[b-hebrew] bgdkpt (was: About Dagesh's)

Yaakov Stein yaakov_s at rad.com
Wed Jun 25 01:17:13 EDT 2008

I apologize for this post being rather long, but I think it may add
something of value

to the thread on BGDKPT letters.


Haim Rabin in his 1991 book on Semitic languages says that in
proto-semitic the consonants came

in triplets, such as C C' +, K G Q, $ S &, and L N R. 

(Incidentally, there were also 3 short vowels and 3 long ones.)

While the triplets are phonologically important, replacing a consonant
with another from the same triplet

changed the word's meaning.


Derivative languages tended to lose one or two consonants of the

and we only deduce the triplet's existence from the fact that different
languages lost different consonants. 

Thus in Hebrew C C' + all became C, while they remain distinct in Arabic
and Aramaic.

In Guragigna L N R all merged into a single consonant.


>From E.A. Speiser's article on Horite (Hurrian, Mitannite, ...) language
in the Biblical Encyclopedia 

(this same author wrote the classic "Introduction to Hurrian")

I learned that in Horrite (Hurrian, Mitanni, ...) consonants came in

with no lexical difference between the two. 

Which of the two was used depended purely on phonological rules, 

such as whether the consonant appeared after a vowel or whether it was


The Hurrian consonant rules are exactly those of BGDKPT in Hebrew and

and of all the Semitic languages, only these two languages have

that can be interchanged in this fashion without changing meaning.


In 1939 Speiser first suggested that Hebrew and Aramaic borrowed the
BGDKPT rules from the Hurrian.

The Bible tells us that Abraham and his family originated from an area
where the Horrites 

were an ethnic majority during the second millennium BCE.

The suggetion is that this borrowing may have occurred then.


Speiser also points to possible influences of Hurrian culture and law. 

For example, in Nuzi law, land could not be sold for perpetuity,
but always returned to the original owners (a rule unknown in Babylonian
Similarly, the law stated that if a woman could not produce a male heir,

she was required to bring her husband a concubine (the Sarah and Hagar
Another interesting connection is that the Horrites recognized a
son-in-law inheriting 

from his father-in-law, but in such cases the father-in-law gave his

his personal idols as a sign (Rachel and the teraphim).


Yaakov (J) Stein



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