[b-hebrew] Ayin and Ghayin

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Fri Oct 7 15:42:27 EDT 2005


I have already answered the problem with the 
execration texts, I will go into more detail here.

First of all, we are dealing with the situation that the 
last native speaker of Biblical Hebrew died 2500 years 
ago, so the only clues we have are the writings they left 
behind, and modern practices (unless you claim that 
ancient Hebrews were somehow different from modern 

>From the written record, we see no evidence that the 
ancient Hebrews, i.e. native speakers who lived before 
the Babylonian Captivity, differentiated sin from shin. 
However, they differentiated both sin and shin from 


The counter-argument is that loan words and names 
sometimes introduce new phones and phonemes into 
languages. Did that happen that way with these city 
names into Hebrew? Or did the ancient Hebrews 
mangle their pronunciations according to phonemes 
already in Biblical Hebrew in the same manner as 
modern speakers mangle foreign words and names? 
We have no proof either way.

To give some examples where we have documentation 
or can ask native speakers: while the German "ch" 
sound is now found in English, the O Umlaut is usually 
mangled by most American speakers as "er" sound. 
German long ago lost the theta sound, so Germans 
usually mispronounce it as an "s" or "t". Norwegian 
didn't have the soft "g" sound, so they mispronounced 
"garage" as "garash" with the Norwegian spelling as 
"garasj". Ancient Greeks had one unvoiced sibilant, so 
they tended to transliterate samekh, sin and shin as 
sigma. And all westerners going to China need to watch 
out that they learn the correct tones which have 
phonemic import, or they risk calling a man not a 
"lord" but a "pig". Many, many, many more examples 
can be presented. From surveying modern practices, it 
is far more prevalent that loan words and names are 
mangled in pronunciation than that they introduce new 
phonemes into a language.

Were pre-Exile Hebrews different from modern man? 
Or did they mangle the pronunciation of loan words 
and names to make them fit within their phonemic 
structure, as is the usual practice today? That is why I 
find neither the execration texts nor cognate languages 
as proof that Hebrew had these phonemes.

But I do find as evidence the common practice that 
when an alphabet is devised for a language, that one 
letter usually stands for one phoneme. Thus the 22 
letters stand for the 22 consonantal phonemes that 
Hebrew originally had. Again I assume the common 
humanity of ancient Israel.

Now why would Hebrew pronunciation as preserved by 
the Masoretes follow the same patterns as found in 
cognate languages? Again, looking at the same patterns 
as above, when Hebrew ceased to be spoken as a native 
tongue, people, when they read Hebrew, mangled the 
pronunciation of Hebrew according to their native 
tongue, which was overwhelmingly Aramaic for a 
thousand years before the Masoretes recorded it. In 
working with immigrants, where I see children, while 
they yet speak their parents' language fluently, mangle 
the pronunciation of that language according to 
American phonemic practices; the thought that the 
Masoretic points preserved the original pronunciations 
from a thousand years earlier boggles the mind. Again I 
assume a common humanity.

Finally, concerning the times that sin and shin are used 
in modern practice to indicate words from different 
roots: when I looked at the data, I was impressed by 
how rarely that occurs. I didn't quantify it because I 
was doing research not directly connected with this 
question, but it seems to be no more prevalent than for 
any other letter (assuming the sin/shin is one letter). 
Further, it needs to be taken in context of the several 
words written once with a sin, and another time with a 
shin as well as those cases where words from a 
common root are sometimes spelled with a sin and 
sometimes with a shin. The latter two examples are 
evidences that the sin/shin originally was one letter. 
Already I covered this in greater detail before.

What I need from you is documentation, documents 
written before the Babylonian Exile, in Hebrew, that 
show the developments that you claim occured in 
Hebrew. For reasons given above, I accept neither 
cognate languages nor post-Exile developments as 
proof, unless accompanied by such documentation. So 
far you have refused to provide such documentation. 
Therefore, I conclude that such documentation does 
not exist, or that which exists contradicts the 
hypothesis you so strenuously defend.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Yitzhak Sapir" <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com>
> ...
> I had brought evidence from the Execration Texts regarding the 
> sh/th difference:
> http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-hebrew/2005-September/026221.html
> As for Shin/Sin, Daniel Sivan's and Ziporah Cochavi-Rainey's "West Semitic
> Vocabulary in Egyptian Script of the 14th to the 10th centuries BCE" notes:
> Semitic & is represented in Egyptian by signs with s' and s, eg:
> (a-s'-bu in GN [39, cf Heb (es'eb, Arabic (u$bu].
> s'a'-(a'-ru' "hair" [187, cf Heb &e(ar, Arabic $a(r, $a(ar]
> For further information and Bibliography see Sivan "Grammatical Analysis and
> Glossary of the Northwest Semitic Vocables in Akkadian Texts of the 15th-13th
> centuries BC from Canaan and Syria", AOAT 214.
> Semitic $ is expressed by Egyptian with $, eg.
> ma-$:-)ab "scoop" (117) from *$)B
> Ma-$a-)-la GN (Thut III, 39) Heb Mi$)al < Canaanite *Ma$)al
> (a'-$a-q "to oppress" (40), Heb (a$aq, Arabic (a$aqa.
> Does this suffice?
> Yitzhak Sapir

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