[b-hebrew] mishnaic Hebrew + Deborah

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Wed Nov 23 14:10:29 EST 2011

I've collapsed a couple threads into one, that essentially discusses
the quality of post-exilic Hebrew and it's multidialect status.

karl katav
> What I notice is that already in those latter books, there is far more
> sparing use of the idioms and other higher ?levels of control? that would
> indicate native fluency of the language in a milieu of other native
> speakers. Rather we have varying levels of competency that would include
> being able to carry on a conversation in the language, but otherwise
> indicating that this was a second language for those writers.

Statements like this do not mean anything without data. and any discussion
needs to include an understanding that languages go through connected
change. Yes, there are changes in the language. In addition, there are two
levels of language, there is a high, 'classical' level like that found in Late
Biblical Hebrew and most of the Dead Sea documents, versus a low,
'mishnaic' level, like that seen cropping up in literary texts, in some
DeadSea texts, bar koseba letters and recorded by disciples of the zugot
and tannaitic rabbis.

> These also indicate that the pronunciation changed significantly during
> this period, as the native Aramaic speakers would have followed their
> Aramaic pronunciations,

Unfortunately, this is pure speculation and needs an expertise for discussion
that Karl has repeatedly admitted that he doesn't have. We do know that
ALL traditions show significant distinctions between Hebrew and Aramaic
at all periods and that the distinctions make sense and fit a credible
historical linguistics picture when fit into the larger Semitic
language picture.

> (Karl again) This may have been the
> period when the sin and shin became differentiated, whereas previously they
> were one letter.

This is actually backwards. From comparative Semitic data we know that there
were two phonemes that apparently collapsed already in Phoenician, since they
only developed one letter. Likewise, there was a *th phoneme that collapsed in
Phoenician with "shin" while Aramaic preserved it as *th in the early
period but
then collapsed it with "tav" in the late First Temple period as the begedkefet
phenomenon entered the language.

> We know that by the time of the LXX some of the letters
> became aspirated, though to a lesser extent in the north (Galilee) as shown
> by name transliterations in the New Testament.

This discussion requires an understanding of 1st century Greek.
As late as the 3rd century CE, the Jewish and Christian population in Rome
had 'hard' stops, as seen in catacomb words like χηθε 'here lies' = κεἶται.

> (still Karl) We find the statement in Nehemiah 13:24 that the mixed marriages resulted
> in children who did not understand Hebrew. That would not have been
> necessary if this had been a Hebrew speaking milieu?even if the children
> spoke the other languages at home, they would pick up Hebrew at a young age
> from the street.

This cuts both ways. It also testifies that there were mother-tongue Hebrew
speakers, that people had not had a total forgetfulness of Hebrew and then
reconstituted it incorrectly (a la Karl's Aramaic), but somehow kept
it distinct
from Aramaic, all the while leaving a record that would make historical
linguistic sense when its details would be investigated 2000 years later.
We do know that Aramaic was the international business language and that
there were quite a few foreigners in the land. (Where were they getting their
foreign wives from? Catalog services and internet were unavailable.)

> (`od Karl) As far as Mishnaic Hebrew, all I know about it is what I have read on
> this list. As far as it being natively spoken, I have seen nothing that
> indicates that it was nor proof that it wasn?t. Rather what you have is
> people speaking it as a second language, some very well copying aspects
> from Biblical Hebrew, others more like Hebrew words on an Aramaic grammar
> of that time.

This is a rather definite conclusion for someone without control of all of the
relevant data. It certainly does not explain why there were two registers
of Hebrew during the Second Temple, a high 'classical' and a low

> But I do find indications that those who came to Judea after the Babylonian
> exile to repopulate that empty land

Just how 'empty' was the land? nature abhors a vacuum, as they say. And
there seem to be quite a few people around who were resisting Nehemya
and were not a part of the movement to return and restore Zion.

> did not speak Hebrew on the street nor
> at the hearth.

This is even a stranger comment since Karl quoted Ne 13 where as late
as Nehemya there where still hearth/mother-tongue speakers.

Dulaney katav
> as far as the post-exilic writers of the Tanakh are concerned. Could
> you give us some examples from those books and show how they differ
> from the Hebrew of the books produced before the exile?

Yes, that is a necessary question, data to be fit into a comprehensive
picture. And as mentioned. showing a difference from first temple Hebrew
only shows development, it does not mean that there were zero
mothertongue speakers or that Hebrew was suddenly spoken with
Aramaic morphology, phonology, and syntax.

couple of examples:
The SecondTemple language and especially mishnaic Hebrew became
more sensitive to "aspect". this would be natural after Alexander when
Greek became the new, primary international language. Both Hebrew
and Aramaic show an increase in compound structures 'be'+participle
in order to mark aspect in areas like imperatives. Likewise, the BH
structure "yiqtol marking aspect in the past" appears to have dropped
out of natural use, allowing the older 'be'+participle structure to spread
and take over that area in a way that specified both tense and aspect.

Modal verbs like 'want' Hafets, 'am able' yaxol, 'need' (tsarix, unattested
in first temple) developed a more widespread use of the participle.
In First Temple one finds suffix and prefix verbs tending to handle all the
modal ideas 'want' and 'able'. ('tending', not absolutely, of course)
In Second Temple we find participles with ani Hafets and ani yaxol.

Changes like this are fully explicable within natural language development.

PS: Hebrew preserves the old stative 'u/o' vowel in yaxol 'able', while Aramaic
shows its distinctive Aramaic shape in yaxil 'able'. Just one of hundreds or
thousands of examples that Hebrew and Aramaic represent distinct
linguistic trajectories, despite the centuries of high bilingualism of these
languages in Jewish communities.

Randall Buth, PhD
Biblical Language Center
Learn Easily - Progress Further - Remember for Life

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