[b-hebrew] changes in 'th'

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Wed Apr 28 21:33:16 EDT 2004


I guess my main objection with “proto-Semitic” is the methodology and presuppositions used by those who propose it.

One of my biggest gripes is the argument that languages only lose phonemes, but do not gain them, an example of which is your statement below, “the merging of ghayin and ayin was probably not complete even by the time the Bible was rendered in Greek”. Languages do gain phonemes, and that by contact with speakers of other languages. For example, now in English we have three phonemes represented by “ch”—the common one from English, the “k” sound in words like “ache” and still a fairly rare one, mostly carried by loan words from other languages, given the German pronunciation. It is a sign of an educated person that he knows all and when to use which phoneme. Using the pattern that languages gain phonemes through contact with other languages, one would predict that the Semitic language that would have the greatest number of phonemes would be at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, whose ships had been trading down the east coast of Africa and as far east as China for mille

Arabic, too, should have more phonemes than ancient Hebrew, given that they were traders in contact with both those of southern Arabia and other languages. Hebrew, other the other hand, was spoken mostly by farmers and craftsmen living in a land locked country, therefore would have a smaller set of phonemes.

There has not been a native speaker of Biblical Hebrew not affected by other languages, in particular, Aramaic, since before the Galut Babel, so much of what we say is speculation as to how they pronounced their mother tongue. Maybe we should pray that Eliyahu comes soon so we can learn how to pronounce Hebrew! Who’s to say that Hebrew was not the original proto-Semitic?

As for Peter Kirk’s claim that, “But in classical Greek theta was an aspirated plosive, not a fricative” I find it is as convincing as the claim that there were native speakers of Hebrew during the first century. He may be right, but I find the evidence unconvincing.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: Trevor Peterson <06PETERSON at cua.edu>

> >===== 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
> CUA/Semitics
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