[b-hebrew] Transliterations from Hebrew to Greek to ? andtheMassoretes

Kevin P. Edgecomb kevin at bombaxo.com
Fri Jun 20 16:25:47 EDT 2008

Yitzhak Sapir wrote:
What do you mean here by segholization?  In any case, when you speak of
longer vs. shorter, you seem to be invoking vowel length.  What kind of
shift are you speaking of?  Could you give examples of different long/open
to short/closed vowels?  Besides, how does an anaptyctic vowel (which is
what I assume you mean by segholization), have to do with this shift?

I write:
By segholization I mean the shift from nominal QaTxL (where x represents
short a/i/u) to QeTeL, a process that clearly began before the lists I
noted, but was apparently still underway.  Jersome knew shamshon, not yet
shimshon, and so on.  I personally tend to differentiate between "vowel
length" as interior to usage with each vowel (tsere vs seghol), and "long
vowels" or "short vowels", the longer or more open vowels being the /a/,
/o/, /u/ vowels, and the shorter, more closed being the /i/ and /e/ vowels.
So, this kind of length/openness is an issue of quality, not quantity.
There is very undoubtedly a specific linguistic terminology for this, though
I don't know it.  My original usage in the blog post was only to point out
that segholization and a general shortening of vowels of which it is a
symptom had begun prior to the appearance of the given lists, sometime in
the early to the mid-first millennium.  Such transliterations are the only
objective evidence for such a vocalic change.  It's unfortunate that they're
seldom of sufficient quality to be trusted to reflect contemporary

One has to differentiate between recognition and origin.  It is unlikely
that a reader in century X of Hebrew would recognize Hebrew vocalized
according to the conventions of century X - 2 or earlier.  It is also
unlikely that he could read it if it was written out in the local dialect.
But he could still read the literary texts from that time, which appear to
have remained in use until today and are therefore part of the current
literary language of the Hebrew speaking community.  I don't view heresy as
touching on this, but I don't think that it is unreasonable to say that the
Masoretic vocalization preserves indeed a vocalization that in its current
realization dates no earlier than the 6th century.  It does preserve a
vocalization that developed from much earlier vocalizations, in the sense
that it was taught from teacher to student over centuries beforehand.  The
vocalization changed, but a qamats can still be traced to an ancient long a:
in many cases, for example.

I write:
Yes, of course.  The fascinating part of it is that comprehension was
retained throughout, with the loss of apparently only relatively few lexical
values (the odd hapax, for instance).  So, while I think pre-exilic Hebrew
was likely very different in vocalization, the consonantal texts show
themselves remarkably adaptable, being understood throughout with very
little adaptation.  It's fascinating.

Kevin P. Edgecomb
Berkeley, California

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