[b-hebrew] Proverbs 26:21 alternate spellings?

Trevor Peterson 06PETERSON at cua.edu
Tue Sep 30 15:06:15 EDT 2003

>===== Original Message From "Karl Randolph" <kwrandolph at email.com> =====
>Are we dealing with the masculine referring to the specific and the feminine 
to the general? Is there any pattern? Or is
>this merely acceptable alternate spellings? Are some merely a feminine noun 
written without the hey in the singular? There are examples much more complex 
than the ones given above.
As Peter pointed out, what I don't think we can call this is "merely 
acceptable alternate spellings." Alternate spelling is a matter of 
orthography. If I write "honor" and Peter writes "honour," there is no issue 
here of representing different words, different meanings, different sounds in 
speech, or anything of the sort. They're just two different orthographic 
realizations of the same word. The difference is a feature of writing 
convention, not language. Perhaps there are some lines that we can draw in 
terms of usage, and perhaps not. It may be that if there are, they do not form 
consistent patterns. (The significance may vary from lexeme to lexeme.) But 
whatever is going on here, this is an actual morphological distinction and as 
such belongs to the realm of language, not writing.

Your question, "Are some merely a feminine noun written without the hey [sic] 
in the singular?" also looks to me like a confusion of writing with language. 
Gender in Hebrew nouns is lexical. A feminine noun does not have to be 
morphologically marked in any particular way. A masculine noun can take a 
feminine-looking plural form. Gender can also be variable. Some nouns waver 
between masculine and feminine agreement, without any change in form. These 
are linguistic issues. But it seems like you're asking about the writing--can 
a feminine noun be written without the he? Yes, it can, if it does not have a 
feminine ending. But if you're asking whether a feminine noun can have the 
long-a feminine ending but not be written with he, that is a different issue. 
It may be possible. The orthography of the proto-MT consonantal text is not 
altogether regular. But generally speaking, the marking of final long vowels 
is regular. K/Q variants like na'ara (young woman) are probably a different 
issue, where an originally undifferentiated noun took on a gender 
differentiation by the time of the Masoretes. I don't think there's any good 
reason to go about adding feminine endings where they're not marked in the 
consonantal text. The other problem with this strategy is that the plural 
forms are explicit. So for any case where the shorter of the two corresponding 
nouns also appears with a mp ending, it would be irresponsible to force the 
singular form to carry an unwritten fs ending.

Trevor Peterson

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