[b-hebrew] masoretes (Matres Lectionis)

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Mon Jul 15 18:25:20 EDT 2013

On Mon, 15 Jul 2013 02:24:37 -0600, yahoo-arch at heplist.com wrote:
> Chris asks:
>  >  So how do the analysts know
>  > that these four consonants were then later inserted
>  > to be used as vowels?
> Since they are now used (quite prolifically) in Modern Hebrew to 
> represent the location of certain vowels, it could be stated that 
> certainly it was "later inserted to be used as vowels". Not trying to be 
> an arse, just covering one end of the givens as part of explanation.
> On the other end (the more ancient end), Phoenician and other Semitic 
> languages started out not using matres lectionis (essentially, not 
> literally, consonants used to represent the place for vowels), including 
> early Hebrew. But as the first millennium BCE progressed, they became 
> more prolifically used. First, they were used for dipthongs (<aw>, <ay> 
> etc)

Minor quibble: when used in diphthongs, they were essentially being used for
their consonantal value, rather than as matres lectionis.  (But I
think monophthongization of diphthongs could contribute to the use of
waw and yodh as matres lectionis.)

> and for terminal (end of word) vowels, but transitioned to also 
> being used for long vowels (and occasionally where a confusion of vowels 
> was desired to not exist). There was no clear-cut divide between 
> not-using and using, but a long, gradual transition at different paces 
> among different regions and different Semitic languages (Hebrew used it 
> more broadly and quicker than Phoenician, for example).

William Parsons

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