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

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Sat Dec 8 15:42:03 EST 2012


On Sat, Dec 8, 2012 at 10:59 AM, Will Parsons <wbparsons at alum.mit.edu>wrote:

> 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>
> >> >> 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).

Yes, the “ch” is a single phoneme. The reason it’s written with two letters
has a historical cause, namely the early printing presses imported from the
continent didn’t have letters for all the phonemes in English, so
substitutions were invented to get around that limitation. Other
substitutions included “th” (for two phonemes) and “ng” or “n before k”.

Just because Dionysios Thrax who was trying to make a description of
classical Greek for a Koiné speaking audience claimed that “ks” was not a
phoneme, did the man on the street who was writing phonemically agree with
him? Or even the man on the street writing pre-classical Greek agree with
him? I think not.

> > 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.

But it does represent a change in pronunciation, which argues against your

> 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.

Yes they do have phonemic significance, in so far as they represent
different uses of the noun. Again this looks like phonemic substitution.

> >> 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?

Coptic is a dead language, on the same order as Latin. Again like Latin,
its spelling was frozen centuries ago. Under those circumstances
pronunciation can change leaving no graphical evidence, therefore this is a
weak at best example.

Phi is a letter not found in Biblical Hebrew, and I think a better argument
can be made that it probably represented a labial fricative, unlike the “f”
which represents a fricative made by the lower lip against the upper front

> 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.

Again the answer can be very simple, that our present representation
doesn’t reflect its pronunciation when the letter was invented.

>> >
> > 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.

Do I need to go beyond the common writing of “Yahweh”?

> --
> Will Parsons
> μη φαινεσθαι, αλλ' ειναι.

This discussion came up in response to a claim that Greek may contain clues
to the pronunciation of some Biblical Hebrew letters. I’ve deliberately set
the bar high—the spelling was not frozen centuries ago in spite of changing
language and the language continued to be written phonemically. Hebrew
fails that bar. Apparently Coptic does as well. I don’t know about Persian.
But what I’ve seen of Greek is that it passes. Because we’re dealing with
Hebrew, only consonants are in play.

Karl W. Randolph.
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