[b-hebrew] Proto-Semitic, was WAYYIQTOL

Kevin Riley klriley at alphalink.com.au
Thu Mar 18 20:34:30 EST 2004

>-----Original Message-----
>From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
>[mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org]On Behalf Of Karl Randolph
>Dear Kevin Riley:
>Your letter reminds me why I almost always
>use “phoneme” instead of “phone”.
>For example, in English, the voiced and
>unvoiced th, though they are different
>phones, represent the same phoneme. If I
>were to substitute an unvoiced th for every
>voiced one, it wouldn’t make a whit of
>difference in meaning.

English, and foreign, linguists are virtually unanimous in their
disagreement with you on this.  The two 'th' sounds are *always*
distinguished as separate phonemes for English.

>There may have been two different
>pronunciations for Ayen originally, but
>they were the same phoneme: substituting
>one pronunciation for the other didn’t make
>a difference. The same with the Sin and the
>The problem is, all of us, myself included,
>are only guessing how Hebrew was originally
>pronounced. I personally favor the view
>that each phoneme represented one
>consonantal phone, but there’s no way to
>prove it. However, I would be surprised if
>statistical analysis did not show that each
>letter represents one phoneme, and that
>includes that the Sin and Shin were
>originally one phoneme.
>Karl W. Randolph.
As there is abundant evidence for two, or more, phonemes in each case [and
more you don't mention] for other Semitic languages, and evidence (from
translations) for two pronunciations in Hebrew, I don't see why you wish to
deny it.  It is *very* unusual to find any language with an established
writing system where there is a one-to-one correspondence between grapheme
and phoneme.  I don't know why, but I find myself somewhat offended to see
many years of work by linguists referred to as 'guessing'.  It is *possible*
that these letters represented one phoneme in one or more Canaanite dialects
at some time in their history, but the consistent use of 22 graphemes by
itself really says very little about the number of phonemes in Hebrew at any

Kevin Riley

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list