[b-hebrew] "irregularities" in Ancient/Modern Hebrew,

Kevin Riley klriley at alphalink.com.au
Sun Aug 19 21:05:22 EDT 2007

-------Original Message------- 
From: joel at exc.com 
Date: 20/08/2007 4:07:21 AM 
>>The almost universal observation that ancient languages had fewer 
>>irregularities that modern ones do (Classical Latin vs. Italian, 
>>Biblical Hebrew vs. Modern Hebrew, Classical Greek vs. Modern Greek, 
>>etc.) probably simply reflect our poorer knowledge of the ancient 
>>languages compared to the modern ones. 
>You make a great point here. I have always wondered why this seems 
>to be the case. Could it have something to do with the fact that the 
>written specimens we have correspond more to "formal language" - 
>which would have selectively reflected the use of language by those 
>who actually could read and write? 
Not only that. The written language tends not to indicate all of the 
Irregularities of a spoken language. 
Along with the (alleged) near perfect regularity of dead languages, we 
Find (alleged) near one-to-one correspondence between orthography and 
Pronunciation. That is, we frequently find the unsupported claim that 
Ancient words (in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, etc.) were pronounced just the 
Way they were spelled. 
One good example where major discrepancies are obvious is Old Irish.  I am
told Old Welsh is similar, but have never seen any examples.  I doubt that
either Greek or Latin vary as much as Old Irish.  Of course, set against
Latin and Greek is Akkadian.  That is taking things to the other extreme :) 
I think it is important to remember that even in modern languages the
orthography may reflect with a great degree of accuracy the usage of one
segment of the population - usually the dialect on which the standard
language is based.  The majority of speakers may find it less than accurate
for the way they usually speak.  It is possible that Biblical Hebrew does
represent the speech of Jerusalem fairly accurately, as Classical (Attic)
Greek may represent C5/4 BC Athenian accurately.  By "accurately" I mean
that the distinctions the native speakers found meaningful are represented
in writing.  I suspect that the lack of distinctions trouble learners far
more than they ever did native speakers.  I have heard a speaker of S-W
Irish read aloud a text that sounded like it was in his native dialect, but
was actually in standard Irish.  He simply substituted the "right" word or
pronunciation for what was written.  No doubt Israelite readers from other
areas did the same when reading a scroll from Jerusalem.  Having only the
consonants written may have made that process easier.
Kevin Riley

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