[b-hebrew] Re: PS /g/

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Mon Nov 15 16:45:22 EST 2004

On 15/11/2004 20:48, Karl Randolph wrote:

>When the Greeks adopted the Hebrew/Phoenician alphabet, did a difference between sin and shin exist in Phoenician? There was no written difference. 
>The Greeks retained the samekh as a Xi "x" sound while they shifted the name to the sigma, which was the sin/shin. The pre-exilic form of Hebrew samekh was almost identical to the Greek uncial Xi and in the same place in the alphabet. The Greeks dropped the tsada.

The situation with the Greek borrowing from Phoenician (or whatever) is 
in fact not so simple. See 
http://www.tlg.uci.edu/~opoudjis/unicode/nonattic.html sections 2 and 3. 
A quote:

> Faced with the four sibilants of Phoenecian, which they memorised 
> without quite distinguishing correctly—especially when they didn't 
> have half the sibilants in their own language—the Greeks jumbled the 
> forms and the names of the letters, so that they no longer correspond 
> to the Phoenecian originals.

The Greeks originally borrowed all four sibilants, but later dropped 
san, which had the same position in the alphabet as tsade, and perhaps 
the same shape, but did not correspond in sound.

>It looks as if Aramaic originally had a difference between samekh and sin at the time of Daniel, but by a century later, at the time of Ezra or Esther, it either was in the process of or had completed dropping that difference. Apparently Hebrew under the influence of Aramaic dropped the difference within a few generations of Ezra. Hence Arabic which is even later did not have the samekh.

I'm not quite sure where this last idea comes from. It seems clear that 
the Arabic seen س corresponds to Hebrew samekh, and the Arabic sheen ش 
corresponds to Hebrew shin. This is clear from their numeric values - 
Arabic seen = Hebrew samekh = 60, Arabic sheen = Hebrew shin = 300. In 
palaeo-Hebrew both samekh and shin were made up of three elements, and 
because of this their shapes coalesced in Arabic and had to be 
distinguished by the three dots on sheen.

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

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