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

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Sun Oct 12 11:32:22 EDT 2003

Dear Jason:

I’m using the definitions I got from anthropology classes.

A “phone” is a simple sound without meaning per se.

A “phoneme” is a sound with meaning.

For example, in Hong Kong, if I were to say “lei5” or “ney5”, both words have the same meaning, “you”. The ‘l’ and ‘n’ are different phones, but make up one phoneme in this context. On the other hand, if I were to say “lay” and “nay” (similar pronunciations) in English, the ‘l’ and ‘n’ are not only phones, but also phonemes because they change the meaning.

A grapheme may correspond to a phone, phoneme or be completely independent. In Chinese ideograms and Egyptian hieroglyphs, they are independent of pronunciation, in English they are only partially connected, but in most historical alphabetic systems, a grapheme corresponded to a phone or a phoneme, hence they are called phonetic writing systems. (As for the early Scandinavian runic writing, did the early Vikings have only 16 phones in their speech, or did their 16 glyphs correspond to 16 phonemes? Only an interview with a surviving Viking can answer that.)

It is my belief that Hebrew started out as a phonetic writing system, where each grapheme corresponded to a consonantal phone with a couple of exceptions where waw and yod sometimes indicated vowels, only later, as the language changed, added new phones and split one phoneme into two, were the graphemes adjusted by adding dots to show the new phonetic values. We see the same development in Arabic.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jason Hare" <jason at hareplay.com>

> All,
> 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." Each variant of the BGDKP"T family would be a different phoneme.
> Sin and shin are different phonemes, but one grapheme. Is not a "phoneme"
> the same as an "allophone"?
> Todah rabah,
> Jason
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