[b-hebrew] dagesh, gemination, Hannah

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Thu Apr 28 18:05:55 EDT 2011

Hi Karl,

On Thu, 28 Apr 2011 08:24:54 -0700, K Randolph <kwrandolph at gmail.com> wrote:
> Will:
> On Wed, Apr 27, 2011 at 2:10 PM, Will Parsons <wbparsons at alum.mit.edu>wrote:
> > 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 categories:
> >
> > 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.
> Was Hebrew originally a syllabery, with each letter standing for a syllable?
> The structure of Hebrew poetry seems to indicate that this was the case.
> Then when the Phoenicians and Arameans adopted the Hebrew script, did they
> change it to a consonantal alphabet?

I have seen claims that the early Canaanite scripts were essentially syllabic
in nature, but I will have to admit I don't see it that way.  I don't know
of any reason to think that the alphabet was used any differently by the
Phoenicians than the Hebrews.

> > In languages that use either a Greek or Indic type alphabet, a lengthened
> > consonant is regularly indicated by the doubling the consonantal letter.
> > …
> > 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 syllable.  As for modern Hebrew not having
> > phonemically lengthened consonants, note that the loss of phonemic
> > consonantal length is quite common in languages.
> Modern Hebrew pronunciation is irrelevant to a study of Biblidal Hebrew. I
> don’t want to get into all the reasons at this time. That’s where Isaac’s
> argument falls apart.
> > …
> >
> > 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.
> “At the time of the LXX” sure, but that was five generations or more since
> Hebrew ceased to be spoken as a native tongue by Jews. Therefore, having
> grown up learning Aramaic pronunciation of the script, what is the
> probability after so many generations that they ever learned the Hebrew
> pronunciation of the script?

I've seen different opinions on how far Hebrew survived as a spoken language
after the return from the Exile, so I don't want to be too dogmatic about
this.  It does seem unlikely, however, that a Hebrew pronunciation noticeably
distinct from the Aramaic pronunciation would have survived at this point.

> (Just because different languages share a script does not mean that they
> share the same pronunciation of that script. Example: look at the different
> ways Latin script is pronounced by different languages that utilize it. Even
> the same language over time sometimes changes how it pronounces its own
> alphabet.)

Yes, but we have to take the circumstances into consideration.  We can see
how Spanish and its sister language French both use the Latin alphabet but
pronounce the letter J quite differently.  In the case of post-exilic Hebrew
you have a situation that starts out with a high level of bilingualism of
Hebrew speakers (Hebrew and Aramaic) and develops over time to a situation
where the spoken language is Aramaic only, with Hebrew a purely learned
language.  Both stages (but especially the latter) would be hostile to having
substantially different values for the letters.

Will Parsons

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