[b-hebrew] phonetic writing

Frank Polak frankha at post.tau.ac.il
Tue Oct 25 06:50:02 EDT 2005

Dear All,
Maybe you will find some interest in the following item:
Angel Saenz-Badiollos, A History of the Hebrew Language (E.T. John 
Elwolde), A History of the Hebrew Language, Cambridge UK, 1993,
pp. 76-111: ‘Biblical Hebrew in its Various Traditions’, including 
discussions of the testimony of the Greek and Latin transcriptions, as 
well as the traditions of the Palestinian (supralinear), Babylonian 
(supralinear) and Tiberian vocalization. The chapter on Hebrew in the 
Period of the Second Temple is relevant as well.

Frank Polak

Some Comments:
What we can see is that the vowel system of Hebrew in the Greek and 
Latin transcriptions is in some sense close to the Palestinian 
supralinear vocalization, a system which continues to thrive in the 
Sephardic pronunciation (qamatz longer than patach, but not 
qualitatively different), and also much like Mishnic Hebrew (according 
to the great ancient manuscripts, not the printed editions that reflect 
adaptation to TH!).
* An important similarity is that TH chireq often corresponds with an 
epsilon (like in Syriac >men< =THebrew >min<). The Babylonian 
pronunciation is reminiscent of Jacobitic Western Syriac in that the 
qamatz is pronounced as /o/, like Jacobitic Syriac >zeqofo< (unlike 
Nestorian eastern Syriac >Zeqafa<).
* Another detail is the masculine 2nd pers sing suffix >ak_<, 
contrasting with TH >ka< or >k_a<.
* If one follows chronology, like Kahle did, the TH form would look 
like a late construction. But now it is clear, from the Qumran texts, 
that this feature is old, and, like already argued by Bergstraesser 
against Kahle, reflects “proto-semitic” (at least, common to TH, Arabic 
and Akkadian).
*Other aspects of the transcriptions are matched by Qumran Hebrew, such 
as Sodom/>SWDM< in Qumran (the interchange a/o is also found in Judean 
* The >m/n< interchange at the end of the word, the rounding off of the 
vowel at the word end by >n<  is common to Qumran Hebrew and 
Hebrew/Aramaic inscriptions from the Roman-Byzantine period (YWDN = 
* Conclusion:
Speaking from this perspective one has to say that Tiberian Hebrew 
reflects on the one hand ancient phenomena that had been discontinued 
in spoken Hebrew of the Roman-Byzantine period, and on the other hand 
developments that are not ancient, and are similar to features in other 
language traditions (or if you want, regional languages).
* By the way 1, in some passages the Tiberian punctuation may reflect 
alternative traditions!
* By the way 2, Biblical Hebrew is not the same as "Ancient Hebrew", 
even though in many respects it is related.

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