[b-hebrew] The vowels of אֶחָד

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Sun Apr 10 17:11:52 EDT 2011

Hi Uri,

On Sun, 10 Apr 2011 10:32:06 -0700 (PDT), Uri Hurwitz <uhurwitz at yahoo.com> wrote:
>   For many examples of an 'open' syllable of the first 
> consonant of a noun, please check the Segolites - Melekh,
>  Keter, Yeled, etc. In this case the stress is of course
>  on the first syllable. No need to discuss here again the
>  origin of this type of Heb. nouns.

Sure, but as you note, these are accented on the first syllable, and
therefore not directly comparable to אֶחָד.

>    As for the irregularity of 'Ehad', this may well be
>  because originally here too the stress was on the first
>  syllable. Notice the pronounciation of same word in
>  Arabic where the stress is on the first syllable.

True, one can posit an older form where the accent is on the first
syllable, where subsequently that accent shifted to the final syllable,
but normally one would expect in that event a phonetic adjustment to
have taken place in the vowels.

>    Segol and Tseire are not marked in in  ancient Semitic
>  systems, whether Akkadian or Ugaritic, nor do they appear
>  in the vocalization marks of Arabic. That this language
>  definitely has the vowel 'e' is abundantly clear from its
>  constant appearance on the colloquial pronounciations -see
>  for example 'El-Amarna' 'El - Arish' compared with the
>  formal 'Al-Arish'.

Ah, but *what* exactly is this 'e' that appears?  In the modern
Arabic dialects I suspect that the existence of a phoneme /e/ varies
from dialect to dialect (I am no expert in the matter).  Classical
(and I believe modern Egyptian) Arabic has only three vowel phonemes
(or six, if you count the long varsions as separate) - /a/, /i/, & /u/.
Now with only three vowel phonemes, there is a lot of room for allophonic
variation.  So, transcriptions like 'El-Amarna' don't necessarily
indicate the existence of a phoneme /e/ in (Egyptian) Arabic, but that
the realization of the Arabic phoneme /a/ in this environment is
phonetically [ɛ], English phoneme /e/.

>  But to return the Hebrew Het : yes, of course it is
>  a guttural, and so if will be vowelled with a Hataf- Patah.
>  On the other hand,it does appear with a plain Sh'wa: e.g.
>  'I'll think' - 'Ehshob',similarly the (Ayin: Naga(ti.
>   In short, exception, irregularities exist. All one needs
>  is to consult elemtary Heb. grammer books. Further,
>  ancients, like moderns, simply made mistakes.  

I doubt that the Massoretic vocalization of אחד was a 'mistake', i.e.,
that vocalization represented what they actually heard.  And yes,
irregularities do exist.  But we should not brush off too readily
as mistakes forms that can be explained by looking for a deeper
regularity than that of the surface forms.

>   Complaints should be directed to the masoretes twelve
>  hundred or so years ago. Their mistakes were noted of
>  course by other ancients who followed them. Since the
>  texts were canonized, and could not tempered with,
>  such mistakes were often corrected 'off text':'
>  'Tiqunei Sof'rim'.

Although I may have some complaints against the Masoretes, I don't
think on this matter I can accuse them of making 'mistakes'.

Willam Parsons

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