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

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Sat Dec 8 13:59:21 EST 2012

Hi Karl,

As promised, here's the second part of my response below.

On Fri, 7 Dec 2012 07:47:06 -0800, K Randolph <kwrandolph at gmail.com> wrote:
> Will:
> On Thu, Dec 6, 2012 at 6:15 PM, Will Parsons <wbparsons at alum.mit.edu> wrote:
>> On Wed, 5 Dec 2012 16:15:15 -0800, K Randolph <kwrandolph at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>> >
>> > On Wed, Dec 5, 2012 at 2:13 PM, Will Parsons <wbparsons at alum.mit.edu>
>> wrote:
>> (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.

I think it's possible that the adaptation of Phoenician gutterals as
vowels could be the result of misunderstanding the nature of the
script, but so likely as a conscious decision.  After all,
Semitic-type alphabets travelled East as well as West, usually
resulting in a very imperfect representation of the borrowing
languages.  The Indians though, realized that regularly representing
vowels was necessary to representing their language(s), and came up
with a means that involved adding additional elements to the
consonantal core of the syllable to do so - quite different from the
Greek solution, and not involving the repurposing of consonantal

>> >> 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.

I don't think that follows.  In English, the usual pronunciation of
the "ch" combination is as an affricate, and I think the average
speaker of English would consider it a single sound (i.e., a single
phoneme) rather than a sequence of sounds.  It's clear that the Greeks
*did* consider xi a sequence of sounds /ks/, since there are explicit
descriptions of it so (such as Dionysios Thrax, whom I cited in my
previous response).

> 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.

I think you misunderstand me.  My example wasn't meant to illustrate
xi changing to kappa, but rather that it was simple graphic convenience.

A clearer example may be singular ελιξ/helix vs plural ελικες/helikes,
"twisted".  Viewed phonemically as /heliks/, /helikes/, these forms
are completely regular, representing the addition of the regular 3rd
decl. Nsg ending /s/ and the Npl ending /es/ to the stem /helik-/.
The fact the /ks/ is represented by the single letter Ξ has no
phonemic significance.

>> 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.

Hey, Karl, be fair!  First you asked for an example other than
Greek, and I got you one - Coptic.  Now you want *more* examples?

Incidentally, there's another way in which Coptic provides evidence
that spelling may not be a reliable way of determining phonematicity
(is that a word?).  On of the letters that Coptic added to the basic
Greek alphabet was a letter representing the combination [ti].  Why
this particular combination was given a letter of its own is a mystery
to me, but it's hard to believe that [ti] could be a single phoneme
when [pi], [ta], &c. were not.

>>  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.

I suppose that would be true, but I (like most others) do not see
Hebrew as not having consonantal clusters in the interior of words.

Will Parsons
μη φαινεσθαι, αλλ' ειναι.

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