[b-hebrew] intelligibility : Heb. -Moabite etc

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Wed Jun 28 21:45:18 EDT 2006

> Karl Randolph wrote:

> What I know of Moabite is what I read on the Mesha
> stone. Unless Hebrew from that time had a different
> pronunciation for the letters than did Moab, which
> I find highly unlikely, the differences between
> Moabite and Hebrew were less than those between a
> Hoosier twang and a deep southern drawl, both U.S.
> English, or about the same as between Norwegian and
> Swedish.
> In comparison, the differences between Hebrew and
> Aramaic remind me of the differences between German
> and Dutch, recognizably close cognate languages,
> but not readily understood when spoken.

On 6/28/06, Uri Hurwitz wrote:

>  From the evidence we have about Moabite , mainly Mesha,
>  this appears to have been the situation with regard to the
>  spoken Hebrew at the time. The same occurs with regard to
>  Ugaritic and biblical Hebrew, though the variation between
>  them is greater. Anyone well versed in BH, or the average
>  speaker and reader of modern Hebrew would undrstand,
>  from their built in knowledge of BH, quite a few lines from
>  the easiest epic from Ugarit, Keret, in latin letters
>  transliteration. Not to mention dozens and dozens of
> idioms that both languages share.
>  In this case, because of the temporal and georaphical
>  distance, the pronounciation difference could well be
>  greater than between BH and Moabite, Ammonite or
>  Phoenician.

It is very hard to tell back, especially with only a consonantal
text, whether languages were mutually intelligible or not.
Depending of course on one's view on Biblical historicity, one
may find examples such as Is 36:11 to suggest that Hebrew
and Aramaic were not mutually intelligible.  However, from
your discussion above, it is clear that this verse is not
necessarily necessary for such a conclusion.

When presented with Moabite, the question of mutual
intelligibility is an open one.  Moabite, on the one hand,
presents almost consistent use of h- for the definite
article, something found in Hebrew and not in Aramaic.
On the other hand, it bears other similarities that make
it appear very much more similar to Aramaic.  At this
point, I do not see how we can know if the a: > o
"Canaanite Shift" had taken place in Moabite, absent
any vocalic evidence.  But other examples: the use of
-n for plural masculine (compared with -m for Hebrew,
Phoenician, Amarna Canaanite, and Ugaritic) or the
use of the word $t for "year" (compared with Hebrew
$nh) place it close to Aramaic.  Mesha also has in
common with Tel Dan the word "hltxmh" (Hebrew uses
niphal).  All this suggests a much more basic similarity
between Moabite and Aramaic, than between Moabite
and Hebrew, based solely on the consonantal text.  There
are additional sound changes that cannot necessarily be
tied to Aramaic (such as ay > e) but which have driven
Hebrew and Moabite further from "mutual intelligbility."  So
while the consonantal text may appear to be similar to
Hebrew in some respects, a close examination may
suggest it actually developed out of Aramaic, although it
had some common features with Hebrew (h-, d. > s.,
and maybe even a: > o).  Those common features would
still not make it mutually intelligible.

Yitzhak Sapir

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