[b-hebrew] qamatz and patax

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Sun Aug 11 22:05:22 EDT 2013

On Sun, 11 Aug 2013 11:08:55 -0500, Jonathan Mohler <jonathan.mohler at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Aug 10, 2013, at 8:22 PM, Isaac Fried wrote:
>> The "modern" Hebrew, or the Eretz Israel, crisp, minimal, Torah
>> reading system is based on a careful calibration of both the
>> Ashkenazi and the Sephardi traditions, both of which certainly
>> carry in them very old reading traditions.  The point is that in
>> this reading system the qamatz, the patax and the xatapim are
>> pronounced exactly the same way, and this, with no apparent injury
>> to the context.  The common present-day reader of the HB (including
>> yours sincerely) upon seeing the punctuated line below, would not
>> know if it is truly עֹלַת שַׁבַּת בְּשַׁבַּתּוֹ עַל-עֹלַת הַתָּמִיד וְנִסְכָּהּ or עֹלַת שַׁבַּת
>> בְּשַׁבַּתּוֹ עַל-עֹלַת הַתַּמִיד וְנִסְכַּהּ or עֹלָת שָׁבָּת בְּשָׁבָּתוֹ עָל-עֹלָת הָתָמִיד וְנִסְכָּהּ Spoken
>> Hebrew decisively proves thereby that, notwithstanding what the
>> punctuators of the HB "heard", (where? In the street, in the
>> synagogue?) equating the reading of qamatz to the reading the patax
>> leaves the meaning of the biblical text immutable.
> I have no problem with the above statement.  In fact, I only argue
> that MT pronunciation when studied through the lens of modern
> linguistics shows evidence of being a natural language, not a
> liturgical construct. If modern Hebrew proves anything, it's that
> Hebrew is no different than any other natural language of man, in
> that it is subject to natural linguistic phenomena that produce
> change over time in a language.

Modern Hebrew proves nothing of the kind.  The history of Hebrew *is*
different from that of, say, Greek.

In Greek, we have a prime example of the evolution of a language over
a long period of time, a *very* long time indeed, stretching from the
earliest written records in Linear B to the present time.  But
throughout that long history, Greek has continued to be spoken as the
mother language of a community.

Hebrew is different - it ceased to be a mother tongue of a community
in ancient times.  True, it continued to be *used*, and continued to
evolve as a secondarily learned language.  In this, it can be compared
to Latin or Sanskrit, but like Latin or Sanskrit, that evolution was
conditioned by the host language(s).  Even more to the point, the
pronunciation of Modern Hebrew does not represent a natural
continuation of the Mishnaic/Mediaeval tradition, but a conscious
choice to prefer, for example, BH forms over MH, and the conscious
choice of preferring the Sephardic pronunciations of taw (without
daghesh) and qamets over the Ashkenazic values.

William Parsons

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