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

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Sat Jul 3 22:13:13 EDT 2010

Hello Garth,

You are speaking quite often of phonemic issues.  I therefore
want to make it clear how I understand the term.

Phonemic -- and a language's phonemes -- relate to an
understanding of the language by the speaker.  For example, in
English, the aspiration of t is not phonemic.  It is therefore
necessary to just write /t/ in a phonemic description of a word.
However, if you wanted to provide a reader with a
representation of how the word is truly pronounced, you would
have to specify the aspiration.  The same happens in Hebrew.
In early Biblical Hebrew, differences between b and v were not
phonemic.  The word כלב could be written /kaleb/ even though
the last /b/ was actually pronounced [v].  Just as with any facet
of language, the phonemical analysis of a language changes
over time.  At some point, the Hebrew consonant waw
changed from [w] to [v].  At this point [b] and [v] were
phonemically distinct.  We see this in the word לצבא -
licvo "to be on duty" Nu 4:23, Num 8:24
licbo "to fight against" Is 31:4
The first example is vocalized without a dagesh, in my opinion
probably  correctly, because (again in my opinion) it is really
from the root צוה. From the point of time that w became v, the
word כלב now had a new phonemical representation - /kalev/.

While it is probably correct to say that phonemically, a vocal
schwa in Tiberian Hebrew was phonemically equivalent to a
no-vowel I do not know if this is the case in earlier stages of
the language.  In any case, transliterations as in the
Septuagint and earlier transliterations into Akkadian are not
based purely on the phonemical analysis but on how the
realization is perceived by the one doing the transliteration.

When you speak of "original" the question has to be what is
original. What is the time period to which you describe the
vocalization as original.

I currently understand the base form which can explain all
developments of the Tetragrammaton to be a qatl form -
yahw.  Here the vowel [a] is phonemic (it contrasts with qitl
and qutl forms).  I see the form YHWH as a suffixed form of
the base root.  But language changes over time, and the
names of the deities in the language change as well.

In Hebrew, qatl forms with an -h- in the second consonant
apparently shifted to qotl or qɔtl.  Compare אהל which gives
[bɔ:)ɔhɔ:lim] along with other forms with a holem, or צהר
which gives [cɔ:hɔrɔyim].  The o/ɔ color of the vowel is
already apparent in an Amarna gloss at EA 232:11 (Akko):
cú-ú@-ru-ma (glossing Akkadian  ù ci-ru-ma) meaning
"back".  A third example in Hebrew is מהר "brideprice."  In
all of this we are talking of original qatl forms.

It is thus quite possible that throughout the time that Y'
was worshipped, the name -- when it was pronounced --
was pronounced with a qamats ɔ in the first vowel.  I do
not know if it was phonemic or not at such an early point.
That the Canaanite scribe at Akko transcribes what is
apparently a qamats ɔ at this position with an -u-
suggests it might very well have been phonemic.

Anyway, for me, having an understanding of how the
word developed in various dialects is no less important
than understanding how the word was "originally"
pronounced.  Also, the term "originally" is rather
problematic for me.

Yitzhak Sapir

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