[b-hebrew] historical question with linguistic import
kwrandolph at gmail.com
Fri Jul 13 20:02:47 EDT 2012
On Thu, Jul 12, 2012 at 7:44 PM, <TedBro at aol.com> wrote:
> The C-V theory is intriguing, but also appears to have some glaring
> difficulties. Since there are only 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, there
> would only be one possible vowel following each consonant. Do you find such
> a theory workable?
What do you mean by “one possible vowel following each consonant”?
If you mean that there was a lack of diphthongs, that could be the case. If
you mean that therefore Hebrew had only one vowel, I think that is
unrealistic. Rather that the ancient Hebrews, through knowledge of their
own language, knew which vowel to append to each consonant from the context.
A similar case could be made for English: if we spelled only the
consonants, “ðn” could be either “then” or “than”. But when we look at the
contexts of uses, how often would those two words be confused by a native
speaker? Probably never. The same is probably true of Biblical Hebrew.
> When the vowel points were added to the text, there were, of course,
> various vowels that could attach to each consonant. In addition, there are
> C-V-C syllables. Wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that the vowel
> pointing represented actual pronunciations in use in the Hebrew, rather
> than an artificial system? How do you get from a syllabary, with only one
> vowel per consonant, to the much more varied pronunciation schema found in
> the pointed text?
As I have repeatedly written, the Masoretic points were not an artificial
system, rather they represented Tiberian Hebrew pronunciation as was spoken
at that time and place.
Tiberian Hebrew tradition was the tradition spoken a thousand years after
Biblical Hebrew ceased being the daily language of the people, spoken at
the hearth and in the market. But like medieval Latin, Hebrew continued to
be used for official documents and in cultic affaires, while at the same
time being influenced by the languages surrounding it. I think there is
little doubt that the Tiberian pronunciation doesn’t represent Biblical era
There were many changes in the Hebrew language, and pronunciations were
some of them.
> Ted Brownstein
Karl W. Randolph.
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