[b-hebrew] Consonant versus consonant clusters

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Jun 14 14:50:27 EDT 2010

James  Christian: 
To analyze consonant  clusters, let’s start with the first 10 words in your 
first paragraph that are 5  letters or longer in length in English: 
1.  Promised 
2.  Myself 
3.  Involved 
4.  Discussions 
5.  Because 
6.  Always 
7.  Orienting 
8.  Around 
9.  Geographical 
10.  Theories 
Only two have no  consonant cluster at all:  “because”  and “theories”. 
One more avoids a  consonant cluster by dividing two adjoining consonants 
into two different  syllables [where the W here is a true consonant]:  “always
”.  “Always” would be easy for a Hebrew to  pronounce, because the 
potentially difficult consonant cluster L-W is broken up  into two different 
syllables:  al-ways. 
Interestingly, only two  have the initial consonant cluster that this 
thread is focusing on:  “promised” and “geographical”.  [In the latter, it’s 
the second  syllable:  GRA.] 
The other five have  consonant clusters, but they’re not at the beginning 
of a syllable, so they’re  not directly relevant to this thread.  [Whether 
any one of more of –ns or –ng or –nd at the end of a word is or  is not a 
consonant cluster may be debatable, but that’s not directly relevant to  this 
Let’s focus on the  English words “promised” and “geographical”, which 
exactly represent what I am  talking about.  In Sanskrit, three  of the most 
common, basic, discrete syllables are PRA and GRA and SRA or $RA  [where the 
particular vowel sound involved is irrelevant for our purposes].  In all 
Indo-European languages, and in  Sanskrit-based names in Kassite and Hurrian, 
you are going to see PRA and GRA  and $RA, featuring an initial consonant 
cluster, out the wazzoo.  Those syllables are absurdly easy to say  in English, 
so that no English speaker would think to try to avoid such an  initial 
consonant cluster.  “Prod”  in English would not be easier to pronounce as 
Pa-rod, nor would “grit” be  easier to pronounce in English as ga-rit.  The 
same is true for all languages that have an affinity to  Sanskrit. 
By sharp contrast,  initial consonant clusters like that are difficult to 
pronounce in any Semitic  language, such as Akkadian or Hebrew.  I am  n-o-t  
saying that they are “impossible” to  pronounce in Semitic languages.  The 
 Hebrew word for “two” proves that the Hebrews could on occasion pronounce 
an  initial consonant cluster.  But such  initial consonant clusters are 
rare in Hebrew. 
So consider my homely  example of the odd proper name “Shrek”.  Though it 
sounds a little funny in English, it’s easy to pronounce, being  “shriek” 
with a short E instead of a long E, or “shred” with a final K instead  of a 
final D.  But a Hebrew could  have pronounced “Shrek” as a single syllable 
only with considerable  difficulty.  It’s not natural in  Biblical Hebrew.  
[Modern Hebrew may  be completely different, because modern Hebrew is 
heavily influenced by people  who often as children spoke European languages that 
have a strong affinity to  Sanskrit.  I’m talking about  Biblical Hebrew, 
spoken by people with little contact, if any, with speakers of  Indo-European 
To a Hebrew in Biblical  times, Sha-rek would be easy to pronounce, but 
Shrek as a single syllable would  not have been easy to pronounce.  Same with 
Akkadian speakers in Kassite Babylonia.  By contrast, the Kassite ruling 
class,  being intimately familiar with Sanskrit-based names, could have 
pronounced Shrek  as a single syllable in their sleep. 
That’s my point.  Ka-$ra is real easy to say in Sanskrit,  Kassite, 
Tibetan, Hurrian, English, and all European languages.  But Ka-$ra is quite 
difficult to say by  a native Hebrew or Akkadian speaker, or in any other Semitic 
language, as long  as the Semitic speaker has had little exposure to 
Indo-European  languages. 
I fear that the  foregoing linguistic analysis may be ridiculed as being “
kindergarten  level”.  Maybe so, but it’s still  accurate.  The Kassite 
ruling class  could say Ka-$ra [or Ka$-$ra] with no trouble at all, but it would 
have been  difficult for Akkadian speakers or Hebrews to say Ka-$ra [or 
Ka$-$ra] with that  authentic Kassite syllable format.  Accordingly, we should 
be alert to the possibility that Ka-ra in the  Amarna Letters, as the first 
2 Akkadian cuneiform syllables in the Akkadian  version of the Kassite name 
of Kassite Babylonia, may dimly reflect an original  Kassite pronunciation 
of Ka-$ra.  The Hebrew author of Genesis 11: 28, 31 may well have 
deliberately  declined to adopt Ka-ra from the Akkadian cuneiform of the Amarna Letters 
for  the Hebrew version of the name of the Late Bronze Age country in 
southern  Mesopotamia, on the grounds that his Hebrew audience might thereby miss 
the  connection to the Ka$-$u people (the Kassites).  So the Hebrew author 
brilliantly changed  Ka-ra to Ka-$a in K$DYM.  That  Hebrew version likely 
is actually closer to the Kassite original than is the  Akkadian cuneiform 
version.  It’s  not a “mistake”.  And it’s not  coming from the 1st 
millennium BCE!  Nor does it have anything to do  whatsoever with the later 
Kaldu/Chaldean people [or with their name], or with  the blessed, post-exilic Book 
of Daniel, as scholars would have it. 
Jim  Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois

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