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

Kevin Riley klriley at alphalink.com.au
Thu Nov 23 07:39:09 EST 2006

-------Original Message------- 
From: Yitzhak Sapir 
Date: 23/11/2006 11:20:34 PM 
> 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? 
How is one statement inconsistent with the other? We have attested both 
Old South Arabian and Akkadian. Both attestations are "pure gold." Where 
Does it say anywhere that if the earliest attestation has less phonemes than

A later attestation of a cognate language, then the cognate language must 
Have gained them rather than the earlier attested language having lost them 
In prehistory? It doesn't, because it doesn't follow logically. However, let

Me note, that if I remember correctly, Old Akkadian and Eblaite have more 
Phonemes than later Akkadian. 
Akkadian is written in a 'foreign' script.  The fact that voiced, voiceless
and emphatic consonants are not distinguished in some cases, or only
voiced/voiceless consonants are distinguished, points to the script not
being phonetic.  From memory, this continued right down to New Assyrian and
Late Babylonian.  The attested vowels also show that /aleph/ [or later,
coalescence of vowels when aleph was lost] comes from more than one phoneme.
 Ugaritic uses 2 alphabets - one the familiar 22 letters, the other the
familiar 29 + a couple of extras.  Which one should we take as representing 
real" Ugaritic?  As they were both used at the same time, did Ugaritic have
22 or 29 phonemes, or should be simply say "insufficient data"?  Considering
the polyvalency of almost all ANE scripts, I think the assumption that any
ANE script is phonetic needs to be supported with real evidence.
Kevin Riley

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