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

Trevor Peterson 06peterson at cua.edu
Fri Oct 10 22:07:27 EDT 2003

Karl wrote:

> 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?

You're blurring the picture by failing to distinguish the relevant
factors. It's not just a matter of an ill-fitting alphabet. If an
alphabet developed appropriately enough for one situation and was later
used in other, less ideal situations, then what we're really seeing is a
stage of development when some Semitic languages had lost consonantal
> 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.

What presupposition? Do you think people are just assuming that there
were more phonemes early on? You have yet even to attempt an explanation
of cognate correspondences according to your model. If, as you suggest,
the process worked in reverse from what pretty much everyone else is
saying, then how is it that the divergences in various Semitic languages
line up with each other? Plus, you don't seem to have taken account of
the existence of the larger consonantal inventory present in Old South
Arabian, which is attested about as early as anything we have in Hebrew.
Indeed, the inventory there is larger than that found in Arabic, so you
can stop appealing to the time difference involved with Classical Arabic
any time you like.
> Do you agree that we are dealing with differences that are 
> more philosophical than linguistic?

I don't.

Trevor Peterson

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