[b-hebrew] Proto-Semitic, was WAYYIQTOL

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Sat Mar 13 14:22:19 EST 2004


Both you and Uri mentioned “proto-Semitic”. 
Are there any extent documents written in 
that language, even ones as short as the 
Mesha stone? Or are we talking about a 
reconstructed language, one based on 
theory? What if the theory is wrong? What 
if Biblical Hebrew, with 22 consonantal 
phonemes, is the “proto-Semitic” (there are 
some who make that claim)?

What I’m calling into question is not the 
efforts of scholars over years, but the 
theory upon which they base their efforts. 
For example, hundreds if not thousands of 
man years have been spent researching the 
“scientific” theory of evolution, but it 
is demonstrable that evolution is not 
scientific at all—it is merely a religious 
belief. It doesn’t matter how many scholars 
have worked on the theory, their efforts 
have no more scientific validity than the 
monks in the middle ages arguing how many 
angels can dance on the head of a pin. 
Because theory is wrong, efforts based on 
the theory are scientifically worthless. 
Similarly, if “proto-Semitic” is merely a 
scholarly reconstruction, how far can we 
trust the theory upon which the 
reconstruction was made?

On a similar note, who had the 22 letter 
alphabet first: the Phoenicians or the 
Hebrews? If it was the Phoenicians, in 
what language was Moses writing in the mid 
second millennium? Or do you claim, based 
on theory, that the Hebrews were illiterate 
until they learned the alphabet from the 

There is some evidence that spoken Hebrew 
pronunciation shifted to become consistent 
with Aramaic,a process which started a few 
generations after the Galut Babel. Since 
the spelling of Hebrew did not shift to 
reflect that pronunciation shift, that 
indicates that Hebrew at that time was a 
fossil language, in the same manner as 
Latin and Imperial Chinese.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: Peter Kirk <peterkirk at qaya.org>

> On 10/03/2004 11:00, Karl Randolph wrote:
> >Peter:
> >
> >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".
> 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/), 
> pp.152-153:
> > 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. á1¡ [sin] remained distinct from s (and Å¡) 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.
> 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)
> http://www.qaya.org/

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