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

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Sat Oct 11 18:14:31 EDT 2003

On 11/10/2003 12:52, Jason Hare wrote:

>I am going to sound a bit basic, but I have seen many people using the word
>"phoneme" to refer to the letters of the alphabet. So far as I know, and I
>have only just begun my study into linguistics, "grapheme" would be more
>appropriate when discussing the written form the language (the alphabet). ...

>... The Hebrew alefbet is composed of twenty-two "graphemes," but many more
>"phonemes." ...
That is precisely what I have been trying to convince Karl of, but he 
seems to believe, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that the 
Hebrew alefbet is perfectly phonemic i.e. the graphemes are a perfect 
one to one match to the phonemes.

>... Each variant of the BGDKP"T family would be a different phoneme.
>Sin and shin are different phonemes, but one grapheme. ...
Yes, for sin and shin, in an unpointed text.

>... Is not a "phoneme"
>the same as an "allophone"?
No, they are not the same. Allophones are different sounds (phones) 
which correspond to the same phoneme. Arguably (actually it is not quite 
this simple), the different sounds of bet, kaf etc are allophones of the 
same phoneme rather than separate phonemes, i.e. the one phoneme /b/ is 
pronounced [v] when between two vowels or word final but [b] when word 
initial or doubled - very much like the Spanish b in fact, which has a 
different sound when between two vowels which is certainly an allophone.

>Sorry, it's just that in this thread I have had a hard time keeping the
>argument straight. And I think a lot of it has to do with a varying degree
>of terminology usage. Could someone straighten me out, someone who has had
>more experience in linguistics? I was under the impression that a grapheme
>was a part of the written form of the language, ...

>... a phoneme was a single sound
>without meaning (represented often by features of the international phonetic
>alphabet) ...
No, you are confusing this with a phone. A phoneme is something rather 
different, to put it very simply, a set of sounds which share a meaning, 
like the two sounds of Spanish b which have the same meaning.

>... and an allophone was a variant sound of a certain grapheme
>(functionally the same as a phoneme). ...
No, a variant sound of a certain phoneme.

>... Beyond this, we have morphemes of
>various types (small, meaningless sounds added to a word to change some
>aspect of it).
Not meaningless. Maybe no meaning in isolation (but then the same is 
true of some separate words).

>Am I completely off-base? Is everyone else on the list using a different
>system of terminology that has become more "acceptable"? I have studied only
>with / Camino Oral /, a textbook that is written in Spanish. And my studies
>have been alone. I will be taking a class in phonetics during the coming
You should understand better after that.

>Todah rabah,

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

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