Fwd: [b-hebrew] Samekh/Sin

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Sun Nov 21 18:56:36 EST 2004

On 21/11/2004 17:37, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:

> ...
>>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, ...

Thanks for the clarification. The Coptic alphabet, according to 
http://std.dkuug.dk/JTC1/SC2/WG2/docs/n2636.pdf, certainly seems to have 
a theta (although variously names thethe, thita, tutte, tida) which 
clearly corresponds in shape, position in the alphabet and numeric value 
with the Greek theta. If this document is in fact based on false 
information, there may just be time to stop the letter being separately 
encoded in Unicode, but it looks to me like it is clearly attested.

The phonetic value is of course a separate issue. At one point this is 
given as [th], i.e. a sequence of the plosive [t] and a regular [h], 
rather than the phonetic theta. Perhaps the intention is an aspirated t, 
i.e. t with superscript h. This was also the ancient Greek pronunciation 
of theta, but I'm not sure when it shifted to the fricative like English th.

>... 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."
I guess this is a description of the pronunciation of the Coptic theta.

>...  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/.
Here I wonder if we are confusing what happened to Afroasiatic cognates 
with what happened to loan words. These things can be very different, 
when we are talking about rather distantly related languages. Contrast 
English cognates (via Germanic) of Latin and Greek words with English 
loan forms of those words, e.g. "five" (cognate) vs. "quint-" (Latin 
loan) vs. "pent-" (Greek loan). The phonetic correspondences for 
cognates are quite different from those for loan words. There are even 
similar mismatches within Germanic: "ship" (cognate) vs. "skip" and 
"skiff" (loans from Norse).

This implies that the Egyptian transliteration of Hebrew sofer, or the 
Hebrew transliteration suf of Egyptian words for reeds, might be very 
different from how they would be written if they were in fact 
Afroasiatic cognates.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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