[b-hebrew] Two X letters
if at math.bu.edu
Mon Oct 29 02:48:27 EDT 2007
OK, OK, you are right. If only for the sake of peace and harmony on
this distinguished list I will climb down the rhetorical tree and
settle upon the solid ground of stolid and dignified discourse.
The claim made [correct me please if I am wrong] is that once upon a
time in the very distant and foggy past the ancient Hebrews, or
ancient Canaanites [the mythical proto-Semites], had two close, yet
semantically distinct, speech-sounds that merged into one sound that
was eventually recorded by the inventors of the alphabet as the
single letter X.
This claim of the twin X seeks to draw its approval from its
existence in Arabic, fortified by the assertion that the Arabs,
conservative in their ways, have preserved the sounds of the ancient
Semites. It is a plausible argument but like many other apparently
logical arguments it may well be a dud. The Arabic alphabet in its
present form is a [relatively] modern committee-made product
introduced only after the revelation of the Koran and motivated by
the desire to immediately have a permanent written record thereof.
The over-dot was possibly added to accommodate various dialectical
differences [thus they are signs for "phones" not "phonemes"], or
indeed for the purpose of semantic cleavage judged desirable due to
the proliferation of Arabic roots. In other words, the process may
have well advanced in the opposite direction: in the beginning there
was only one X, then later it branched into a pair of Xs. This is
what might have happened in Hebrew, a single letter spawning, as the
language grew and demand for finer semantic distinctions increased,
the five equivalents G, X, H, K, Q now coexisting in it.
Pronunciation is a fickle thing --- spoken Hebrew, for instance, is
rapidly losing at this very moment many of its H sounds. The personal
pronouns are invariably reduced now to a mere U [pronounced oo as in
'foot'] for HU), 'he', and a mere I [pronounced ee as in 'feet'] for
HI), 'she'. Educated Hebrew speaking people will routinely and
nonchalantly say TA-BAYIT, 'the house', instead of the full ET HA-
BAYIT. We are all for the short and the easy.
Deep throated ayin is also out, and Hebrew is not poorer for it.
The way foreigners record Hebrew names containing sounds strange to
their ear is little proof as to how these names are pronounced by the
Hebrews. Look at what they did to the name Isaac. All I am ready lo
learn from AZA being said GAZA is that the city name was pronounced
by some indigenous people with a baffling, non-reproducible, deep
Modern Hebrew linguists are espousing the dual-X-theory with such
enthusiasm since by dint of this hypothesis they grant themselves
the license to consider, practically at will, any X as being either
one of two "different" letters. It makes their life easier. Any
Hebraist is constantly being called to explain, to himself, or to
fended off pressing students, this strange phenomenon of Hebrew
having two [or more] equiconsonantal words, say NAXAL, 'brook', and
NAXAL, 'inherit', of apparently remote meaning. One easy way of
extricating oneself from this dilemma is to make the dogmatic claim
that these are two "different" X letters, and hence the two words are
not the "same". They look the same but are actually genetically
distinct. One is then in an instant in the free --- nothing left to
Another notorious example is the root XRB, which some Hebraists claim
now is a three-in-one root, each being the "different" progenitor of
'destruction', of 'sword', and of 'dryness'.
I don't buy, not for a moment, this sneaky, ad-hoc, deus ex machina,
argumentative device, which in my opinion is no more than an
instrument of deception, self delusion, and slippery dodging.
Moreover, it provides only the briefest of reprieves since it fails
to apply to similar situations with other letters. The Hebrew words
KPAR, 'village', KPOR, 'frost', KPYIR, 'lion cub', KOPER, 'pitch',
KOPER, 'ransom', KAPORET, 'cover' and KAPARAH, 'expiation' are all
derivatives of the root KPR, yet no resort is made here to an
argument of multiple kaps, probably because Arabic is devoid of such.
Being hardly a science [it is certainly not an exact science],
Linguistics thrives on consensus. Without this, much of it would have
fallen apart and dissolved under the weight of internecine bickering
and dissenting opinions of horrifying heretics questioning its
fundamental premises. This is why Linguistics is so apprehensive of
the fringe and holds so dear the "mainstream", making it largely the
scholastics of the quote, "she points out in her paper, he says in
his book, they write in their dictionary". It tends also, as in other
sciences, to harden into universal truths obvious, self-serving,
platitudes and fallacies, stifling thereby any attempt at innovative
It is the duty of every free thinking, Hebrew loving, man to decry
them as such as soon as he sees one; in the words of Psalms 137:7
(ARU (ARU (AD HAYSOD BAH.
Isaac Fried, Boston University
On Oct 25, 2007, at 8:09 PM, George Athas wrote:
> Given your rhetoric, I don't see any point in pursuing the matter.
> Best Regards,
> GEORGE ATHAS
> Moore Theological College (Sydney)
> 1 King St, Newtown, NSW 2042, Australia
> Ph: (+61 2) 9577 9774
> b-hebrew mailing list
> b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
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