[b-hebrew] comparative historical linguistics was Re: Nun-Tav-Vet root

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Wed Nov 22 15:47:04 EST 2006


On 11/21/06, Yitzhak Sapir <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com> wrote:
> ...
> In a sense, you and Karl think alike.  Neither of you has apparently any
> understanding of how comparative historical linguistics is done, nor are you
> or him have any knowledge of some cognate languages.
> ...
> Yitzhak Sapir

Thanks for the references.

I plead guilty to the second charge, and at times it is a detriment,
other times an advantage.

As far as comparative historical linguistics, it is one thing to be
ignorant thereof, another to disagree with some of its methodology. I
disagree, and that based on the written records of some languages.

One of the presuppositions for the "reconstruction" of proto-Semitic
is that languages only lose phonemes, they do not gain them. The
history of northern Germanic languages shows just the opposite, that
languages definitely can and do gain phonemes as well as lose them.

In the utexas document, there is this statement, "Pure gold for the
historical linguist is ATTESTED (written) ancient forms." According to
that, if "Akkadian, the earliest-attested Semitic language, has only
18 consonants." (that is making certain assumptions) then when we get
to the later "All of the 29 Proto-Semitic consonants are preserved as
distinct sounds in the Old South Arabian languages (such as Sabaean)",
is this not another example of where languages have gained, not lost,
phonemes? Thus Hebrew, when it ceased to be taught at one's mother's
knee, would it not gain the phonemes of the native languages, in
particular Aramaic of that time, of those who read Hebrew?

Going back to the statement, "Pure gold for the historical linguist is
ATTESTED (written) ancient forms." we find Hebrew was originally
written using 22 consonants, writing it had prior to contact with the
Phoenician traders. Why should that not be evidence that Hebrew, at
the time it was written ("pure gold" see above), had 22 consonants?

Another statement with which I disagree, is "Reconstruction revolves
around the notion that sound change is mechanical and exceptionless."
In particular I disagree with the "exceptionless". Human beings are
not automata, sometimes they go against the rules for sheer
orneriness, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

But the bottom line is that this is pretty much irrelevant to the
study of Biblical Hebrew. During the thousand years that Hebrew was
written, from the 15th to 5th centuries BC (discounting the
possibility that Moses merely copied older documents when writing
Genesis), we have a time capsule, as it were, of the language as it
existed at that time. It is that time capsule that we are analyzing.
It is not even the same language as Mishnaic Hebrew, a daughter

Because historic linguistics is pretty much irrelevant to the study of
Biblical Hebrew, I really do not want to get into arguments concerning
it, especially on line. I've already spent more time on this message
than I want to.

Yours, Karl W. Randolph.

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