Agreed. They were always different phonemes, but it was not important to 
> distinguish between them in writing to start with.
> 
> > ...
> >
> >>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.
> >>    
> >>
> >
> >I?ve noticed variences in spelling, most often in the sometimes inclusion, sometimes omission of medial waws and yods. That is one indicator that the language was phonetically written.
> >  
> >
> It sounds like evidence to the contrary to me. Are you saying that these 
> inclusions or omissions represent real pronunciation differences?
> 
> 
> 
> 
> -- 
> Peter Kirk
> peter at qaya.org (personal)
> peterkirk at qaya.org (work)
> http://www.qaya.org/
> 
> 

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