[b-hebrew] Re: PS /g/

Joseph I. Lauer josephlauer at hotmail.com
Sun Nov 14 18:46:14 EST 2004

    How were the Shin, the Sin, and the Samech pronounced in ancient Hebrew?
And is there anything to the notion that the "original" sound of Sin was
like a Welsh ll?
    <trepp at telus.net> wrote, in part: "This got me wondering (if not
actually expecting) whether the greater degree of breath in Sin than in
Samek (=[s]), might not properly signify a possible root of the [s]-morpheme
in English 'measure'."  To which, Peter Kirk <peterkirk at qaya.org> replied:
"This is an interesting sound and probably rarer than English ch.
Interestingly, it is present as a distinct phoneme, but extremely rare, in
languages as diverse as English, Turkish and Persian/Farsi. It is I suppose
possible that this was the original sound of sin (it is after all a voiced
variant of the sound of shin), but I don't know of any evidence for this. Do
    The Sin's pronunciation was briefly discussed on the ANE (Ancient Near
East) list, in July and August 1995, including mention "that many believe
that the earlier sound of Sin was like a Welsh ll.  .... Richard Steiner
wrote a book called 'The Case for Fricative-Laterals in Proto-Semitic' (AOS,
1977)." See
See also http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/ANE/ANE-DIGEST/V03/v03.n009
and http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/ANE/ANE-DIGEST/V03/v03.n011
    The pronunciation of Sin and Samech was also discussed in two February
17, 2004 [b-hebrew] postings by Karl W. Randolph <kwrandolph at email.com>
under the captions "lexicography?" and "Ancient pronunciation of biblical
names".  In those postings, he mentioned that at a certain time "the shin
and sin were the same letter" and used them, interchangeably, to derive the
etymology of a name, Samuel/Shmuel, based on a sin rather than the
"traditional" shin.  He also wrote that "As for the 'sameck', there is
evidence that it originally had an English 'x' sound, at least in Ezra and
Nehemiah. It can be seen in the transliteration of the Persian name
    Aside from anything regarding the Sin's pronunciation that might be
found in the Steiner book (which I have not yet seen), the Welsh connection
was also noted in "Reading the Past : Ancient Writing from Cuneiform to the
Alphabet" (introduced by J.T. Hooker, University of California/British
Museum Press,1990).  A section on the early alphabet, by John F. Healy (pp.
197-257), discusses the evolution of the Semitic script and some items of
pronunciation.  The author notes, with reference to Sin (I am unable to
transliterate using the printed diacritical marks), "the precise manner of
articulation of the latter is uncertain, but it was different from the other
Hebrew s-sounds and may have resembled the Welsh /ll/as in llan."
    To hear the Welsh "ll", click on
http://oldweb.cs.cf.ac.uk/fun/welsh/Lesson01.html  There, a modern Welsh
woman pronounces "ll" [Put your tongue in the position for "l" and blow out.
Example: "llid"] and a word containing it ["llyfr"].  Look for "1.5
Consonants" and "1.6 Other Strange Combinations" ["An example is "llyfr"
(book)" (wouldn't this have been very interesting, and a source for many
dissertations, if sefer started with a Sin instead of a Samech?!)].  In a
humorous vein, a May 2, 1993 article in The New York Times Sunday Travel
Section (p. 39), by Pamela Petro ("Gymru and Cymru and All That"), states
that "The famous Welsh double L, as in Lloyd, is pronounced as if you happen
to sneeze violently while saying the word 'little.'"
    Whatever its original sound, the Sin apparently has not been pronounced
"correctly" in 2,000 years.  The Shibboleth/Sibboleth problem involved the
Shin and the Samech, not the Sin, and a Biblical word like Eres
(ayin-resh-sin) (see, e.g., Deut. 3:11, Amos 6:4, Psalms 41:4) had
apparently changed to Eres (ayin-resh-samech) by the time of the Mishnah and
Gemara (see, e.g., Peah 7:8 [Aris], Kilaim 6:1, 2 [Aris], Shabbos 62b
[Arsotam], Nedarim 56a [Arsa]).  In modern Hebrew Eres is now again spelled
with a Sin, not a Samech, for a cradle, although the word for hammock,
Arsal, is spelled with a Samech.
    Joseph I. Lauer
    Brooklyn, New York 

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