[b-hebrew] Fw: Job 38:8 ??

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Fri Dec 7 23:56:26 EST 2012

Hi Karl,

I hooe to compose a more fuller response to-morrow, but since it's
getting late for me now, please be satisfied with the following
admittedly inadequate response for the moment...

On Fri, 7 Dec 2012 07:47:06 -0800, K Randolph <kwrandolph at gmail.com> wrote:
> Will:
> ...
> One thing I have noticed in a few languages where I know a little of their
> histories is that where languages have fluid spelling, that spelling tends
> to change to reflect changes in pronunciation of the language and the
> pronunciation reflected by the alphabet tends to remain constant. But where
> languages lock down their spellings, then as the language changes, the
> pronunciations reflected by their alphabets tend to change to reflect
> changes in their languages. This is not absolute, just tendency. Secondly,
> this tendency seems to be more true of consonants than vowels.

I think that when a language adopts an alphabet from an external
source, spellings can be quite fluid, partially reflecting differences
in the language itself (dialectal or otherwise), or because of
uncertainty of how best to represent the language in the imported
alphabet (as in different ways of representing sibilants in early
Greek).  Initially, one writes a language as one hears it.  Over time,
spellings come to be more standardized, but true standardized
spellings did not come into being before the invention of printing, in
modern times.

> My understanding is that Greek up until fairly recently had fluid spelling,
> but what about Persian and Coptic?

This is a matter of degree.  I'm not sure about what you envision as
"fairly recently", but in Hellenistic and early Christian times, one
can (I think) discern a considerable degree of uncertainty in
spelling, such as αι/ai alternating with ε/e.  But the fact that ε/e
did not simply replace αι/ai, indicates that at that point there was a
feeling of what "correct" spelling was.

> I read a little on the Coptic language
> history, which seems to indicate that Coptic froze its spelling a long time
> ago so that our modern understanding on how the Copts pronounced their
> words is most likely different than how the ancient Copts pronounced them.
> I know nothing of Persian language history, so all I can do is raise
> questions.

Perhaps it was a bit unfair of me to invoke an example from Coptic
(which is perhaps only slightly more known by people on this list
than Hurrian...).

Still, my point is based not on how Coptic pronunciation changed, but
on how Coptic spelling illustrates a point on how orthography may not
correspond with the phonemic representation of a language.

>> Certainly the Phoenician alphabet underwent a considerable re-shaping
>> to make it a good vehicle for writing Greek, since Greek was quite
>> different from Phoenician.  But that's the point.  Just because xi
>> represents a cluster [ks] in Greek doesn't mean the Phoenician letter
>> from which it was borrowed represents a cluster.
> Did the ancients recognize it as a cluster, or as a single phoneme? That
> they used one character to represent it, indicates that they recognized it
> as a single phoneme rather than a cluster.

A cluster.  I think that's clear from ancient descriptions (e.g.,
Dionysios Thrax).

>> (Incidentally, the creation of the Greek alphabet may not be entirely
>> due to "the man on the street".  It very well could be that some of
>> the adaptions, such as the remarkable repurposing of consonantal
>> letters as vowels, was the brain-child of an ancient equivelent of
>> Cyril or Wulfila, one whose name has been lost to history.)
> Possibly, though the repurposing of some consonants as vowels appear to
> have been the result of incomplete understanding of the alphabet. My
> understanding is that in Biblical era Hebrew, the alphabet was really a
> syllabary, but one that didn’t have a way to represent its vowels. The
> Greek man on the street understood that each letter stood for a phoneme, so
> his repurposing of softer gutturals representing phones not found in Greek
> could just as well been a result of misunderstanding as purposeful.

>> >> Apart from what I've written above, I see as a more fundamental
>> >> problem with a consonant cluster like [ks] acting as a single phoneme
>> >> (and hence being represented by a single letter) in Hebrew (or other
>> >> Semitic languages).  If samekh *did* represent a cluster, then I would
>> >> expect to see at least some instances where samekh was used in words
>> >> where /k/ and /s/ as separate sounds happened to fall together, i.e.,
>> >> a parallel to Greek νυξ/nyx vs νυκτες/nyktes.
>> >
>> > Why? I see no reason that would be the case. Just because it was found in
>> > Greek doesn’t mean that it should be found in other languages. I don’t
>> know
>> > where that is found in any language other than Greek.
>> This doesn't really have anything to do with the Greek language, but
>> with Greek spelling.  There's nothing in Greek that requires xi (or
>> psi) to exist, and the fact that they are used is a peculiarity of
>> Greek orthography, without any deep significance.
> See above about phonemic spelling. That the ancient Greeks apparently wrote
> phonemically, their inclusion of these “consonant clusters” as individual
> letters shows that they considered them as phonemes, not as consonant
> clusters.
> Incidentally, your example for the Greek Xi changing to a Kappa in certain
> situations has its correspondence in other languages, for example in
> English, the en- as in energize become em- before a labial as in embattle.
> And we could probably find many similar examples. This is consonantal
> substitution that sometimes happens where there are found consonantal
> clusters.
>> For an example other than Greek, look at Coptic.  Coptic uses the
>> Greek alphabet supplemented with additional letters for sounds not
>> found in Greek, but Coptic phonology is different from Greek in many
>> particulars.  The Greek letters Φ/phi, Θ/theta, Χ/khi were originally
>> used in Greek for aspirated stop phonemes.
> Other than Coptic, what is your evidence for this? I’m not saying you’re
> wrong, at least not directly, I’m just raising a question. But so far, the
> only evidence I have seen for this assertion is very questionable.
>>  Coptic apparently did not
>> have aspirated stops, but it did have consonant clusters that could
>> include an /h/ phoneme.  Not surprisingly, phi, &c. were used in the
>> numerous Greek loanwords in Coptic, but also, perhaps more
>> surprisingly, in native Coptic words to represent a consonant
>> cluster.  For example:
>> /p/   = masculine definite article
>> /ho/  = face
>> /pho/ = "the face", spelled ΦΟ, with a phi.
> That could also reflect that when this spelling was adopted, that there was
> a real difference in pronunciation that was later changed, that this
> represented a consonantal substitution that sometimes happens when
> languages have consonantal clusters.
>> This is parallel to the Greek use of xi and psi, but (and this is my
>> point) we do not see anything similar in Phoenician or Hebrew for
>> samekh.
>> You do find it in Masoretic and later Hebrew as indicated by their points,
> but not Biblical era Hebrew. If Biblical era Hebrew was a syllabary, as I
> think the majority of the evidence seems to indicate, then there were no
> consonantal clusters, therefore no consonantal substitution in consonantal
> clusters as in languages such as Greek and English.
>> --
>> Will Parsons
>> μη φαινεσθαι, αλλ' ειναι.
> Karl W. Randolph.
> μη φαινεσθαι, αλλα ποιαι.   (Isn’t that better?) ……;-)

Will Parsons
μη φαινεσθαι, αλλ' ειναι.

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