Fwd: [b-hebrew] Samekh/Sin

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Tue Nov 23 12:27:00 EST 2004

----- Original Message -----
From: "Yitzhak Sapir" <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com>

> ...
> 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.
> ...
> Yitzhak Sapir

And I want to ask one more question, which may throw this whole pronunciation question in the air:

What is the effect of orthography (correct spelling) on the pronunciations of the different graphemes?

For some background: when I looked at European languages using the Latin alphabet (not English, it is a mess), I noticed that those languages where the spelling remained fluid, the values and pronunciations of the graphemes tended to remain constant even as the language changed, with variation in spelling reflecting dialectual use and shifts in language pronunciation. But where there is an attempt to maintain a correct spelling, then as the language changed, the pronunciation of the graphemes changed, making it difficult to impossible to recognize when and where a language changed from looking at historic examples of writing.

As a result, the German pronunciation of graphemes is closer to the original Latin use of the same, than is French, even though French is descended from Latin.

To get back to Hebrew: the Greek theta is unquestionably derived from the Hebrew tet, xi from the samekh, sigma from sin/shin. Was there ever a time before quite modern times where Greek writing had its spellings frozen, thereby causing these letters to have a major change in pronunciations?

Yet Hebrew did suffer from a freezing of spelling, that lasted from the end of the Babylonian captivity to today, precisely at times when the language was under intense pressure to change.

As a corrolary to the above question: is it possible that the Greek pronunciations preserve more of the original grapheme pronunciations than does Hebrew?

Given the above history, I think it is not only possible, but probable.

Karl W. Randolph.
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