[b-hebrew] PS /g/

MarianneLuban at aol.com MarianneLuban at aol.com
Thu Nov 11 17:26:04 EST 2004

In a message dated 11/11/2004 6:07:13 AM Pacific Standard Time, 
abuian at access4less.net writes:

> 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 am not qualified to give you an answer, but have wondered about this, 
myself.  Just a week or so ago I had to use my limited and not-so-correct Arabic in 
order to converse with a lady from Kuwait.  I was trying to tell her that a 
man who was in the room with us was my doctor.  I said "E-ragil da huwa hakimi" 
and she looked at me rather blankly for a moment and then said "Ah!  Rajeel!" 
 All I know is the Egyptian pronunciation.  The odd thing is that, while the 
modern Egyptians use the hard "g", their ancient language did contain a 
"j"--or more probably "dj"--but they had a /g/, as well.  So it's not as though, 
historically, they were not capable of saying "j" or unaccustomed to it.  But 
they say it no more, while other Arabic speakers to the east do so quite 
regularly.  When Syria was given back to Turkey in  1840, it having been attached to 
Egypt in 1833, some of the Egyptians who had settled there wished to remain and 
tried to pass as Syrians.  So the test was whether they could pronounce 
"camel" correctly.  If they said "jemel", they passed, but if they uttered 
"gemel"--they were sent back to Egypt.  Along the Lower Euphrates, "camel" becomes 

Now here you can see the Samaritan alphabet and the pronunciation of its 


The Samaritans claim their accent is a very old one.  Obviously, they have 
the hard "g" and they fact they call it "gaman" instead of "gimel" suggests to 
me that perhaps the Jewish "gimel" really was once "gaman" and linguistically 
it is not difficult to understand how one can have morphed into the other.  
Also of interest is that the Samaritans do not have much traffic with "h's" 
(preferring "aitches" like a Cockney) and this is even reflected in their 
pronunciation of the pertinent letters--"chey" and "chet" being "iy" and "et" to them.  
I guess they can pronounce "shibolet", though ;-)

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