[b-hebrew] Fw: WAYYIQTOL

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Wed Mar 10 17:30:51 EST 2004

On 10/03/2004 11:00, Karl Randolph wrote:

>What I rejected was not Hebrew phonological 
>reconstruction per se, but a particular theory 
>of phonological reconstruction.
>Admittedly, the evidence I have is pretty 
>sketchy, pretty much restricted to Tanakh and 
>the New Testament.

All I can say is that you are rejecting a theory based on a lot of 
evidence and centuries of scholarly work for one  of your own based on 
"pretty sketchy" evidence. You may be right, but unless you can find 
good evidence for it you really need to qualify statements like "There 
was a consonental pronunciation change" with something like "in my 
opinion" or "according to my theory".

>For example, I noticed that the Samech had the  
>same shape and place in the alphabet as the 
>Greek Xi. Yet in modern Hebrew it has the same 
>pronunciation as the Sin. 

The issue here is more likely to be with the Greek than with the Hebrew. 
See http://ptolemy.tlg.uci.edu/~opoudjis/unicode/nonattic.html#san, from 
which this is an extract:

> With Phoenecian sibilants, Greeks reached the apogee of confusion. ... 
> Faced with the four sibilants of Phoenecian, which they memorised 
> without quite distinguishing correctly—especially when they didn't 
> have half the sibilants in their own language—the Greeks jumbled the 
> forms and the names of the letters, so that they no longer correspond 
> to the Phoenecian originals. ... The ordering continued to be as for 
> the Phoenecian letters, by glyph rather than by name:
>     * /zeta/ where /zayin/ was, after /hēʾ / (/ei/ > /epsilon/);
>     * /xi/ where /sāmeḵ/ was, after /nûn/ (/nu/);
>     * /sigma/ where /šîn / was, after /rêš/ (/rho/);
>     * and /san/ where /ṣāḏê/ was, between /pēʾ / and /qôp̱ /(/pi/ and
>       /koppa/).

>Now back to Samech, that it shares a 
>pronunciation with Sin is a clue (not proof) 
>that one or both letters had changed their 
>pronunciations due to Hebrew being a fossil 
>language. In Ezra and Nehemiah, 
>transliterations of Persian names into Hebrew 
>have a Samech in some places where Greek has a 
>Xi (some of the Hebrew transliterations have a 
>combination letter, X$, similar to the “x” 
>sound), but Aramaic had already lost the “x” 
>sound so those places that had a Samech in 
>Hebrew had a Sin/Shin in Aramaic.

I trust you are basing your reconstructions here on a thorough 
understanding of the phonology of Old Persian and how it relates to 
Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Apart from that your speculations are worthless.

>In the New Testament, the transliteration of 
>names again indicates that there was a shift 
>even then still in progress, with Galilee 
>apparently lagging behind Judea (hence Peter’s 
>Galilean accent?). In particular, notice the 
>bifurcation of the BGDKPT and Sin/Shin 
>pronunciations. (These clues are better 
>preserved in the Byzantian tradition of New 
>Testament manuscripts than the Nestlé 

I accept that there was a "bifurcation" of the BGDKPT letters at some 
point, in which original plosives (probably aspirated) came to be 
pronounced as fricatives in certain environments, while remaining 
plosives in other environments. Precisely when is a moot point, and the 
evidence from Greek renderings of Hebrew names is greatly complicated by 
the known changes of pronunciation of Greek theta, pi and chi from 
aspirated plosives to fricatives.

There is STRONG evidence that there was NOT a bifurcation of sin and 
shin, but that these were always pronounced differently in Hebrew 
(though not perhaps in Phoenician from where the alphabet was borrowed). 
But we have been through this one before. For a survey of the more 
generally held theory, see the following extract from Henry Churchyard's 
dissertation (available from http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/), 

> Thus in Churchyard (1993:333,335) I have assembled references which 
> indicate that until the last few centuries of the 1st millennium 
> B.C.E. ṡ [sin] remained distinct from s (and š) in Hebrew, while 
> Proto-Semitic *ḥ and *ḫ (IPA [χ]) also remained distinct sounds, as 
> did Proto-Semitic *ʕ and *ġ (IPA [ʁ]); while in Old Aramaic of the 
> early 1st millennium B.C.E., all these sounds remained distinct, and 
> in addition Proto-Semitic *θ, *ð, and *θ̣ (or “*ẓ”) had not merged with 
> any other sounds. Yet when the North Semitic 22-letter alphabet − 
> devised to represent some dialect (Phoenician?) in which these sounds 
> had merged − was adopted in the early 1st. millennium B.C.E. to 
> represent Hebrew and Old Aramaic, no attempts were made to remedy the 
> orthographic inadequacies that resulted from having fewer letters in 
> the alphabet than there were consonant phonemes in the languages.

> [Footnote]: It was not until the masoretic period that the ambiguity 
> of the Hebrew letter šíin (at this stage resulting from the fact that 
> the earlier sound ṡ [sin] had merged with [s], but continued to be 
> written with the letter also used to write [š]) was finally resolved 
> by masoretic diacritics (see § The other ambiguities 
> disappeared when mergers of sounds in the originally more conservative 
> dialects eventually reduced their consonant inventories to that of the 
> innovating dialects.

>I run the risk of building a castle on the 
>foundation of a molehill, the evidence I have 
>seen is that sparse, but as sparse as that 
>evidence is, it contradicts the theory of 
>Hebrew phonological reconstruction that I 

I have not seen any evidence which contradicts the theory you rejected, 
only doubts cast on the reliability of some of the evidence for it and 
of the scholars who have presented it.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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