Fwd: [b-hebrew] Samekh/Sin

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Sun Nov 21 12:37:21 EST 2004

Marianne Luban wrote:
> When Loprieno speaks of "k", he is referring to Coptic dialects
> where G47 is variously said as "dj" or "k"!  Beats me as to why,
> but I still don't think it has anything to do with the other sign,
> /T/--because I don't know of any instances where that became
> "k" in any Coptic dialect.

No.  Clearly, when Loprieno speaks of Afroasiatic /k/, he is
speaking of something else.  Semitic and Egyptian are two
branches of a language family known as "Afroasiatic."  As such
they inherited basic words, grammar, and phonemes.  Each
underwent different sound rules and was used in a different
environment leading to different languages.  However, certain
things are so basic that they remain.  Second person pronouns
are one of these.  In Modern Hebrew, the second person pronouns
are: -kha (masc sing), -akh (fem sing), -akhem (masc plur),
-akhen (fem plur).  This is modern hebrew, millenia later, and we
still see the characteristic /k/ in each of these.  Egyptian also
had these, but just like Hebrew eventually underwent sound
changes that led to k aspiration (kh < *k), so did Egyptian
undergo some sound changes.  In this case, he said that the
feminine ending underwent palatalization: (c < *k).  It has nothing
to do with Coptic.  This goes much earlier to the prehistory of

> But, if /T/ was ever "th", it lost that value long
> ago because, in the Coptic alphabet it is always written with
> tau--and there is no theta in the Coptic alphabet, which is
> derived from the Greek one.

Loprieno's phonetic transcription of Coptic certainly has no
theta, but I didn't keep his entire discussion of Coptic since
Coptic interests me not one bit.  The phonetic transcription
survived by virtue of the bibliography which begins the next
column.  But he writes, "this aspiration" (optional aspiration of
t and other letters, leading them to sound like [th] etc) "is still
exhibited by some Coptic dialects such as Bohairic."

> In fact, all the old Egyptian words that used to contain /d/  [as in
> "dung"] have become tau, as well.

According to Loprieno, this already happened in Later Egyptian:
t3.wj */'taRwvj/ > Akk. transcription ta-a-wa 'the two lands'
dbn */'di:ban/ > Akk. transcription ti-ba-an 'dbn-weight'

> But the fact still remains that Semitic words which we would have
> expected to be written with a samekh, were transcribed with /T/ in
> the Egyptian orthography--however samekh was vocalized --and
> those containing tsade--however that was vocalized in Biblical
> times--were NOT.

However emphatic you are about this issue, it means absolutely
nothing.  This is a fact no one debates.  But it has nothing to do
with the vocalization of Samekh.  Tsade sounded like an emphatic
s.  Loprieno suggests that the AfroAsiatic *t. and *s. merge into
Eg. /d/, which in turn is realized as an ejective t.  AfroAsiatic
emphatic velars *k. and *x. merge into /j-/ (commonly transcribed
d_), for example: AA *wrk. > Eg. w3d_ */`waRij-/ 'green', Sem *warq
(yaroq, in hebrew).  However, this d_ is now closer to Tsade:
Tanis is transcribed Tsoan.  Egyptian /d/ (heir of *t. and *s.) is
rendered by Semitic tet (t.) in Hebrew and Babylonian, whereas in
the other direction, Tet is rendered in Egyptian by either /d/ or /t/.

> You know, I can't understand why current philologists in Egyptian
> language find it so hard to believe there may have been something
> like "th" in AE.

Loprieno reconstructs z as phonetic /theta/, ie. th, noting that
Schenkel suggests that z was an affricate [ts], because sometimes
king ntsw is written nzw.  "But it needs to be stressed that the
phonological opposition between /theta/ and /s/ was neutralized
by the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, at which time <z> and
<s> had become graphic variants of the same phoneme /s/."
Furthermore, there was optional aspiration on /p/, /t/, /c/, and /k/,
shown by the fact that these are commonly transcribed in
Greek by phi, theta, sigma, and khi, respectively.
pth. > phi-theta-alpha (the god Ptah)
t_b-nt_r > Sigma - epsilon - beta - epsilon - nu - nu - upsilon -
tau - omicron - sigma (the city of Sebennytos)
b3k-n-rn=f - Beta - omicron - gamma/kappa/nothing - khi - omicron -
rho - iota - sigma 'Bocchoris'

Anyhow, evidently he has no problem reconstructing th in
Egyptian, although not in the phonemes you describe.

> They were always used--because that is the only system the
> Egyptians had.

I think you overestimate the necessity of vowels for Semitic (and
probably related Egyptian) languages.  Even in Modern Hebrew
today, it is much more common that a vocalized transcription
be given for a foreign word, than for a local word of the language.
This applies also to foreign words from Semitic languages since
many times their syllabic structure differs from the local one.

> If you belief that "sofer" was vocalized "tsofer" in ancient
> times--then the glove fits.
> Otherwise not.

Yes, I was convinced by Faber's study even though it completely
destroyed a line of theory I had.  I had to go back and try to work
out a different line of argument.  But then, what is study?  Faber's
study answers a whole lot of questions about this issue:
1) How come Arabic s and sh are apparently interchanged in
other Semitic dialects.
2) Akkadian sh probably sounded originally like an s.
3) How come th was merged into shin in Hebrew, taw in Aramaic,
but not into samekh.
4) How come shin and sin were merged in Phoenician.

> That is because Loprieno evidenty still believes that /T/  and G47
> represent the same sound.  What he means by underlined t is
> what we usually write as /T/.  Well--maybe he is right--if there was
> no appreciable difference between samekh and tsade in ancient
> times!

I still have no idea what G47 is.  Are you referring to the "duck"
symbol on http://www.ancientscripts.com/egyptian.html ?
But in any case, there was definitely an appreciable difference
between samekh and tsade, or else they wouldn't be written in
the same letter.

I'll finish with a "current events" note.  Loprieno writes that
AA *sulx.am 'locust' evolved into Egyptian znh.mw */than'h-u:mv~w/
and Hebrew sol`am.

Yitzhak Sapir

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