[b-hebrew] Assumptions about ANE ages that just don't work.

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Tue Oct 23 21:09:19 EDT 2007

Dear Kevin:

On 10/23/07, Kevin Riley <klriley at alphalink.com.au> wrote:
> -------Original Message-------
> From: K Randolph
> Date: 23/10/2007 10:43:35 PM
> While the specific tools of biology are different from those for
> Literature and linguistics, a scientific study of literature and
> Linguistics will still be limited to what can be observed. In the case
> Of ancient writings, limited to the extant documents that we can
> Observe. Linguistic theories that cannot be observed, such as the
> Theory that chet was originally two letters that were merged in
> Biblical Hebrew, has neither historical nor scientific evidence to
> Back it up because it is not based on observation.
> Karl W. Randolph.
> **********************************
> I am curious why the existence of two letters corresponding to het in other
> Semitic languages does not count as observable evidence?

No. The reason is that the sound could have split into two sounds in
other languages, while there was never more than one sound for it in
Hebrew. Therefore we need to look for evidence within Hebrew, and that
evidence does not exist.

> ...  The theory of what
> sounds existed in proto-Semitic is based on the observation of what sounds
> are represented in the various languages, ancient and modern.

Proto-Semitic is a totally invented language with no written record of
it. True, it was based on theories, but what if the theories were
wrong?  Further, do the theories take into account the sometimes
random changes wrought by human agents?

> ....  It is not
> proof, of course, but if you make the alternative claim that the other
> languages divided original sounds preserved in Hebrew spelling, then you
> have to explain why in most cases the same changes were made in the same
> words in languages separated from each other.

One would probably have to write a book to answer this question
adequately, which I don't have the time to go into at this time.

> ...  The merger of het and chet,
> as well as 'ayin and ghayin [to het and 'ayin, as in Hebrew] has been
> observed in the modern South Arabian languages, where it occurs in some and
> not in others.

Again, was it merger in Hebrew, or split in Southern Arabic?

> ...  On the issue of sin/shin, MSA also has 3 S sounds, which
> line up with amazing accuracy with the cognate words in Hebrew and the
> Epigraphic South Arabian languages.

Ditto from above.

> ... It is difficult to see how Hebrew [or
> Aramaic if you want to blame the Aramaeans for introducing the difference
> into Hebrew] could have been influenced by the south Arabian languages.

There are so many possibles sources and routes for linguistic change
that any answer by necessity would have to be mere speculation.

> ...  The
> observation that the ESA, Arabic and [long] Ugaritic alphabets are in
> substantial agreement on the sounds represented [Ugaritic and Arabic lacking
> sin] would also seem to be an observable piece of evidence in favour of the
> original Semitic phonological inventory being longer than that found in the
> Canaanite languages.

Or did the Canaanite languages preserve an older form of the languages
with fewer phonemes? Do you have any documentary evidence that points
either way?

> ...  It is unlikely that Ugaritic was influenced by Arabic
> or EPA, so the most likely explanation, based on the observation of language
> change in many other languages, is that they represent retained phonemes
> rather than innovations.

Notice your statement "unlikely", that is a weasel word. There could
have been a source that influenced both, but didn't reach the
Canaanite languages. The lack of documentation and that we are dealing
with only a smattering of the historical documents (most have been
lost) make it impossible to answer that question based on observation.

> ...  I am still at a loss as to how you can claim that
> the linguistic theories are not based on observation.
> Kevin Riley

There is no historical evidence that Biblical Hebrew, as opposed to
post-Biblical Hebrew, ever had more than the 22 consonants as
preserved in the 22 letter alphabet. Just because other languages had
them does not mean that Hebrew ever had them. In view of the fact that
other semitic languages had larger alphabets in ancient times with
related alphabets, even in Egypt at the time of Moses, indicates that
Hebrew did not adopt those larger alphabets because they did not have
the same number of consonants, evidence against the argument that
Hebrew once had a larger phoneme pool that was merged.

I do not buy the argument that the Hebrews learned the alphabet from
the Phoenicians, rather I think the Phoenicians learned the alphabet
from the Hebrews, or a related source. Historical documents lead me to
this conclusion.

To return to the basics, observation deals with only the extant
documents. The extant documents are too few to show whether the sounds
were merged in Hebrew, or split in other languages due to innovation
or more likely borrowing. Therefore, the claim that it is definite
that Hebrew merged the sounds is without observational basis.

Karl W. Randolph.

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