[b-hebrew] changes in 'th'

Trevor Peterson 06PETERSON at cua.edu
Fri Apr 23 07:05:23 EDT 2004

>===== Original Message From "Karl Randolph" <kwrandolph at email.com> =====
>Did Biblical Hebrew have either th sound? Apparently during the Masoritic 
period it did, but what about a thousand years or more earlier when Tanakh was 
being written? I suspect that if it did, it was connected with tet and not 
with an unpointed
>dalet or tau as preserved by the Masorites.

Based on correspondences like Heb. zahav (gold) and Aramaic dahav (gold), we 
posit an original phoneme preserved in Arabic dhal that has merged with the 
corresponding stop in some languages and in others has merged with the close 
voiced sibilant. Similarly, talat and shalosh (three) show the merging of an 
original phoneme preserved in Arabic tha. Arabic does not have spirantized and 
non-spirantized variants of the bgdkft letters, and it would make sense that 
the merging of these phonemes happened more or less simultaneously with the 
development of spirantized and non-spirantized allophones in languages like 
Hebrew. Unfortunately, the 22-consonant writing system lacks sufficient signs 
to show us the earlier sounds, although as I recall, we do see variation 
between zayin and dalet in Old and Official Aramaic texts. Keep in mind as 
well that the merging of ghayin and ayin was probably not complete even by the 
time the Bible was rendered in Greek, giving rise to such forms as gomorrah, 
where elsewhere we see that ayin is represented as zero value in Greek. I know 
you generally disagree with the reconstruction of proto-semitic, but I don't 
know of anywhere else you're going to find these phonemes in Hebrew. I don't 
see any reason to associate tet with these forms--the emphatics are common to 
all Semitic languages, and where their pronunciation remains distinctive, it 
is always a double articulation, in combination with either ayin or alef.

Trevor Peterson

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