[b-hebrew] Hebrew and Semitic Phonetic Philology

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Thu Jul 2 17:15:02 EDT 2009

On Thu, Jul 2, 2009 at 5:36 AM, Ratson Naharadama wrote:
> 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.

Only one -- the most important one -- had them undifferentiated.  Yes, it is
hard to follow.  You can try to get the original in a library.

> Getting closer to my thoughts, it seems that you may be confusing semitic
> usage of [th] with [lh]

No, I'm not, but the fate of both these phonemes is discussed.
[th] merged with Shin.
[lh] did not merge with Shin in Judaean Hebrew.

> 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).

Quite interesting!  Anyway, based on your description, it seems Steiner
suggests that the Sin was originally like the Tlingit [lh], and Dad (merged
with Sade in Hebrew) was originally something like the Tlingit ejective
lh, which was exactly affricated as you describe being t-lh' and later
k-lh'.  Because of this k-lh' it became similar to Qof and later Ayin in

> 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.]

No, instead of [sh] Shin they had [s], and instead of [s] Samekh they had [ts].
I pointed this out in the message of mine that you quote.  This is what
Woodhouse is talking about when he speaks of an affricate Samekh:

> * 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

So, [ts] did not retain its own sound, but rather deaffricated in Arabic to
become [s].  Shin [s] did retain its own sound.

> * 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

[sh] (actually [s]) did not retain its sound and that's what the whole first
article is about.  When in high vowel environments, the article suggests
it sounded like sh:
"The above analysis leads to the conclusion that in the Semitic dialects
with which the Egyptians were most familiar, the auditory effect of the
SHIN phoneme was most conspicuously SH-like in certain environments
involving high vowels."
"If, as seems likely, these Semitic dialects were Cisjordanian rather than
Transjordanian, and the Transjordanian SHIN was more S-like and did not
produce a conspicuously SH-like auditory effect even in high vowel
environments, then in these high vowel environments the difference between
the two types of SHIN would be particularly exaggerated and thus lead to a
greater likelihood that precisely in these high vowel environments--in the
manner suggested by Hendel--Cisjordanians would interpret the
Transjordanian SHIN as SAMEKH /S/. This explains the recorded
Cisjordanian interpretations of Transjordanian /SH/ as SAMEKH /S/ in the
high vowel environments of SHIBBOLET (or *SHUBBULTU, etc.) and
*BA'ALISHA but as SHIN /SH/ in the non-high vowel environments of
NAHASH and SHOBI, where SHIN on both sides of the Jordan was still
somewhat more S-like, as the wavering Egyptian transcriptions indicate,
at least for the Cisjordanian side."

Yitzhak Sapir

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