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

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Thu Nov 23 10:50:11 EST 2006


On 11/23/06, Yitzhak Sapir <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com> wrote:
> We have been through many of these issues before.  I still think it is
> useful sometimes to rehash, but definitely not to the depth of the past
> discussions.  It helps newcomers to the list see the problems (or,
> perhaps from your point of view, merits) to your positions on these
> issues which you invariably bring up on many occassions interspaced
> with your interpretations.  Also, in this particular post, you responded
> to the essay by Kathleen Hubbard, an essay which I brought up at
> least two times before, once in discussion with you.  This is the first
> time, though, that you actually responded to the claims and statements
> made there.
Of course, it always helps that if you refer to essays, that you
provide the URLs to them so that people can respond to them. You
haven't always done that.

> On 11/22/06, K Randolph wrote:
> > 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.
> Linguists don't suppose that.  Hebrew gained various phonemes not
> attested in the original language.  It gained the vowel "o", for example,

Seeing as the vowels were never written until much later, where is the
evidence for that? Speculation again?

> or the consonant "$", both of which are not believed to have existed in
> Proto-Semitic.  However, Hebrew $ is mainly a reflex of PS *s.
> However, in certain cases, it is possible that because of a sound
> change, a phoneme in certain environments would change depending
> on the surrounding phonemes.  This is the case with the multiple
> pronounciations of the letter resh, and is also, I understand, one
> explanation for the development of Ghayin in the unrecoverable
> prehistory of Proto-Semitic.  It has also been suggested that the
> two allophones of p, [p] and [f], had become separate phonemes
> based on the following minimal pair: *[?alpe] - "two thousands of"
> vs [?alfe] - "(plural) thousands of".  The first, however, is only
> reconstructed and is not attested.
Again speculation with no written evidence to back it up.

> > 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?

Who said they are inconsistent? What they are inconsistent with is the
supposition that the speculated proto-Semitic always had 29
consonantal phonemes.

> ...  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.
> > 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?
> Such as which phonemes?
> Hebrew did not cease to be taught perhaps ever.

Obviously you did not understand what was said. Let me translate it to
simpler English. The language "taught at one's mother's knee" is the
first language that a person learns. It is the one he babbles with his
parents when he is two. Later, when he goes to school, he may learn
another language or two or three and may in time know those languages
better than the language he learned first from his parents, but that
does not make those languages  "taught at one's mother's knee".

When did Hebrew cease to be  "taught at one's mother's knee"? There is
evidence, though not proof, that that occurred during the Babylonian
Captivity, or started then and was completed within a few generations

> ...  However, it ceased to be
> spoken, with only the liturgical language being taught even at a very young
> age.  This happened probably sometime in the middle first millenium CE.
> Throughout its spoken history, Hebrew always borrowed words.  But I am
> unsure as to which phonemes of "Aramaic" you are referring here.
The loss of the distinctiveness of the samech, and the bifurcations of
bet, gimmel, dalet, kap, peh, sin and tau.

> > 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,
> In the 8th century BCE, when we can identify the language as Hebrew.
What historical documentation do you have for this statement? Or is
this just your theological belief? I suspect the latter.

Statements within the documents indicate as early as 15th century BC,
if not earlier.

> > writing it had prior to contact with the Phoenician traders.
> This statement above is unsupported by evidence.

More evidence than what you have. Just because you have made a
theological decision to discount that evidence does not mean that that
evidence is not there.

> ...  More significantly,
> it probably hasn't occurred to you that Hebrew is very much a dialect of
> Phoenician and that Israelites were also considered to be "Phoenician" by
> the Greeks just as well as the Phoenicians from Tyre, Sidon, or Byblos.
What the Greeks thought is irrelevant.

Just because the languages were close cognates does not make Biblical
Hebrew a dialect of Phoenician.

> > Why should that not be evidence that Hebrew, at
> > the time it was written ("pure gold" see above), had 22 consonants?
> This is not the reason that attested languages are "pure gold."  In any
> case, the writing system is distinct from the spoken language.

Where is your evidence for this? Did you interview a native speaker?

> ....  In this
> case, because Hebrew maintains phonemes consistently that are known
> to be represented also in cognate languages in the same consistent
> manner across a large number of cognate words, the only logical
> conclusion is that Hebrew maintained those phonemes even though they
> were for a long time not represented uniquely in the writing system.

We have been over this before. All you have is non-falsifiable
speculation to back up this statement. Or did you interview native

> ...  The
> clearest example of this is Shin and Sin.  Since we discussed this at
> length in the past, there is no need to rehash this part.
> > 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.
> The reason it is exceptionless, is because the sound change is not a
> conscious choice of the speakers but a natural development related to
> their ability to pronounce words.  Just like most English speakers can't
> pronounce [x], and most Israeli speakers can't pronounce either [dh] or
> [th] properly.  It may be governed by a phonetic condition (such as
> "a sound change that occurs only in prevocalic environments") but it
> remains exceptionless.
Apparently you have not learned how children learn languages. Those
difficulties in pronouncing sounds you mention is a matter of how
children learn to speak languages. It has nothing to do with ability
to pronounce words. Usually at about 14, something becomes hard wired
in a person's brain that if he has not learned certain sounds in daily
life, he often can no longer learn those sounds. Often is the
operative term here, as with hard practice, many people can learn new
phones after that age.

Because many people can learn new phones even after 14, and their
children can pick those phones up even if their parents didn't,
language change is not mechanical and exceptionless.

> > 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
> > language.
> This is all wrong.  We are analyzing Biblical Hebrew, the language as
> it was chanted by the Tiberian Massoretes in the late centuries of the
> first millenium CE, and historical linguistics is very relevant.

You may be studying that, but I am not. Because I know that the
cantillations and points were not found in Biblical Hebrew, I read the
text without them. If I had access to a good consonantal pre-Masoretic
text, I would use that instead of an unpointed Masoretic text that I
use. As I said, as far as it is in my ability, I am studying Biblical
Hebrew, not Masoretic Hebrew.

Even a study of the text as it was chanted by the Tiberian Masoretes
in the late centuries of the first millennium AD is still a time
capsule, as it were, of the language where historical linguistics is
irrelevant. It is only by going beyond the Masoretes that historical
linguistics become relevant.

> ...  Because
> you are invoking above issues of belief (how Moses wrote documents,
> and which documents, etc) we can't discuss this issue further
> following the request by George Athas.  (Besides, the issue has been
> discussed by us as well as by James Read and Christopher Heard
> in the past).
You invoke your theological beliefs repeatedly, even in this message.

> Yitzhak Sapir

Karl W. Randolph.

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