[b-hebrew] The vowels of אֶחָד

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Sun Apr 10 16:25:08 EDT 2011

On Sun, 10 Apr 2011 22:42:33 +0300, Randall Buth <randallbuth at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > You find this humorous?  I disagree, sir, with every fibre of my being!!!
> > (Well, perhaps a little...)
> Well, after all, it is literally a discussion about nothing.
> "As if it existed ..."  Where should we add 'nothing'?
> It is also a 'sub-phonemic' feature, which means 'non-meaningful'.
> I have sometimes drawn a dotted dagesh circle inside a Het to act
> "as if it were there it would explain the vowels".
> Of course, Seinfeld would take this seriously. So do students, with a
> tongue in cheek. The important thing is to understand the argument,
> and then get on with life.

You do realize, I hope, that my response was tongue in cheek?  However,
whether one regards the heth being "virtually doubled" or the seghol as
being "virtually long", both are attempts accommodate the surface form
אֶחָד to an internal regularity within the Hebrew phonological system.

I think I disagree about it being 'sub-phonemic'.  If it were so, why did
the Massoretes indicate the first vowel with a seghol instead of sere or
a shwa variant?  True, I doubt anyone hearing the word with a slightly
different initial vowel would have misunderstood the sense.  But it must
have *sounded* like a seghol to them, as opposed to some other vowel.  Now I
think the phonemic system was not necessarily a Hebrew phonology - it could
well be that the Massoretes were attempting to represent the Hebrew
pronunciation using an Aramaic phonological system.  This would be similar
to an English speaker representing the pronunciation of a foreign word
according to how that pronunciation would resolve to in terms of English
phonemes, rather than those of the original language.  But it would still
be phonemic in terms of English.

Will Parsons

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