[b-hebrew] Phones, Phonemes, and Th.

Kevin Riley klriley at alphalink.com.au
Thu Mar 18 19:31:45 EST 2004

>-----Original Message-----
>From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
>[mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org]On Behalf Of David
>Kimbrough (CLWA)
>Karl & Co.
>Your example of the two different "th's" in English raises an interesting
>point.  There are actually situations where there is a difference.

That is why every book on English that I have ever read sees them as two
phonemes, and represents them by different graphs.

>The two
>words "Thy"  and "Thigh" have exactly the same vowel sounds but different
>"th"'s.  The difference in the "th"'s is what distinguishes the two words.
>The vowel sounds are identical but spelled differently and the consonants
>are pronounced differently but spelled the same.  However people rarely use
>these two words in the same sentence so the two different "th"
>sounds can be
>effectively represented by the same letters without any practical problems.
>Notably, the ancient Anglo-Saxons used two different symbols for these two
>"th" sounds so the difference were perhaps once much more important.

They are used interchangeably, which argues against the sound differences
being *more* important.  The vast majority of cases of voiced VS voiceless
fricatives in OE were contextually determined.  It was changes in later
times that made them distinct phonemes.

>My point that there can be instances in a language where there are phonetic
>nuances that do have impacts on the meaning of the word that are not
>captured accurately or at all in the written language.

Which was my main point - that many of the surrounding languages did have
graphs that represented different phonemes, therefore there is nothing
strange about Hebrew doing the same.  English also had available a runic
alphabet that represented English sounds far better than the Roman alphabet,
but for non-linguistic reasons the English adopted the Roman alphabet.
While it cannot be proven, I suspect the Canaanites adopted the Phoenician
alphabet for similar reasons.

Kevin Riley

>David Eugene Kimbrough
>dkimbrough at clwa.org

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