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

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Sat Nov 25 12:23:17 EST 2006


On 11/25/06, Peter Kirk <peter at qaya.org> wrote:
> On 25/11/2006 06:33, K Randolph wrote:
> > ...
> > 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.
> >
> Well, if you accept that sin and shin were separate in West Semitic, but
> insist that they were one letter in biblical Hebrew, let's see what that
> implies. It must be one of the following:
> 1. Biblical Hebrew is not related to West Semitic, despite that fact
> that you can read and understand West Semitic (Phoenician); I can't
> believe that even you insist on that.
> 2. Biblical Hebrew has a common ancestor with West Semitic in which sin
> and shin were distinct (this is the normal scholarly position), and West
> Semitic preserved the distinction, whereas biblical Hebrew lost the
> distinction, but it reappeared later, before the time of the Masoretes.
> 3. Biblical Hebrew has a common ancestor with West Semitic in which sin
> and shin were not distinct; West Semitic innovated the distinction in
> ancient times, and Hebrew separately innovated the distinction in
> post-biblical times, before the time of the Masoretes.
There are more options, but one is that West Semitic innovated the
distinction apart from Hebrew, and after Hebrew ceased to be a native
tongue, people speaking Aramaic applied the Aramaic distinction and
rules to Hebrew writing and learned speech.

> ... You
> also refer to "the paucity of roots differentiated by shin and sin, as
> rare as what is expected if they originally were one letter, not two".
> But is this actually true? Just looking at words (not roots, verbs
> written unpointed) starting with sin or shin, we have the following pairs:
> $B( / &B(
> $BR / &BR

$BR has evidence that it was two roots, while based on function it
appears that &BR and one of the roots for $BR were connected.

> $GG / &GG

&GG is not attested to in Tanakh that I could find.

> $GH / &GH

&GH looks like a variant on &G), a final aleph and hey are sometimes mixed.

> $DD / &DD

Again look at the action, both deal with overturning (in the case of
plowing, of dirt, not other people)

> $WX / &WX

&WX is a happax, probably a copyist error for &YX

> $W+ / &W+
> $WR / &WR

&WR not attested to

> $XH / &XH

Both have the same meaning, indicating same root

> $X+ / &X+
> $XQ / &XQ

Both have the same meaning, indicating same root

> $KK / &KK

&KK not attested to in Tanakh

> $KL / &KL
> $KR / &KR
> $N) / &N)

$N) not attest to in Tanakh

> $(R, $A(AR / &(R, &A(AR

$(R root not attested to in Tanakh, the noun could be a loan word,

> $QD / &QD

Both have the same meaning, indicating same root

> $QR / &QR

&QR is a happax for applying mascara (even the English word is
related), but is not applying makeup a type of deception?

> $RH, $FRFH / &RH, &FRFH
> $RR / &RR

There is indication from function that these two are related, that a
"prince" functioned to keep the people in line, restraining them,
metaphorically chaining them in. The prince was not the law maker,
that was the king, but the law enforcer.

Other words to consider include:

M&RT/M$RT referring to a sauce or juice
N&H/N$H to put out of mind
N&Q and N$Q are different roots
(&Q/($Q to defraud
(&R and ($R are different
PR&/PR$ to spread out hands for various purposes
P&H/P$H to spread out (objects)
P&( to make a step, hence false step or step out of line P$( to step
out of line, hence rebel

For a letter that is used in more combinations than any other letter
in Tanakh, the number of cases where we are dealing with different
roots is not that common, only a small percentage of the total. Even
some of those that I didn't comment above from your list may still
have been from the same root, but because they are so seldom used, it
is hard for us today to recognize it.

There is an equally small percentage of other letter combinations that
have different roots, LXM comes immediately to mind.

> Now I accept that there are many roots in biblical Hebrew which are
> homonyms (although most of these are easily explainable by hypothesising
> loss of phonemes from earlier forms of the language), also that some of
> the pairs I have listed may not be clearly semantically distinct (I
> haven't looked at definitions, only a list of lemmas). But your
> hypothesis would have to explain not only why there are so many of these
> pairs but also how they came to split apart in a consistent way when (on
> your hypothesis) sin and shin split apart.
My hypothesis, that in Hebrew the split was applied from another
language, does explain  the consistency of that split in both Hebrew
and other cognate languages. It also explains the fairly high
percentage of cases where the sin and shin denote the same meaning.

> I note also the extreme rarity of words starting with sin - lamed, which
> to me is most easily explained by avoidance of two lateral sounds
> together, thus strongly suggesting that sin had some kind of lateral
> sound at the time when sin and shin were distinguished.

If you include samekh as having the same pronunciation as sin, they
are not that uncommon.
> ...
> > 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.
> >
> >
> Unlikely. It is known that the Egyptians had close contacts with Canaan
> and that the many Semites living in Egypt at that time were largely from
> Canaan. Egyptian links with south Arabia, i.e. modern Yemen and Oman,
> were much more obscure. Meanwhile the letter shapes of the earliest
> surviving inscriptions from Canaan strongly suggest derivation from
> Egyptian hieroglyphs, and so that they were derived in a similar way to
> the Wadi el-Hol inscriptions if not provably directly linked.
There are indications that ancient trade was much more extensive and
common than what modern historians are wont to admit to. Some of that
is national snobbery. Some of that is ideological, where the admission
of extensive trade would go against popular modern mythology. As a
result, I am not ready to rule out a southern Arabian connection to
Wadi el-Hol inscriptions. In form, they have some similarities with
southern Arabian scripts that are not shared with Canaanite writings.
Even some of the Sinai inscriptions may have that connection.

> > 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.
> >
> >
> Of course even if we grant that Moses wrote down the Torah, we don't
> know that he wrote it in anything like the 22 letter script that we know
> today. It may originally have been written with more (or fewer) letter
> distinctions and later copied into the alphabet used later. But even if
> we grant that the Torah is the oldest surviving document in the 22
> letter script, that by no means implies that it was the first such
> document. It may well be that the 22 letter script had become widespread
> among the Semites in Egypt at the period (but using perishable writing
> materials) and was based on a phonetically simplified form of NW Semitic
> used as a kind of trade language between the different Semitic groups,
> while the Hebrews and maybe other such groups kept their own
> phonetically more rich versions.
While the ancient copyists were willing to play with font faces, such
as using cursive and later Aramaic square font, I think it is safe to
assume that they were not willing to transcribe "holy writing" into a
completely different alphabet. (Even our transcription scheme used for
the consonants on this list functions merely as a different font
face.) So if later copies used 22 letters, it is safe to assume that
Moses did too.

But was it the first 22 letter script? We don't know.

> > ...
> Yes, linguists and language learners have to be trained to recognise and
> produce phones from previously unfamiliar languages, and after a certain
> age this becomes more difficult. Like learning Hebrew, it is difficult,
> but not impossible. That is why I reject your "some people can't",
> unless because of specific disability.
I'll admit that some of the "can't" is attitudinal, but it still
results in a can't.

> --
> Peter Kirk
> E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
> Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
> Website: http://www.qaya.org/
I still think that a lot of the speculation concerning linguistic
history is irrelevant to the study of Biblical Hebrew, because
ultimately we deal with the text as we have it. The language history
won't change what we have.

Karl W. Randolph.

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