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

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Fri Nov 24 01:35:36 EST 2006


I don't know whether to answer you seriously, or just make mockery of
your statements as did Isaac Fried.

On 11/23/06, Yitzhak Sapir <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com> wrote:
> We have already been through the theological beliefs issues from
> various angles.  You are practically the only person here who believes
> that the 22 letter alphabet was designed from scratch for Hebrew to
> mark all consonants separately, and this is based, in part, on your
> theologically based beliefs regarding what script the Torah was
> written in, what the value of the Massoretic vowels was,

"Value" pertaining to vowels? I knew the consonants had values, used
to record numbers, but the vowels too? Except I wonder if I should be
looking for a scarecrow, you know, the guy made of clothes stuffed
with straw who makes straw man arguments?

> ... and what
> date the Torah was written, all of which are without evidence.

In other words, 1 Kings 6:1, which dates the Exodus to 480 years
before the building of the First Temple, is not evidence? And that
First Temple was build in the 10th century BC. That makes the Torah,
written by the person who led the Exodus, to have been written in the
15 century BC. Since when is that not evidence? Better evidence than
the speculation that you provide.

> ...  Your
> beliefs contradict the standard accepted conclusions held by practically
> everyone else, of all theological persuasions.

Really, you ought to visit http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/
for this is an example of the Ad Populum logical fallacy, otherwise
known as the appeal to popularity.

> ...  Just because your
> beliefs are related to your own theological beliefs does not make
> my positions theological.

Really, you ought to learn logic, because whether or not your position
is theological is completely independent of whether or not mine is.
Yours is theological because it is based on certain beliefs concerning
deity and what deity can and/or cannot do.

> ...  It does make your positions somewhat
> off-topic and we've already hashed the principles involved several
> times.  I will concentrate instead, on your statements regarding
> the historical linguistic method, which is also the topic of this
> thread.
> > 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.
> I provided the URL already in the past.
> > > 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?
> I am not sure what the question is.  Proto-Semitic is reconstructed with
> only *a, *i, and *u vowels, as well as long corresponding vowels.  The
> alphabetic scripts do not include vowels but all the alphabetic scripts
> post-date instances of both East and West Semitic languages in syllabic
> script.  So the vowels were written originally and later dropped.  This was
> the big innovation of the alphabet.  Later, the Massoretes began adding
> marks to signify the vowels in the primary syllables along with several
> signs to mark certain allophones of various letters, thus creating Biblical
> Hebrew.  By comparing the evidence of Biblical Hebrew with the evidence
> of syllabic writing prior to the use of the alphabet, as well as the
> reconstructed Proto-Semitic phonology, we see that Biblical Hebrew had
> seven vowel qualities whereas Proto-Semitic had only three.  Hence,
> Hebrew gained vowels not present in Proto-Semitic.  You claimed that
> linguists who reconstruct Proto-Semitic, assume that phonemes can only
> be lost.  This is an example of a gained phoneme, so obviously linguists
> don't make this assumption.
They certainly do concerning the consonants, so maybe they should
adjust their speculations concerning vowels to make themselves
consistent? Just say that Proto-Semitic had all the vowels that later
Hebrew does. After all, it is all made up, so why not?

> As for the Shin, Resh, Ghayin, and Pe/Fe statements: Both Shin and Resh
> are attested, and Ghayin and Pe/Fe are not attested but plausible. I had
> previously on this list provided evidence of the differentiation of Shin/Sin in
> West-Semitic from approx 2000 BCE.
In Biblical Hebrew? Where is that evidence?

> > > > 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.
> They're consistent.  Neither Akkadian nor Old South Arabic is Proto-Semitic.
> Proto-Semitic could have had 29 phonemes which would have been preserved
> all the way down to Old South Arabic, but some would have been lost in
> Akkadian.
Accadian, the earliest attested Semitic language according to your
theory, lost a third of its consonantal phonemes, while Old South
Arabic, which was much later, lost none. Stop and think a
moment....does that make sense?

> > > 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".
> No.  Hebrew was taught at a very young age continuously even as it
> ceased to be a spoken language:
> https://listhost.uchicago.edu/pipermail/ane/2004-November/015710.html
> Here is a slightly later response by Peter T. Daniels shows that he does not
> dispute the basic claim regarding ages as put forth by Stefan Schorch:
> https://listhost.uchicago.edu/pipermail/ane/2004-November/015758.html
You still did not understand what was written, how much more simpler can I get?

> > > ...  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.
> Shin and Sin did not "bifurcate."  The rest may have been caused by
> Aramaic influence.
Shin and sin did not split apart? Then what do you do with the
examples of words spelled alternately sometimes with shin, sometimes
with sin? Or examples such as sin yod mem meaning to place, with its
derivative shin mem meaning that place, there? And the paucity of
roots differentiated by shin and sin, as rare as what is expected if
they originally were one letter, not two.

And that is my contention, that the differences were caused by Aramaic

> > > > 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.
> The Siloam inscription along with various ostraca from Jerusalem and
> Arad.  No earlier attested inscriptions which have 22 letters are identifiable
> as being distinctively Hebrew as opposed to a different NWS language.
> For example, the Gezer calendar could be Phoenician no less than
> Hebrew or perhaps some other dialects.
But we have copies of Torah, which, except for copyist errors, attests
for Hebrew centuries before the Gezer calendar.

> > Statements within the documents indicate as early as 15th century BC,
> > if not earlier.
> The dating of attestations whether by the claims of various documents or
> various scientific methods such as strata or radio-carbon dating, etc., is
> of only secondary importance in reconstruction.  If you look at the table
> in the provided URL, you will see that attestations from various ages,
> from Avestan to Sanskrit to Greek to Modern English are compared
> irrespective of their dates.  It is the actual words contained in the
> language that are of interest, not the date of the documents.  In fact, the
> word "dating" or variants of it, are not mentioned at all in this essay.
What does this response have to do with the statement above? What logic is that?

> > Just because the languages were close cognates does not make Biblical
> > Hebrew a dialect of Phoenician.
> How do you know, if you don't know Phoenician and haven't even tried to
> study it?
Duh! Logic.

Oh, and I have also seen some Phoenician writing and found that I
could read and understand it. Just as I could read and understand the
Mesha stone.

> > > > 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?
> Yes, I had short and long conversations with Hebrew speakers

Wow!!! Those people must be close to three times as old as Methuselah!
In which Shangri La did you find them? What's the secret to their
longevity? Don't hide them, that is a real scientific breakthrough. I
have long wanted to interview native speakers of Biblical Hebrew. We
see from transliterations into Greek and how they differ that Biblical
Hebrew was most likely no longer spoken as long as 2000 years ago, in
other words, long before Masoretic Hebrew.

> ... and
> English speakers.

Duh! There are plenty of us.

> ....  For none of them was the written system
> equivalent to the spoken language.  The situation is worse in French
> where entire grammatical forms appear to me to be absent from the
> spoken language.  What is the evidence that leads you to think that
> the writing system was ever equivalent to the spoken language?  Which
> native speaker did you interview?
What sort of question is this? I have often said that I wished to
interview a native speaker. Apparently you have a short memory too.

> > > ....  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
> > speakers?
> The statement I made is falsifiable.  And the only thing I have is an
> explanation and supporting evidence that is acceptable to anyone but
> you.
Really, you ought to visit the nizkor site. This looks like the
Bandwagon logical fallacy.

By the way, how does one falsify an invisible (not attested to in
writing) historical linguistic phenomenon?

> > > 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.
> People can be multilingual "at one's mother's knee".  As such, they
> will be able to pronounce phonemes not in one language but in the other
> without any problem.  The problem is not that a person cannot
> consciously learn to pronounce it at a later age.

Some people can, some people can't, and some people can be taught how
to. As such, it invalidates what follows.

> ...  The question is how
> we explain the observed fact that in modern languages by modern
> speakers, phonemes in a language shift from being realized in one way
> by a whole group of people to being realized in another way by their
> descendants.  It happens all the time.  This is not a conscious choice,
> and it is exceptionless.
> > > 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.
> Biblical Hebrew and Massoretic Hebrew are one and the same.

Even in my first year Hebrew class I was taught that Biblical Hebrew
was written without points and cantillations, but that Masoretic
Hebrew was easier to learn because of the points.

Even then, I was taught that if I could learn to read Biblical Hebrew
without points, it would be a real plus. But I was also taught that
only the top scholars ever got good enough to be able to read an
unpointed text, and that we common readers would never get that good.
That was one of the lessons I forgot to follow.

> ...  That
> you use an unpointed Massoretic text does not mean you have all of
> a sudden made the step towards pre-Massoretic Hebrew.  You now
> have the Great Isaiah scroll on the Israel Museum site, though.
Not yet in electronic form so I can read it on my PDA, as I can now
read unpointed text.

> > 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.
> Actually, for Massoretic Hebrew which represents the liturgical language
> alone, historical linguistics is important in determining what the language
> was like and what differences arose thereafter from the time when the
> language of the texts was still being spoken, and when the texts were
> actually originally written down.
How does this not contradict what you wrote above, namely that
Masoretic Hebrew is Biblical Hebrew?

> Yitzhak Sapir

Karl W. Randolph.

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