[b-hebrew] Re: PS /g/

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Tue Nov 16 21:19:45 EST 2004


How do you know that Phoenician did not have an /x/? After all, when they took over the alphabet from the Hebrews, don’t you think they would have retained the same pronunciations as did Hebrew? And it appears to me that as late as Ezra and Nehemiah, the samekh was the Hebrew /x/. (Of course, there could have been changes that neither of us guess at that would make both of us wrong.)

My take on it is that the difference between the samekh and the sin was lost fairly late, around fifth century BCE in Aramaic, while in Hebrew I’m guessing that it was lost around 300 BCE. Those are also about the times that the sin and shin were differentiated as different sounds. All of these changes occurred long after the Greeks adopted the alphabet.

Similarly, the Ayen/Ghayen split was after the Phoenicians, also Greeks and Etruscans adopted the alphabet (interesting, the Roman R in form looks more like pre-paleo-Hebrew writing than even paleo-Hebrew which the Greeks adopted, also they retained the Q and the S is a variation on the curvy sin/shin of some forms of pre-paleo-Hebrew, leaving me with the conclusion that the Romans did not adopt the alphabet through the Greeks).

My read on the alphabet is that the ancient Hebrews had only 22 consonants, which they retained to the time of the Babylonian exile. They were pretty isolated from other languages, so did not have much pressure to add phonemes. During and after the exile, especially after the time that most Jews spoke Aramaic in their daily lives, then Hebrew both added phones and phonemes from Aramaic, and lost at least one, if not two or more, that they had before the exile. One of the sounds that I think was an addition was the shin, or rather it was a shift of most /s/ sounds, but not all.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Yigal Levin" <leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il>0

> 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.
> Yigal
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