[b-hebrew] Apparently Redundant Letters

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Mon Oct 10 11:42:29 EDT 2005

Dear Alexander:

The problem you describe is answered by your opening 
statement, "Some of the Hebrew letters appears 
redundant, because the pronunciation has changed into 
sounds that are already used by other letters."

But what were the original pronunciations?

One of the clues that I recognize is the pronunciations that 
the letters have in other languages that accepted the 
alphabet. I weigh the earlier adoptions heavier.

The example of the Greek alphabet has already been 
thoroughly discussed on this list, so I don't think I need to 
go over that again.

But I suspect the Roman alphabet also represents an 
adoption that is independent of Greek. Oh I recognize the 
common belief that the Romans learned writing from the 
Greeks, which even the Romans believed, however some 
of the forms betray evidences of an earlier, independent 
adoption by those who spoke a predecessor language to 

In particular, I noticed that the "R" looks like a somewhat 
simplified and stylized proto-Sinaitic resh and the "S" 
curvy more like some proto-Sinaitic sins than the later 
angular form that resembled the sigma. Looking at the 
whole alphabet, it appears as if the pre-Romans adopted 
it during the transition from proto-Sinaitic to Phoenician, 
while the Greeks just from Phoenician.

Both the Romans and the Greeks changed some of the 
letters to vowels and dropped letters that they did not see 
use for (apparently both languages recognized fewer 
phonemes than did Hebrew) and both appended letters to 
their abecedary to represent phonemes they did not 
recognize existing letters to cover. 

Without going into all the details, the evidence from these 
two sources contradicts what we were taught in beginning 
Hebrew classes, and what appears in Hebrew grammars. 
That evidence, added to the practice I have of reading the 
unpointed text, along with the pattern that when 
languages are spelled phonetically, letters rarely change 
sound values (though it happens) and changes are more 
likely in vowels than consonants, lead me to conclusions 
that I have. Changes in letter values almost always occur 
when spelling is frozen, as was Hebrew from the 
Babylonian Captivity onwards, Aramaic apparently from 
the Persian period onwards, and Latin from about the 
third century or later.

This is my 2¢ on the discussion, put out for information 
purposes only, and to show the difficulty we have when 
we try to recreate the pronunciation of a dead language.

Please no one start to argue. Instead, agree to disagree.

Karl W. Randolph.

> From: Alexander Oldernes
> Date: 10/09/05 01:44:43
> Some of the Hebrew letters appears redundant, because the pronunciation has
> changed into sounds that are already used by other letters.
> Redundant letters makes it hard to remember how to spell a word.
> Therefore it's a good practice to distinguish the sounds of the letters,
> making it easier to remember the spellings.
> We may not be sure of the original sounds, but I think it's important to
> indicate that these letters originally had different sounds.
> I have always tried to distinguish these letters by pronouncing them
> differently.
> The problem is that there are so many sources with different opinions on
> which sound is closest to the original pronunciation.
> Therefore I would like to hear the general understanding among the b-hebrew
> readers.
> My perception is based on "A modern grammar for classical Hebrew" (Garrett),
> and I have the following understanding of the apparently redundant letters..
> ...
> I look forward to hearing your perception on this subject.
> Regards
> Alexander Oldernes
> Norway

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