[b-hebrew] "th" and "b"

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Sat Jun 14 18:12:55 EDT 2008

On Sat, Jun 14, 2008 at 8:42 PM, Yigal Levin wrote:
> Dear Yakov,
> I'll try to re-phrase Yitzhak's answer. Since the earliest translation of
> the Bible that we know of was into Greek, names and phrases that were
> transliterated were done so in a way that matched how the Greek of the time
> "heard" the way Hebrew was pronounced at the time. Since Hebrew at the time
> pronounced a "soft" Tav as "th", and Greek had an equivalent sound (theta),
> this is what was used. Thus: Beth-lehem, Sabbath (Greek does not have a
> "sh") etc. Greek did not have a "v" sound, so "soft" Bet remained "b". Thus
> Ya'akov became Iakob, which eventually became Latin Jacob. These forms
> became standard in the English speaking world.

A slight correction:
At least, the letters k, p, and t were aspirated.  That is, their
"hard" pronunciation
included a burst of air.  In English, there is aspiration on these
letters in the initial
letter of the words kin, pin, top, as compared with skin, spin, stop.
In Hebrew,
the aspirated variants were pronounced everywhere where the hard pronunciation
was used.

They were therefore transcribed with a chi, phi, and theta in Greek, and as kh,
ph, and th, in Latin.  The Greek and Latin writers could not
differentiate between
these hard aspirated pronunciation and the fricative x, f, and th (as
in thin).
Similarly, letters borrowed from these languages into Hebrew and Aramaic, used
the emphatic counterparts of these letters quf and teth.  It is likely that an
emphatic peh was also used.  Similarly, the letters b, g, d had a soft
pronunciation v, gh, dh as in that, that was not differentiated in
Latin and Greek

Yitzhak Sapir

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