[b-hebrew] Masoretic Pointing and CV-syllables
pbekins at fuse.net
Sat Aug 18 08:59:21 EDT 2007
First, I would just like to mention that no writing system attempts
to encode all the phonetic information necessary for correct
pronunciation. This would obviously be inefficient, not to mention
that the way any given language is pronounced changes over time and
varies over geography, between country and city, etc. Therefore, it
is not specific to Biblical Hebrew that reconstruction of the
"original" pronunciation requires some educated guesswork. However,
reading a language aloud has classically been an important part of
language learning which is why scholars have traditionally
standardized "pronunciations" for Greek, Latin, etc. Tiberian Hebrew
is a convenient standard for Biblical Hebrew.
Second, as James Barr argued in his Comparative Philology and the
Text of the Old Testament, and Morag wrote in "On the Historical
Validity of the Vocalization of the Hebrew Bible", JAOS 94:3 (1974),
the Tiberian pointing, while not representing the "original
pronunciation" is not arbitrary either. It contains some valuable
historical information. For example, we learn from Dr Comninos
example that X"+:) "sin" is a qitl type with an i-theme vowel, which
distinguishes it from other words built from the root X+). The
interesting question is why wasn't there an epenthetic vowel thrown
in? There are other lamed-aleph qitl segholates such as DE$E) "grass".
There is a basic three-way alternation in Semitic languages between
the vowels a-i-u. Tiberian Hebrew also distinguishes e and o classes.
This is the information we need for analyzing the lexemes and
morphemes of the language, how exactly they were pronounced is
secondary but sometimes relevant.
Next, analyzing syllable formation is actually quite complicated for
something that seems so obvious. Linguists have indeed posited CV-
only systems, but they allow the vowel to be [null]. Hence, if there
was originally a final case vowel, Dr Comninos example could be
analyzed as [X"]-[+:]-[)U], where the silent shwa marks null vowel.
This seems contrary to common sense, but it allows for a simpler
model in some ways. Why it is interesting for Hebrew is that this
seems to be the way the canaanite linear scripts work (hence silent
shwa). Each consonant in the orthography is a potential CV syllable
with an implied vowel. Syllables cannot begin with a vowel so loan
words get an ), and if two vowels are next to each other the glide
(Y, W, ), or H ) between them is analyzed as a consonant. Over time,
of course, "vowel letters" were introduced based on the glides, but
that is a whole new topic.
Grad Student, Bible and Comparative Semitics
Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, OH
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