[b-hebrew] Re: PS /g/

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Tue Nov 16 01:43:14 EST 2004

> We'll have to ask what Yigal meant when he said that Arabic doesn't have a
samekh, though your description of the seen and sheen seems to give an
answer. From the above, it looks as if the samekh was dropped, and the seen
moved over to its place. I don't know Arabic, so I depend on youall to give
me accurate information.
> As for the paleo-Hebrew, the samekh was made up of three horizontal lines
with a vertical line tying them together, like a Greek uncial xi with a
vertical line piercing it, though sometimes the vertical line dropped below
the bottom horizontal line. The sin/shin letter looked very similar to a
Greek uncial sigma rotated 90° counter clockwise. They looked very different
from each other, I do not see how their shapes could coalesce.

What I meant was, that Arabic only has one letter with an /s/ sound, which
both looks like Shin and is called Sin (or Sheen/Seen). By the time Arabic
adapted its alphabet from Syriac or whatever form of Aramaic, Samekh and Sin
were pronounced the same, and since Arabic did not have a tradition, as did
Hebrew and Aramaic, of using both, it had no need of both. By the way, the
very fact that Arabic DID revceive Sin, means that at least some Aramaic
speakers were pronouncing it as /s/, differently than Shin.

As far as Greek: the graphic similarity of Shin and Sigma and of Samekh to
Xi is quite apparent. Greek did not have a /sh/ sound, and so adopted the
21st letter of the Phoenician alphabet as /s/. Samekh was then superfluous,
but since Phoenician did not have a /x/, that sign was made into the Xi.
Other Phoenician letters that were not pronounced in Greek were the
gutterals Aleph, He, Het, and Ayin, as well as Yod; these became the vowels,
a function which Phoenician did without.

So, it would seem that the distinction between Samekh and Sin, which must
have been pronounced at one time (otherwise there would not have been
separate letters in the first place) was lost by the time the Greeks
borrowed the Phoenician alphabet. Hebrew and some other dialects retained
the tradition of spelling some words with Samekh and others with Sin, in
some Aramic dialects the spellings shifted towards Samekh. When the Arabic
alphabet was invented, they saw no reason to retain two forms, and since
Arabic likes look-alike letters, they retained Sin.

As far as Shin/Sin, obviously most Semitic dialects have both sounds.
However, the specific Canaanite dialect whose 22 letter alphabet was adopted
by everyone else did not, or at least, the way they pronounced Sin (which
was DIFFERENT than Samekh), was close enough to Shin so that they used the
same letter. The Hebrews, at least, and probably most Arameans as well, kept
the tradition of pronouncing both Shin and Sin, a tradition that remained
all the way down to the masoretes, who added the dot on the right for Shin
and on the left for Sin.

BTW, Ayin/Ghayin has a similar history. Early Semitic obviously had both.
Arabic retains both to this day. Canaanite and Phonician lost the
distinction early enough so that the alphabet has only one letter. In Hebrew
at least, the distinction was retained in speach as late as the Hellenistic
Period; that's how Greek knows to spell names like "Gaza" and "Gommorah"
with a G. However in this case, by the time of the masoretes the distinction
had been lost.

The same is probably true of H_et and H.et; which is why Hawwah is "Eve"
while Hebron is Hebron.


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