[b-hebrew] Initial Consonant Clusters in Biblical Hebrew

jimstinehart at aol.com jimstinehart at aol.com
Sat Jun 12 11:12:23 EDT 2010

What you wrote applies only if we were not dealing with a foreign loanword.  If there were no foreign loanword involved, then I would agree with you that:
“Consonant clustering occurs within a single syllable. It doesn't apply across 
two syllables. So the reason Hebrew has no problem with a word like Ka$Ra is 
because it has no consonant clustering.  It has two distinct normal syllables: 
Ka$-Ra. There is no consonant clustering here. Your theory depends on Hebrew 
trying to deal with consonant clustering in this word, but it's just not there 
to begin with.”
Non-Semitic languages, like English and Hittite and Kassite, routinely have true consonant clusters in a single syllable.  English has shrill, shrew, shroud, shrimp, etc. as single syllables, even though Hebrew would be expected to break up such a foreign word into two syllables.  As to Hittite, which may have some affinities to the little-known language of Kassite:  “We know that Hittite had initial, internal, and final consonant clusters.”  http://www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/lrc/eieol/hitol-1-X.html
We appear to have both DI-Tu-$ra-tta in Hittite, and Tu-$ra-tta in Hurrian, attested in the ancient world.  [I say “appear”, because the sources are often confusing and inconsistent as to syllable division.]  Svah is a single syllable in Sanskrit.  Kassite often uses Sanskrit in names of gods and kings, and Kassite is often thought to have some affinities with Hurrian and Hittite, while being completely different from Semitic languages. 
We know for sure that Akkadian and Kassite were not a good mix, with the two languages being entirely different from each other.  “Wide variation in the writing of Kassite [in Akkadian] shows that this tongue sounded very strange to Babylonian scribes, and it must have had a very different structure from that of Akkadian….”  Walter Sommerfeld, “The Kassites of Ancient Mesopotamia”, in Jack M. Sasson ed. “Civilizations of the Ancient Near East” (2000), at p. 917.
>From the foregoing, it is likely (if not certain) that (i) Ka-$ra or Ka$-$ra was easy to say in Kassite, but (ii) Ka-$ra or Ka$-$ra was virtually impossible to say in Akkadian (or in Hebrew or any other Semitic language).  Yes, Ka$-ra or Ka$$-ra would be easy to say in Akkadian or Hebrew, but that was not what the Kassites were saying.  The basic Sanskrit word is ku-$a, not ku$-a.  Adding the comparative suffix –iyar or –ra resulted in something like Ka-$a-ra in Sanskrit [magical 7th mountain], but the Kassite equivalent of that word may have been pronounced as only two syllables:  Ka-$ra or Ka$-$ra.
My theory of the case is that Ka-$ra in Kassite came out as Ka-ra in Akkadian and as Ka-$a in Biblical Hebrew.  The Akkadians initially tried to reproduce the consonant cluster $ra of their new masters from the Zagros Mountains.  But consistent with linguistic theory, the very difficult to pronounce $ra eventually was simplified to ra in Akkadian.  As I quoted before:  “The evidence comes primarily from an observation known as the CODA/ONSET ASYMMETRY.  In many languages, consonant clusters simplify by deleting the first consonant, but never the second one (Wilson 2000, 2001, Steriade, forthcoming): /patka/E[paka], not [pata].”  John J. McCarthy, “The Gradual 
Path to Cluster Simplification” (2008), linguist at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  
The Hebrew author of Genesis 11: 28, 31 knew both Ka$-$u as the name of the Kassite people, and Ka-ra as the Akkadianized first two syllables of the Kassite name of Kassite Babylonia in the Amarna Letters.  He perhaps correctly surmised that Ka-ra was Akkadian styling, not Kassite, and more importantly he knew that his Hebrew audience might be confused by Ka-ra, which does not seem very close to Ka$-$u.  So he brilliantly chose to use Ka-$a for the first two syllables of the Hebrew version of the Kassite name of Kassite Babylonia.  That doesn’t match the Amarna Letters, because the Hebrew author properly chose not to follow the Akkadianized version, since a more authentic Kassite version would in this particular case be easier for his Hebrew audience to understand;  at least some people in that Hebrew audience knew the Kassites as Ka$-$u.
That’s my theory of the case.  I am trying to explain why the first two syllables of the Kassite name of Kassite Babylonia at Genesis 11: 28, 31 are Ka-$a, whereas they are Ka-ra in the Akkadian cuneiform of the Amarna Letters.  To me, the underlying reason is that a Kassite consonant cluster could not be handled well by Semitic languages, and Akkadian and Hebrew went different routes in trying to deal with the tongue-twister Kassite consonant cluster $ra.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston Illinois

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