[b-hebrew] dagesh, gemination, Hannah [was: dagesh in hebrew]

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Wed Apr 27 17:10:26 EDT 2011

On Sun, 24 Apr 2011 07:11:11 -0400, Isaac Fried <if at math.bu.edu> wrote:
> 2."Gemination" doe's not exist in present-day Hebrew because it is  
> annoying and unnecessary. There is no evidence that it ever existed  
> in Hebrew.

Distinguishing lengthened from non-lengthened consonants is quite common in a
wide variety of languages.  How this is indicated (if at all) depends on the
type of script employed.  Alphabetic scripts generally fall into three

1) Semitic type scripts, in which ordinarily vowels are either not indicated
   or indicated in certain circumstances by consonantal letters.

2) Greek type scripts, in which vowel letters are full citizens along with
   consonantal letters.

3) Indic type scripts, in which vowels are indicated by symbols that serve
   as adjuncts to the accompanying consonants.

In languages that use either a Greek or Indic type alphabet, a lengthened
consonant is regularly indicated by the doubling the consonantal letter.
(There may be exceptions to this, but I can't think of any.)  This is the case
even where lengthened vowels are *not* indicated by doubling the vowel (as in
Latin or Greek).  A long consonsant seems to be thought of as one consonant
doubled.  Thus Latin "annus" for a pronunciation of [an:us].

Languages that use a Semitic type alphabet either don't indicate lengthened
consonants at all, or indicate them by an optional auxiliarly diacritical
mark on the consonantal letter, as in the case of Arabic.  This is perhaps
expected, since a repeated consonant letter would naturally suggest an extra

As for modern Hebrew not having phonemically lengthened consonants, note that
the loss of phonemic consonantal length is quite common in languages.

The history of the Hebrew name "Hannah" in various European languages is

-  Hebrew חנה is transcribed as Αννα/Anna in the LXX.  Ancient Greek had
   long (or geminated) consonants, so this spelling indicates they heard
   a "doubled" consonant in the Hebrew name.

-  Latin transcribed Greek Αννα as Anna.  Latin also had geminated consonants,
   and this spelling indicates they heard the doubled consonant in the Greek

-  The Latin "Anna" has come down to Italian essentially unchanged in the
   form "Anna".  Italian maintains phonemic consonantal length; the spelling
   indicates this for [an:a] (or equivalently, [anna]).

-  Spanish does *not* maintain the consonantal length of Latin.  So, it's no
   suprise that the name is pronounced [ana], spelled appropriately as "Ana".

-  Just as Spanish does not maintain the original Latin geminated consonants,
   so also has Modern Greek not maintained the original Ancient Greek
   geminated consonants.  So, the Modern Greek pronunciation is [ana], though
   this is still spelled conservatively as Αννα/Anna.

Aside from internal evidence within Hebrew, bolstered by comparisons with
cognate languages such as Arabic, the Greek transcriptions such as "Anna"
show pretty conclusively in my view (and most others' view), that Hebrew had
long ("geminated") consonants at the time of the LXX translations (and no
doubt before).  That this distinction was maintained up through mediaeval
times is the most natural explanation for the use of daghesh (forte) in the
Massoretic pointing.

Modern Hebrew would seem to be in a similar situation to Modern Greek,
where the phonemic distinction has been lost but the spelling (or in the
case of Hebrew, pointing) reflects an earlier state of things.

William Parsons

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