[b-hebrew] Matres Lectionis and critical analysis

Peter Bekins pbekins at fuse.net
Wed Aug 29 16:33:38 EDT 2007

 >>JCR: Hi,
 >>What do you think about the idea that matres
 >>lectiones were considered to be consonants?
 >>Maybe some people genuinely heard a 'Y' at
 >>the end of a long 'I' and a 'W' at the end of
 >>long 'U' or 'O'. I know I certainly do.

James, you didn't read all those books I gave you yet. This is  
basically LA Bange's theory: /y/ and /w/ are "glides". A diphthong is  
a vowel that shifts to a glide position mid-syllable. /y/ and /w/ are  
also called "approximants" because when you make the sound you move  
your tongue quickly toward the appropriate point of articulation but  
don't actually touch it. The point of articulation for /y/ (usually  
written /j/) is very close to the vowel /i/ while /w/ is very close  
to /u/ (as in "who"). Thus in actual speech it is very common for / 
uw/ --> /u/ and /iy/-->/i/ and vice-versa. If you hear /y/ and /w/ at  
the end of your vowels within regular speech then your dialect tends  
to "diphthongize" simple vowels (its not quite fair to check by  
saying /i/ by itself since we have a tendency to move our tongue away  
from the point of articulation before we stop the airflow, which will  
naturally cause a glide).

Bange argues that Northwest Semitic orthography moved through three  
stages. First was the fully consonantal stage in which /yod/ and / 
waw/ were only written when they had full consonantal value  (defined  
as being followed by a vowel, ie they form a proper CV syllable). The  
second stage is semi-consonantal orthography (10th – 7th centuries).  
In this stage the spoken dialects "diphthongized" a certain number of  
vowels so /aleph/, /he/, /yod/, and /waw/ became semi-consonants,  
used often to indicate diphthongs after accented vowels in open  
syllables. The /aleph/ functions as a glottal stop while the /he/ is  
a glottal off-glide, the /waw/ is a labial off-glide, and the /yod/  
is a palatal off-glide. Bange argues that true vowel-letters do not  
appear until 6th century as the results of historical spellings when  
the function of these letters as off-glides was lost and by analogy  
they were used to mark simple vowels.

Now, go read that bibliography.

Peter Bekins

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