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

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Fri Nov 24 05:19:14 EST 2006

On 24/11/2006 06:35, K Randolph wrote:
> Yitzhak:
> 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?
Karl, I don't suppose Yitzhak will take your statement here seriously, 
although he may make a mockery of it. The "value" of a vowel is a 
technical linguistic term for the kind of sound made. See for example 
"The phonetic values vary by language...", taken from 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vowel. If you don't know linguistics, as 
well as not knowing any Semitic language other than Hebrew (or do you 
know some Aramaic?), you are hardly in a position to argue with someone 
like Yitzhak, still less to mock his use of standard terminology.

>> 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?
No, in West Semitic. Read what Yitzhak wrote. I'm sure he can tell you 
which cuneiform tablets (Ebla?) he is referring to.

> 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?
Perfect sense. Phonetic change proceeds at different speeds and in 
different directions in different languages. Since you only seem to 
understand examples from Germanic, consider this one. Modern German 
distinguishes several grammatical cases. Shakespearean English does not. 
Does that imply that German has innovated the cases? Of course not! It 
implies that English, 16th century and modern, has lost distinctions 
which are preserved in German, in that day and later. Similarly, very 
ancient and less ancient Akkadian lost distinctions which were preserved 
in less ancient Old South Arabian, and presumably also in very ancient 
Old South Arabian although we don't have surviving evidence of this.

> But we have copies of Torah, which, except for copyist errors, attests
> for Hebrew centuries before the Gezer calendar.
Have I missed a major development? Has someone found copies of the Torah 
predating the Gezer calendar?

> 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.
If you could read Phoenician without having studied it, on the basis of 
your knowledge of Hebrew only, that more or less proves that the 
differences between Hebrew and Phoenician are dialect differences only. 
For mutual intelligibility is one of the main criteria for 
distinguishing language differences from dialect differences. But then 
the issue is confused by the variety of definitions of "dialect". If you 
go for "a language is a dialect with an army" type of definition, then 
Hebrew was a separate language from Phoenician, and there were two 
Hebrew languages during the divided monarchy period - and British 
English is a separate language from American English.

But Yitzhak was being unnecessarily provocative in writing "Hebrew is 
very much a dialect of Phoenician", so suggesting that Hebrew had a 
lower status than Phoenician. It would be more accurate to say that 
Hebrew and Phoenician were different dialects within the broader 
Canaanite or NW Semitic language.

>> 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.
He did not say biblical Hebrew speakers. But he is referring to people 
who use the 22 letter alphabet, usually without vowel markings, to write 
a language with many more than 22 phonemes. Thus they, as well as 
English and French speakers, are good examples of "For none of them was 
the written system equivalent to the spoken language." If this is 
commonly not true of modern languages, what reason do you have to assume 
that it must be true of ancient languages?

>> 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.
Do you have evidence that any people (other than those with specific 
hearing, learning or speaking disabilities) are unable to learn to 
pronounce any phonemes which are found in any language? I think there is 
some evidence that Mongolian throat singing depends on structures found 
in Mongolians' mouths but not in all other people's, but this is not a 
matter of regular speech. In general phoneticians have shown that anyone 
can be taught to make any sound found in any human language, although 
sometimes this is a difficult process. Do you have any evidence to the 

>> 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.
Here you are simply arguing about definitions. But on this one I am with 
Karl. For me, biblical Hebrew is the language spoken and written by the 
biblical authors. The form of the language recorded by the Masoretes is 
only slightly different, but for me those differences make Masoretic 
Hebrew different from biblical Hebrew. Thus those obscure multiple vowel 
lengths and syllable breaks in the middle of vowels proposed by Khan may 
be features of Masoretic Hebrew, but that does not imply that they are 
features of biblical Hebrew.

>> ...  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.
If you have enough memory you can download the images. Or you could do 
yourself and the world a favour by transcribing the scrolls in 
electronic form and making the text available - if no one else has 
already done this.

Peter Kirk
E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
Website: http://www.qaya.org/

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