[b-hebrew] The vowels of אֶחָד

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Sun Apr 10 17:45:39 EDT 2011

Since you wish to drop this line, I will of course abide by your wishes,
but I would like to make some response to your reply below...

On Sun, 10 Apr 2011 23:49:38 +0300, Randall Buth <randallbuth at gmail.com> wrote:
> > I think I disagree about it being 'sub-phonemic'.
> Not when defined.
> A phoneme is a sound unit that can distinguish meaning.
> The 'virtual dagesh' and the 'virtual tsere' cannot distinguish
> meaning in this word or environment.
> > True, I doubt anyone hearing the word with a slightly
> > different initial vowel would have misunderstood the sense.
> Exactly. Non-phonemic.

No.  Pronouncing אחד with an initial sere rather than seghol would not likely
have been any cause for confusion, simply because there *was* no other word
אחד pronounced with a sere.  Even if there had been, if the meanings of the
two words were sufficiently different from each other that one would be
unlikely to have occurred in an environment that the other occurred in,
confusion would be unlikely.  Nevertheless, if a word אחד with a seghol
existed, and another אחד with sere existed, then these would have been
distinguishable phonemically.  (Compare the phonemic distinction in English
between the voiced and voiceless interdental fricatives, i.e., [ð] and [θ],
where it is extremely difficult to find minimal pairs in which the
substitution of the one for the other would cause confusikon.

> > But it must
> > have *sounded* like a seghol to them, as opposed to some other vowel.
> Of course.
> >  Now I
> > think the phonemic system was not necessarily a Hebrew phonology -
> This is best dropped because it brings in too many variables and
> starts to blur phonetics and phonology.

Will Parsons

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