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

Trevor Peterson 06peterson at cua.edu
Sun Oct 12 07:21:23 EDT 2003

Karl wrote:

> Lost, or added? Was the original Hebrew usage appropriate and 
> other languages ill-fitting? Were those phonemes added or 
> lost? What does the evidence say?

Since the question spans the entire Semitic family, the evidence should
also span the entire family. It seems to me that you want to restrict
your treatment to Hebrew as much as possible, but IMO this is an
irresponsible approach. If you're going to answer this kind of question,
you need the right kind of evidence. That's why I've already appealed to
the correspondence of consonants in various Semitic languages. It is
highly implausible that each language divided sounds in such a way that
their correspondences matched. Much more likely is the standard model,
that the original inventory was larger and has reduced by convergence in
several languages.
> What I am saying is that the evidence, as I see it, indicates 
> that there were only 22 consonental phonemes in ancient 
> Hebrew up to the Galut Babel. That includes that the bgdkpt 
> and sin/shin differentiations did not exist until afterwards.

And your only evidence for this is the writing system, but even that is
an argument from silence. I hope you can see the positivism in your
> > 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?
> How soon in cognate languages did they appear?

The first answer is that we may not know. It may happen in most cases
prior to the written evidence that we have. (I'm not saying that it
does, but this is a reality about historical linguistics that we must
acknowledge.) Without your positivistic assumptions, the fact that a
language like Arabic, for instance, lacks early written evidence does
not tell us how early the sounds originated. We have to look elsewhere.
The second answer is that in a very practcal sense we don't need to know
how soon divergences originated to substantiate the model. The point is
that we can determine their direction, and the evidence points
overwhelmingly to a larger inventory of phonemes that reduced in several
languages over time.

> Even if a 
> larger number of phonemes were found early on in a cognage 
> language, does that mean that Biblical Hebrew had all those 
> phomenes? It appears to me that Biblical Hebrew had 22 
> characters, precisely because it had 22 consonental phonemes.

This was a rather isolated point. I was not trying to prove anything by
it except that your repeated remarks about the insignificance of Arabic
because of the late date of the evidence were pointless, since Arabic is
not the only Semitic language to retain a larger inventory of phonemes.
> > > Do you agree that we are dealing with differences that are
> > > more philosophical than linguistic?
> > 
> > I don't.
> Why?

Because your basic argument seems to be that by looking at a small
portion of the evidence available and extrapolating positivistically
from that evidence you can overturn the basic rules of historical
linguistics. Yes, there are philosophical issues here, but that does not
change the fact that linguistics is against you on this issue.

Trevor Peterson

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