[b-hebrew] 'Vocal shwa' had no true/phonemic quality at the time of LXX.

Garth Grenache garthgrenache at hotmail.com
Thu Jul 1 23:46:25 EDT 2010

Dear all,

A clarification:
I'm actually not denying that shwa had phonemic value, although I understand it to be representation of a lost short vowel a, i, or u which were once distinguishable, with distinct meanings.  Shwa is phonemic in that it is distinguished from a long vowel, but it's quality (a,e,o, etc.) according to its position in the word and various reading traditions is meaningless: it is a matter for those who are pendantic about their traditions.

What I am saying is that the quality of shwa had no phonemic value.  By vowel quality (not quantity) I mean its sound as 'a' 'e' 'o', etc.  What I am saying is that if by modern or medieval traditions shwa is pronounced with a different vowel sound in different circumstances, all these differences are unphonemic(meaningless) to the language.  The shwa's consistent meaning in all its applications is that the consonant is not followed by a full vowel of any particular quality.  

I do agree with James that Greek has no schwa, and thus it's treatment of this no-full-vowel sign is to either not transliterate it at all, or to add a vowel that may be epenthetic, or may make the entire pronunciation of the Greek seem more like the Hebrew.  E.g. saomon for Shelomoh, which may have at the time been pronounced Shalomo!  But later in the Greek NT: solomon.

But if shwa had a short vowel sound of consistent quality (as it does in Modern Hebrew, 'e') Greek does have short vowels across the spectrum and would have chosen the closest vowel to consistently represent it.  It doesn't.

And then again, the LXX is before the pointed shwa, so it is not a matter of transliteration, but of representing the Hebrew pronunciation with the closest available Greek letters.

Interesting discussion.


Date: Wed, 30 Jun 2010 12:33:51 +0300
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] 'Vocal shwa' had no true/phonemic quality at the time 	of LXX.
From: jc.bhebrew at googlemail.com
To: garthgrenache at hotmail.com
CC: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org

Hi Garth,
I won't get involved in the pronunciation of schwa. One observation I would make is that as the Tiberian system aimed at one symbol for one sound you would expect some kind of consistency. That is to say either they are all vocal or all silent.

Regards your analysis of Greek transliterations I partially agree. IW likely corresponds to YschwaHoW. IOU likely corresponds to YschwaHuW. I agree that we are talking about long vowels in both cases for o and u quality vowels. I'm not sure that the lack of representation of schwa is hard evidence that it had no phonemic value in Hebrew. Any transliteration scheme must work in the confines of the target language. Greek clearly has no way of representing a short vocal schwa just as it has no way of representing a He. If we are to insist that this is hard evidence that schwa had no phonemic value in Hebrew then by the same token we must also insist that He also had no phonemic value. I'm sure you can agree that there are problems with this kind of logic.

James Christian 		 	   		  
Find it at CarPoint.com.au New, Used, Demo, Dealer or Private? 		 	   		  
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