[b-hebrew] Re: PS /g/

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Wed Nov 17 00:52:42 EST 2004

Dear Karl,

The fact that Hebrew spells the name Alexander (who arrived of the scene in
333 BCE) as "Aleksander" is proof enough that at least at that time, Hebrew
did not have an /x/ sound.
There is absolutely no proof that Samekh ever had anything other than an /s/
sound, though it was obviously different originally (in early Canaanite)
than Sin.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Karl Randolph" <kwrandolph at email.com>
To: "Hebrew" <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Wednesday, November 17, 2004 4:19 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Re: PS /g/

> Yigal:
> 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
> > Xi is quite apparent. Greek did not have a /sh/ sound, and so adopted
> > 21st letter of the Phoenician alphabet as /s/. Samekh was then
> > 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
> > a function which Phoenician did without.
> >
> > So, it would seem that the distinction between Samekh and Sin, which
> > 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
> > the tradition of spelling some words with Samekh and others with Sin, in
> > some Aramic dialects the spellings shifted towards Samekh. When the
> > 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
> > by everyone else did not, or at least, the way they pronounced Sin
> > was DIFFERENT than Samekh), was close enough to Shin so that they used
> > same letter. The Hebrews, at least, and probably most Arameans as well,
> > the tradition of pronouncing both Shin and Sin, a tradition that
> > all the way down to the masoretes, who added the dot on the right for
> > and on the left for Sin.
> >
> > BTW, Ayin/Ghayin has a similar history. Early Semitic obviously had
> > Arabic retains both to this day. Canaanite and Phonician lost the
> > distinction early enough so that the alphabet has only one letter. In
> > at least, the distinction was retained in speach as late as the
> > 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
> > had been lost.
> >
> >
> > Yigal
> --
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