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

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Sat Dec 8 20:52:16 EST 2012


This will *probably* be my last post on this subject, since I fear
that we risk the wrath of the moderators for writing too much on Greek
and Coptic, and not enough on Hebrew...

On Sat, 8 Dec 2012 12:42:03 -0800, K Randolph <kwrandolph at gmail.com> wrote:
> Will:
> 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.

>> > 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”.

Well, that's not the real reason we write "ch" and "th".  These
conventions predate printing and go back to the Norman conquest, and
are part of the "Frenchification" of the older Anglo-Saxon
orthography.  (But, this is getting really OT here.)

> 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.

I haven't been offered a trip back in time in the tardis to interview
the "man in the street" in ancient Greece, so Dionysios Thrax is my
best approximation.  Speculating that the ordinary ancient Greek would
have seen things differently is, well, speculation.

>> > 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
> claim.

A change in pronunciation - how so?  There was no change in
pronunciation in going from /k/ + /s/ to /ks/.

>> 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.

My point has nothing to do with how the pronunciation of Coptic may
have changed over time, but how it's orthography reflects on its
phonology at the point where the spelling reflected the actual
pronunciation, and not some later tradition.

> 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
> teeth.

Yes, provided we take the timeframe into consideration.  I think it's
generally agreed that:

1) In Classical times (Plato, Euripides), phi was pronounced as an
   aspirated stop [ph].

2) In modern Greek, phi is pronounced as a labio-dental fricative [f].

Now it's pretty certain that [ph] didn't turn into [f] overnight, and
there's a lot of time between Periclean Athens and modern Athens, and
tracing details of phonetic transformations can be difficult, even
with lots of written evidence.  But I would agree that phi probably
became a bilabial fricative starting in Hellenistic times and lasting
well into the Middle Ages.

>> 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.
No, it's pretty clear that the letter *was* the equivalent of /ti/, as
seen in:

/t/        = feminine definite article
/ire:ne:/  = "peace", a Greek loanword, spelled ΕΙΡΗΝΗ
/tire:ne:/ = Gk "η ειρηνη", spelled in Coptic +ΡΗΝΗ, where "+" is the
             Coptic letter representing /ti/.

Will Parsons
μη φαινεσθαι, αλλ' ειναι.

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