[b-hebrew] Proto-Semitic, was WAYYIQTOL

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Tue Mar 16 05:58:52 EST 2004

On 15/03/2004 17:28, Karl Randolph wrote:

>After all, this is the B-Hebrew list, so 
>why shouldn?t we limit this discussion to 
>Biblical Hebrew?
>What steamed me is to read that, based on 
>this postulated proto-Semitic, Biblical 
>Hebrew was different from what we should 
>expect from looking at the unpointed text. 
>It steamed me because it is taking concepts 
>from outside of Biblical Hebrew and making 
>it more authoritative than the surviving 

Understood. But the original discussion was about the history of the 
pronunciation of Hebrew. That cannot be understood apart from 
consideration of other languages. And if we introduce the good evidence 
that the Hebrew alphabet is borrowed from Phoenician and so not 
necessarily ideally adapted to Hebrew, we understand better some of the 

If we studied English on the assumption that its alphabet was developed 
for English alone, and in isolation from other languages using the same 
alphabet, we would get some very strange results. If we recognise that 
the alphabet is borrowed from Latin, we can understand much better what 
has happened.

>Do you suppose that when Phoenician and 
>Aramaic adopted the 22 character Hebrew 
>alphabet, ...

I don't suppose anything based on this assumption which almost certainly 
incorrect. Here you are immediately going outside the BH and making 
comparisons with other languages which use a similar alphabet. You can 
do this safely only if you look at the evidence for these other 
languages, and note such points as that surviving Phoenician 
inscriptions are older than Hebrew ones, and that there is at least some 
similarity between the Phoenician alphabet and the even older Ugaritic one.

>... that they adopted it unchanged 
>because they shared the same set of 
>consonantal phonemes at that time? (That?s 
>just a throw out question, I don?t intend 
>to discuss it at length.)
No, for adoption in either direction. English borrowed the Latin 
alphabet unchanged (and later added three new letters as adaptations of 
existing ones) although the phoneme inventories were quite different. 
Similarly for Greek borrowing Phoenician etc etc.

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

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