[b-hebrew] Interchangeable letters

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Tue Oct 23 06:14:47 EDT 2007


On 10/23/07, Yigal Levin wrote:
> > Yigal,
> >
> > How about $LX, 'send away' and $LK, 'fling away', are they not  "similar
> > words with the same or a very similar meaning" to warrant  the
> > consideration of X and K as "interchangeable"?
> >
> > Isaac Fried, Boston University

>
> Worth thinking about. The similarity in what we think of as the meaning my
> be a secondary development. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Ideas,
> anyone?

First, we ought to remember that Hebrew had two Het letters.  One, pronounced
much like we pronounce khet today, was very similar indeed to the aspirated k
and this is also why aspirated k eventually developed into khet in intervocalic
positions in Aramaic, and later in Hebrew.  I think the earliest examples of
confusion between the letters involves the name Xerxes during the Persian
period.  However, there is some distance between an accidental confusion in
a limited number of places to the creation of a new root for verbal
inflection.  This
is quite unlikely and it is indicative in this regard that it is very
hard to find
minimal pairs between these letters including p - f (where such contrast would
not have been reanalyzed as two roots of different letters, because there wasn't
a better letter to represent the two letters).  Also, while this
change was relatively
early in Aramaic, int might have taken place in Hebrew only after khet and het
merged together.  Even if such a contrast existed, the phonetic similarity
between "k" and "kh" was as much as that between "Modern Ashkenazi" khet
and the initial k in "kin."  Finally, one has to look at cognate
reflexes of these
letters in other Semitic languages (Arabic, Ugaritic) to determine if the kh in
$-l-x was indeed originally "kh" or more like "h."

A different way to approach this is to suggest that these two roots were similar
due to a general linguistic process of analogy that takes place in all
languages.
On this, read for example the section on page 14 of the following link that
discusses the gl prefix in words like gleam, giltter, glisten, glow, etc:
http://www.ling.ohio-state.edu/~bjoseph/publications/1998hist.pdf

Yitzhak Sapir



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