Monday, November 30, 2020

Reading SimHebrew

I have completed the scheduling of posts for the next 30 days so that as of Dec 30, the full concordance of a planned SimHebrew Bible is available for review.

Many years ago, Joel M. Hoffman issued a blog-challenge to translate Isaiah 54:1 at God Didn't Say That. I had 'finished' my translation of the Psalms and a few other favorite books at that time, and I was considering translating the whole Hebrew canon, so we had a few interactions. (It could be that he meant the challenge only for his students?)

What does the Hebrew canon teach us that God maybe did say and do in those formative days for humanity? Joel like my son-in-law is a linguist, for which I am both glad and slightly jealous. I suspect that word sounds and origins have some fascinating patterns of development. I wonder too what could be imagined about word families just from studying the words that share roots in Hebrew, or even just the first two characters of a root. 

So how do we pronounce these words? Why are there so many gutturals in Hebrew? Do we have equivalents in English? Are they related to each other? What happens really to hollow verbs, those roots that have a vav as their middle letter? How did the grammatical letters take on their roles? Why are some consonants strong and others weak so that they get lost in pronunciation?

All these things can be studied directly just by scanning the concordance in the form that I have it in. Also exposed is my categorization of the words by semantic domain. This alone is a huge job, and there are undoubtedly some blunders in my work. I found a few while doing the individual posts. I can update the data and republish a post in about 5 minutes or less. If you find anomalies or even question a gloss I have used, please comment on the post.

Pronouncing the SimHebrew letters,

  1. a א is a guttural. Think of it as a glottal stop and there may be a vowel with it. The first few I look at are mostly short /a/, but then there one that is like an a as in hay. And there is the odd /i/ but in the case at the link above, the a is almost ignored, sitting in the place of a preceding definite article (h). Well it's like English. Eventually, you just know what it sounds like.
  2. b ב is b or v.
  3. g ג is g.
  4. d ד is d.
  5. h ה is the lighter aspirate, but it counts as a guttural too. a and h both have significant grammatical roles.
  6. v ו is the connector and sounds variably as /u/ /o/  or /v/. SimHebrew tells you explicitly for this letter. v is part of the grammatical team.
  7. z ז is z.
  8. k ח is /ch/ the serious aspirate, much like ch in loch. 
  9. 't ט is t. 't is a minor player on the grammatical team, occasional metastasis in a word.
  10. i י is i.
  11. c כ is a hard c with a little h as well.
  12. l ל is l.
  13. m מ is m.
  14. n נ is n. i, c, l, m, n all play grammatical roles.
  15. s ס is s. Even though it may look like an o and be difficult to distinguish from an m sofit. Not a problem in SimHebrew.
  16. y ע is the heavier-duty guttural - sort of like an emphasized 'excellent' in English. And it may take any vowel. (You might note that the English any begins with an 'e' - so Hebrew is no different here.)
  17. p פ is p, or f if the last letter of a word.
  18. x צ is ts.
  19. q ק is q.
  20. r ר is r.
  21. w שׁ is shin or sin (and you just hafta know). w is a minor player on the grammatical team, the prefix /sh/.
  22. t ת is t. t is a grammatical letter. 

Jonathan Orr-Stav has a nice response on Tiberian pronunciation here.

So: five gutturals, a, h, k, y, and r. (May be disputed.) Several (16) strong letters that do not disappear in word forms: b, g, d, z, 't,  / k, c, l, s, y,  / p, x ,q, r, w, t. Several (6) weak letters that do disappear in some word forms a, h, v, i, m, n. In particular, v and i often morph into each other. Is all this true? Investigate!

There does not seem to be anything particularly tidy about the Hebrew sequence of letters. They were aware of a sequence of letters as evidenced by the acrostic poems and the poems of the Lamentations with the reversed order of p and y. There are ancient abecedaries that agree with this. But why the sequence of letters as it is? Why have two t's and two s's with no particular distinction apparent to them?

So this is sort of 'first base' for the investigation of my glossary to see what we can learn from it. I hope some of you will join in. 



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