[b-hebrew] The Sade/Ayin-Quf literary device

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Fri Dec 29 07:28:22 EST 2006

Linguists like triplets of phonemes.  In Afroasiatic, linguists
reconstruct triples of
voiceless, voiced, and emphatic phonemes.  For example, a series of such
phonemes that were all lateral continuant and dental/alevolar: l (voiced), the
ancestor of sin (voiceless), and an emphatic letter that later merged with other
letters and is represented in Hebrew as Sade.

In Aramaic, however, it was originally represented as Qof, and later
as Ayin.  In
Arabic, it is represented independently as an emphatic d.  The Balaam text of
Deir Alla represents this as Qof.  In 1 Sam 28:16, the word (rk "your enemy" has
an Ayin in place of a Sade for this consonant.  In Jer 10:11, both
consonants are
used for the cognate of )rc in the Aramaic verse, the first with an
Ayin, the second
with a Qof.  One may propose various explanations for this phenomenon.  I
suggest the following: Pre-exilic Hebrew maintained the affricate
letters (samekh
= [ts] which became s later on, another sade [ts'] which became s' later on, and
zayin [dz] which became z later on).  It also maintained this consonant although
it now shifted from a lateral fricative/continuant to a simple
fricative [s'].  As such,
this emphatic alveolar fricative was similar to both ghayin, a voiced
velar fricative,
and to qof, an emphatic velar stop.  I am not a phonetician, so the
above should be
taken with extreme care, but I am trying to explain the maintaining of separate
ayin/ghayin phonemes at this stage, with the maintaining of separate Sade
phonemes at this stage as well, and the use of both Qof/Sade for this phoneme.

Now, sometimes when we write letters not in the alphabet we may maintain
various systems for doing so.  For example, th in thin, or th in that,
in hebrew usually with taw and dalet respectively, and sometimes with an added
apostrophe (t', d').  Sometimes, however, there are multiple
representations that
a person may find himself picking as needed -- for example, het may be
represented as h, kh, ch, x or j.  It appears to me that this phoneme [s'] was
similar in that Hebrew speakers felt proper to represent it with either Qof or
Sade, or in Aramaic, with Ayin or Qof.  The traditional system of
spelling called
for Sade and Ayin, but trained scribes still recognized it proper and
to use Qof.  At times, for emphasis or as a literary device, they would repeat
the same word, once with the common representative letter (Sade or Ayin) and
later with Qof.  A clear example is Jer 10:11, but there are more:

Judges 5:26 has mxch followed by mxqh.
1 Kings 6:34 has cl(ym followed by ql(ym.
Isaiah 28:10 and 28:13 have cw lcw followed by qw lqw.
And we have Jer 10:11, of course.

The example of 1 Kings 6:34 suggests that this was not simply a poetic
device or a use of two words with similar meanings one of which was
borrowed from a cognate language, but a real use of the very same
word.  It makes no sense for 1 Kings 6:34 to use synonyms.

In the case of Isaiah 28, the words are of unclear meaning from the
context.  An Arabic dictionary of mine suggests the meaning of such
a word would be "light".  This may work with the only other occurence
of this word in the Bible, Hosea 5:11, where the meaning of a "false but
bright light" may fit the statement which follows about God recriprocating
by being like a "moth" to Israel.  That is, Israel was like a moth in
following the false bright light, so God is going to be a moth to Israel
in return.

That is, the preexilic Hebrew speakers recognized at least two different
Sade, and for one, they felt comfortable with sometimes varying the
consonantal representation for emphasis or as a literary device.  So just
like today we would add an apostrophe, an underscore, a dot beneath, to
mark the letter as a different pronunciation from the common, the ancient
Hebrew speakers felt that they could repeat the word and slightly vary the
consonantal representation.  It would be like I said today, "Hanukka,
Chanukkah, such a beautiful holiday!" (This is a translation from a Hebrew
Hanukkah song).

Yitzhak Sapir

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