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

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Sat Nov 25 01:33:44 EST 2006


There is going to be no intended mockery of what follows, i.e. what
follows is intended to be straight.

On 11/24/06, Peter Kirk <peter at qaya.org> wrote:
> 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.
I previously mentioned that there is evidence, not proof, that
Biblical Hebrew may have had the spoken structure of CVCVCV where each
consonant was followed by a vowel; that was put in the optitive
because we don't have enough evidence either to prove or to disprove
it, even without the possibility that some consonants could close
syllables, while others couldn't. That fits this discussion in that
how can we talk about the value of the vowels, when we can't prove
that there were vowels in those specific places in the first place?

> ...
> >> 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.
In West Semitic, but we are discussing Biblical Hebrew, and the
evidence indicates that sin and shin were one letter with one
pronunciation in Biblical times.
> ...
> > 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?
No, this is not an example of the physical survival of ancient
scrolls, rather that we have copies of Torah, and we have historical
claims that the originals were written centuries before the Gezer
Calendar. Hence, unless you can prove the historical claims false, the
copies, except for copyist errors, attest to the early existence of
Biblical Hebrew.
> ...
> > 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.
Here the distinction between language and dialect is really fuzzy.
Among modern languages, for example, Swedish and Norwegian are so
close that one speaking one can usually understand a person speaking
the other, yet they are called different languages, But Mülheiserisch,
a subset of Allamanisch spoken near Heidelberg, and Toi San Wah, two
"dialects" I have had to deal with, are so different from their main
languages, German and Cantonese, that they cannot be understood by
speakers of the  main languages.

> 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.

I know. His response in the context of the discussion was so
ridiculous that the only way to respond to it was to mock it. My
original question that preceded his response was to emphasize that he
was making claims that could only be verified by interviewing native
speakers of Biblical Hebrew, in other words, a rhetorical question.

> ... 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?

Here the distinction is between an alphabet devised for a language, vs
one adopted from another language. For example, if I were to devise an
alphabet for modern English with its 46 or thereabouts recognized
phonemes, I would make it have 46 letters, one letter per phoneme.
Instead we use an alphabet adopted from Latin that fits poorly. It is
like the difference between a tailor made suit compared to one off the
rack that can be worn but doesn't fit.

Now the question is: was the 22 letter alphabet tailor made for
Biblical Hebrew, or was it adopted from another language? One way to
answer that is to answer who had that alphabet first?

We see from ancient graffiti and inscriptions that southern Arabian
languages' alphabets shared a similar root as Biblical Hebrew but had
a different set of letters, corresponding to their different number of
phonemes while many of the letters are shared. I suspect that the Wadi
al Hol graffiti were southern Arabian, not equivalent to Hebrew.

While the ancient Phoenicians were far more prolific in their graffiti
and stone inscriptions than Hebrew writers, there is evidence that
their use of the 22 letter alphabet was adopted from Hebrew instead of
the other way around. Their widespread use dates from about the time
of King David and they use a cursive from about that time. Hebrew was
historically credited with having the alphabet from centuries earlier,
but written on scrolls that have not survived.

Because Moses' use of writing dates from about the same time as the
earliest attested use of a similar alphabet among southern Arabian but
with 22 letters instead of the more numerous but mostly shared letters
found among southern Arabians, that indicates that the 22 letters
corresponded to 22 recognized consonantal phonemes of Biblical Hebrew.
In other words, that the alphabet was developed, i.e. tailor made, for
Biblical Hebrew.

But modern Hebrew, also Tiberian Masoretic Hebrew, are not the same,
hence their use of the original 22 letters is a poor fit, like an
adopted alphabet from a different language.

> ...
> >> 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? ...
> ... 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
> contrary?
No, what I mention is what I heard from phoneticians, namely that
normal children can learn all phones used in all languages. However,
languages use as phonemes only a small subset of possible phones.

One complicating factor is that at about the age of 14, as a matter
or maturation, the phones and phonemes used in a person's native
language become hard wired, as it were, in a person's brain, after
which time it is often very difficult even to recognize phones and
phonemes from other languages. The main exceptions are those children
who are exposed to multiple languages around that age and before.
Linguists have to be trained to recognize phones and phonemes from
outside their native tongue.

> >
> 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.
My PDA does not have enough RAM (I don't know of any that does) for
the images. As far as transcribing it, I think it has already been
done, but not published. Does anyone here have more information?

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

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