[b-hebrew] Apparently Redundant Letters

Kevin Riley klriley at alphalink.com.au
Tue Oct 11 03:16:48 EDT 2005

-------Original Message-------
>From: Karl Randolph
>Date: 10/11/05 01:42:29
>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

That the Romans adopted the alphabet from the Etruscans has long been
acknowledged.  Evidence of this is the use of ,gamma. for /k/, the Etruscans
not distinguishing between voiced and voiceless sounds.  Also that the
Etruscans adopted the alphabet froom the western Greek version, rather than
the eastern Greek version that we are more familiar with

>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.

The earliest Greek examples actually resemble Phoenician from 2 centuries
before that date, which has led some scholars to believe the Greeks adopted
the alphabet from Cyprus [who had adopted it from Phoenicians previously]
rather than directly.  That makes sense historically and geographically.

>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.

And neither came up with an alphabet that notated only the phonemes of the
respective langauges - no more and no less.  Which undermines your theory of
Hebrew only having 22 consonants symbols because it only had 22 phonemes.

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.

None of these assertions have been backed up with evidence, and in fact the
evidence is against them.  It would help your case if you could at least
come up with a few ancient cases of languages spelt phonetically.

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.

Not arguing, nor agreeing, just giving another point of view so Alexander
won't think your view is accepted widely.

Kevin Riley

Karl W. Randolph.
> From: Alexander Oldernes
> Date: 10/09/05 01:44:43
> Some of the Hebrew letters appears redundant, because the pronunciation
> 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
> readers.
> My perception is based on "A modern grammar for classical Hebrew"
> and I have the following understanding of the apparently redundant letters

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