[b-hebrew] Hebrew and Semitic Phonetic Philology

Ratson Naharadama yahoo-arch at heplist.com
Wed Jul 1 22:36:14 EDT 2009

Pre-scriptum: Apologies for not getting to all these messages earlier.

Yitzhak Sapir in "Phonetics of Ayin" wrote:

> In the case of the Shibbolet story,
> you suggested that it centers around
> the differences in perception of
> the pronunciation of [th]
> as either th or s,
> but that position dates from
> the late 1980s,
> and since then more
> research and analysis has been made.
> [...]
> samekh was pronounced as an affricate [ts].
> sin was pronounced as a lateral fricative [ɬ].
> shin was pronounced as an s sound [s].

I gave a quick browse of the articles you posted links to. It was a little more difficult to follow with the various sibilants undifferentiated, but it seemed to me that 2 of those articles supported — at least in part — what I had stated.

Getting closer to my thoughts, it seems that you may be confusing semitic usage of [th] with [lh] (LH being one of the ways to represent the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative). In semitics, it is common to use an acute-S for the letter of this sound, if in fact this is the sound of the letter in questions — for the rest of this post, we'll assume it is. As you noted, belted-L is also used to denote the sound, but for the rest of this post, I will use [lh] when representing the sound.

I'm familiar with this sound as Welsh was the second language (the first being Latin starting at 11) that I had heavily studied around the time that I turned 14 (Welsh uses the digraph LL for the [lh] sound). Later, I would move to Alaska where both the Yupik and Tlingit people (that TL actually normally pronounced as our [lh] sound) heavily used [lh], even while speaking English. In fact, Tlingit has a [lh], and ejective [lh], a [t][lh] double articulated phoneme, and a aspirated and an ejective form of that sound. I don't know why "tlingit" is pronounced "[lh]i[ng]-kit" in Tlingit and not "[tlh]i[ng]-kit", but it is (English usual pronounces it "[k][l]i[ng]-git"). The common names Lloyd and Floyd are both the same name, but Floyd was an English attempt at writing what they heard the Welsh name as (the name began with our [lh] sound).

In the Semitic languages, once upon a time, long time ago, it would appear that the phonetic inventory included: [th] [dh] [sh] [s] [s.] [z] [z.] [lh] and possibly [lh.]
Some think the [z.] may have been a [th.]. The sounds [lh] and [lh.] are currently thought to be the sounds of two phonemes in proto-semitic, as briefly mentioned above; the mystery phonemes often being represented with acute-S and acute-S-dot-below respectively in semitics circles.

* In classical Arabic :
- [th] [dh] [s] [s.] [z] [z.] each retained their own letters and sound.
- [sh] became [s] in both sound and writing (sharing [s]'s letter)
- [lh] became [sh] in sound and has its own letter, shin
- [lh.] became [d.] in sound and has its own letter, d.ad

* In early Hebrew
- [th] possibly retained its sound, was written with the letter form of shiyn (thad)
- [sh] retained its sound and was written with the letter form of shiyn (thad)
- [lh] was written with shiyn (thad), if the sound was retained, we don't know
- [s] retained its sound and its own letter, samek
- [z] retained its sound and its own letter, zayin
- [dh] was written with zayin (sharing letter form with [z])
- [s.] was written with tsade
- [z.] was written with tsade
- [lh.] was written with tsade, we don't know if the sound was retained

In case of curiosity, I write "shiyn (thad)" as the name is shiyn, but the shape is of thad.

This post, mostly put into summary:
[th] and [lh] were two separate phonemes in proto-semitic, and likely also so (if [lh] was retained) in early Hebrew. Words in Arabic that use shin [sh] use to, instead, contain [lh] in P-S, while all the P-S [sh] sounds became [s] (sin) in classical Arabic, and [th] was retained as thaa'. In Hebrew, [sh], [th], and [lh] were all written with the same symbol shiyn (thad), but pronunciation was different for at least 2 of them.

Ratson Naharädama
Denver, Colorado

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list