[b-hebrew] Re: PS /g/

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Wed Nov 17 04:27:53 EST 2004

marianneluban wrote:
> (Quoting Yigal Levin):
> > 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.
> In the orthography, samekh was written very many times with 
> Egyptian /T/, a
> grapheme of unknown value, which later became interchangeable 
> with Egyptian /t/
> and lost its original sound.  I can't swear to the accuracy of this, 
> but it
> may be that /T/ once had the value of the Castilian vocalization of 
> the c in
> Barcelona as "Barthelona". Not quite the same as the English 
> dipthong "th"--but
> something near.
Hi.  It seems I answered the previous question regarding sin/samekh
in private mail.  I intended to send it to the list, and it seems it will 
be of interest to others too.  The following is what I wrote:

Two articles I recently read which seem to deal with this are:
Second Harvest: shibboleth Revisited (Yet Again), by Alice Faber,
JSS 37:1-10.

This article claims the original Semitic *th phoneme assimilated to 
*[s] (ancestor of shin) already in the 2nd millenium BCE, early on.  
Then this *[s] changed to *[sh], while another "lateral fricative" *[s'] 
(which she represents as an l with a sort of loop in the middle) was
represented as the same letter (sin).  Now, *[ts], ancestor of 
samekh deaffricated to s.

She has several other articles on this reconstruction, that I have not 
read, and quotes Steiner, The Case for Lateral Fricatives in 
Proto-Semitic, New Haven, 1977, for the sin lateral fricative.

The second article is The Biblical Shibboleth Story in the Light of 
Late Egyptian Perceptions of Semitic Sibilants: Reconciling 
Divergent Views, by Robert Woodhouse, JAOS 123, 2 (2003), 
available at JSTOR, I think. He accepts Faber's reconstruction but 
attempts to account for Ammonite Baalis(a) spelled with a shin, 
along with Ammonite Nahash/Shobi.  His conclusion that the PS 
*[s] > Canaanite /sh/ had its beginnings in Cisjordanian high vowel 
environments.  This still allows him to explain Shibboleth against 
Sibboleth, but also how Ammonite "Baalisha" was perceived by 
Cisjordanians as Baalis(a), while Ammonite Nahash was perceived 
by Cisjordanians as Nahash.  Altogether, he quotes 6 articles and a
dissertation by Faber on the issue. 

According to this then, there was one of the following at any one 
(samekh, shin, sin)
1) ts, s, s'
2) ts, sh, s'
3) s, sh, s'

I wonder if the division was twofold or whether Cisjordanian itself was
divided north and south on this issue as well.  This would require an
interesting attempt at trying to see how each community (Egypt,
Cisjordanian South, Cisjordanian North, Transjordan) perceived the
other's pronunciation of the various phonemes.

(end of original mail)

Furthermore, it seems the Egyptian phoneme you describe had the
phonetic value /c/.  In Phonologies of Asia and Africa, ch. 22, 
Antonio Loprieno writes on this: "Egyptian /c/, which is the
palatal phoneme usually transcribed t_ by Egyptologists, [...]
can be used to shed some light on the value of the phoneme /s/
(samekh), which must originally have been an affricate [ts] in

Yitzhak Sapir

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