[b-hebrew] Xi and Samekh [was Job 38:8 ??]

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Mon Dec 10 07:34:31 EST 2012


On Sun, Dec 9, 2012 at 1:01 PM, Will Parsons <wbparsons at alum.mit.edu> wrote:

> Karl,
> I think you seriously misunderstood my argument.  I want to wrap this
> up so I'll not make any new arguments or re-hash old points, but will
> summarize in one place what I've previously written as follows:
> 1) Just because Greek xi has its origin in Phoenician/Hebrew samekh
>    and represents the cluster /ks/, doesn't necessarily mean that
>    samekh was also pronounced [ks].

I never said it does, only that those are two of a few clues that indicate
a probability.

>    o  Greek and Phoenician/Hebrew had quite different phonologies.

Irrelevant, unless we are talking about that they didn’t have that sound at
all. They had this sound, so they kept the letter.

>    o  One therefore shouldn't expect exact correspondences and read
>       back into Phoenician/Hebrew the Greek values.

Phoenician and Biblical Hebrew are two dead languages where the
pronunciations were at least partially forgotten. Greek is a language whose
history is more likely to have retained at least the consonantal
pronunciations pretty much intact. Therefore reading back is not a proof,
but a clue.

> 2) Use of a single letter to represent a phonetic sequence, such as is
>    the case with xi, doesn't necessarily imply that the letter
>    represents a single phoneme.  That [ks] was not a single phoneme in
>    Greek is shown by:
>    o  Internal evidence within Greek itself, e.g., helix (/heliks/)
>       vs. plural helikes.  (Note there is no "sound change" involved
>       here, xi didn't "turn into" kappa - the final /k/ of stem is
>       unchanged in both singular and plural.)

Notice also that the spelling indicated the difference in pronunciation.
Whether we are dealing with phoneme substitution or something else is
irrelevant to the question.

>    o  Explicit descriptions by ancient grammarians.

One that you mentioned and his school, but was he accurate? Do we
understand him accurately? If he were to use modern English phonetics
terminology, would he have said, “This is a phoneme made up of two phones
that have the same sounds as the phonemes ‘k’ and ‘s’̊”?  Would the average
literate man on the street have agreed with him? Anyways it is irrelevant
to the question.

> 3) Greek is not unique in using single letters to represent sequences
>    of phonemes.

Are we dealing with a sequence of phonemes, or a single phoneme made up of
a sequence of phones?

Unless we are dealing with a possible clue for Hebrew pronunciation,
irrelevant to this discussion.

>    o  Coptic provides additional examples, similar in type to Greek,
>       where internal evidence shows a single letter representing a
>       sequence of phonemes across a morpheme boundary.
> 4) Unlike Greek Ξ and Coptic Φ or +, there is no internal evidence
>    that samekh represented a sequence of phonemes.  (That [ks] could
>    represent a single phoneme is itself unlikely, since I know of *no*
>    languages where this is the case, certainly not either Greek or
>    English.)

While the phonetics classes I took were lower level, they did mention that
there is a difference between a phoneme and a phone. Further, they
mentioned that one phoneme may include a combination of phones. “X” in
English is single phoneme, even though it is made up of two phones. “Ax” is
different from “ass” recognizable by the different phonemes used.

Getting back to Biblical Hebrew—it’s clear that its speakers considered
Samekh a single phoneme, the question is, how did they pronounce it?

>    o  There are, for example, no examples of samekh representing a
>       sequence of /k/ and /s/ that happen to come together in an
>       internal cluster.  (Yes, I know *you*, Karl, do not think there
>       *were* consonantal clusters in the interior of Hebrew words, but
>       I, with most others, do.)

This statement seems off the wall, in light of what is written above it.

(I’m not alone in thinking that Biblical Hebrew probably didn’t have
consonantal clusters, though I came to that conclusion independently of
anyone else. Waltke & O’Conner mention that as well.)

> 5) Conclusion:  There is little reason to think that samekh
>    represented [ks] and good reason to think it did not.

Your reasoning is based on faulty presuppositions leading to a faulty
conclusion. No, it represented a single phoneme that was probably a
combination of two phones “k” and “s”. That those two phone separately also
are used as phonemes is irrelevant, this doesn’t represent two phonemes
coming together, rather it’s a single phoneme.

Karl W. Randolph.
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