[b-hebrew] PS /g/

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Thu Nov 11 16:44:59 EST 2004

On 11/11/2004 14:06, Trevor Peterson wrote:

> I know that proto-Semitic /g/ (Hebrew gimel) shows up in some 
> languages and dialects as /j/, but does anyone know the explanation 
> for how it gets to these two pronunciations? I mean, at first glance 
> it seems like an intuitive association from an English-speaker 
> perspective. Our letter "g" performs double-duty. But when you stop 
> and think about it, the two sounds are quite different and don't seem 
> to be easily connected. The only thing I can think of is that Greek 
> gamma creeps forward to the point where it becomes /y/ before /i/. But 
> it still seems like a long way for one sound to march. I wonder if 
> there's a simpler explanation.

I would suggest that the sound shift from the English g sound to the 
English j sound is not as unlikely a change as it may seem. This change 
has taken place in English and in Italian, probably independently 
although I am not sure, and rather similar shifts have occurred at least 
in French and Swedish, but in each case only before an e or i vowel. 
Also in Hungarian? It has taken place in some dialects of Arabic, but 
not in others e.g. Egyptian. And if it is in other Semitic languages 
that must be independent of the only partial shift in Arabic. The change 
is easily understood when we realise that g before e and i tends to 
shift further forward in the mouth, to a sound more like gy, which 
sounds very similar to j and ends up being mistaken as such.

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

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