Sunday, July 18, 2021

A brief discourse on Hebrew words

I have been away both in space and in mind. Some stability is restored. Being away in space helped by stopping my constant thought about words. A 5 day break and I put together in 1/2 an hour or so on the sixth day, a summary of the issues with Hebrew letters.

We, Jonathan Orr-Stav and I are writing preface / introduction / what's in front of us or whatever you call the necessary front matter for the SimHebrew Bible. The Bible is complete, all 305,377 words of it. We finished a few weeks ago. But how do we get it out to the people who would like to study it whether for all the right or wrong reasons.

In a word the right reason is that we should turn away from actions that hurt others, and turn towards our neighbours with kindness. The wrong reason is that we should get power over others and defend ourselves with words used as clubs.

Even if one goes about reading for the wrong reasons, like Job's friends, one might just rub up against a real person who acts for the right reasons - and one might recognize that there is a better way to the security we long for to appreciate the beauty we are a part of.

Enough theological meandering: here is my summary of the problem of learning the Hebrew Bible.

The nub of the problem. 

We have three interlocking ways into the text: the consonants, the vowels, and the music. The consonants are known for their sounds and comprise the roots of the words and their affixes. The vowels are in a set of sequences around the affixes and those parts of the root that survive the forming of a word. The music gives the tone of voice.

The music has not been understood because it was thought of in sequences. But sequences are the wrong pattern for thinking about music. The right pattern is by interval and phrase from which tonality is derived. These constitute a musical line that expresses a snippet of a thought. The music is beyond scope in this work, but the error by which it has been approached is instructive for root and affix consonants.

The 22 letters are all consonants. But the words when formed have both consonants and vowels. Some  vowels are explicit as mater lectiones in the defective text of the Aleppo codex. All these and more are explicit in the full spelling text of the unpointed version of Scripture. These are made even more evident in this text expressed in SimHebrew, but some vowels even in SimHebrew remain implicit. 

To create a pronunciation guide (without creating a full grammar text at this point) we must describe both the explicit and the implicit patterns.

The root consonants express the essence of a word (or words in the case of homophony). The first two consonants of the roots of the language occur in 401 pairs as is demonstrated in the concordance. The affix consonants express person, subject, object, number, mood and all those things that make up sense and interaction. Sense and interaction are often reduced to the idea of meaning. (But you know I dislike that word meaning because it tends to make us read for the wrong reasons.)

The consonants divide equally into two groups, those that have a role in roots only and those that have a role in both roots and affixes. This grammatical team is: a, b, h, v, i, c, l, m, n, w, t. Some of these, specifically v, i, m, n are weak consonants that disappear in some word forms. All the remaining of both teams are strong consonants and remain in the word so that the root can be recognized. The t sound (for both 't and t) can move about in some word forms. 

The grammatical team plays many roles: 

  • conjunction, the main hook: v, and the occasional w that is much more common in modern Hebrew; 
  • preposition: the relationship operators, b, c, l, m; 
  • pronouns: v, i, c, (h)m, (h)n; 
  • conjugation: a, h, i, t; 
  • number: v, i, m, t; 
  • vocative / definite article, hiphil: h,
  • and so on for construct forms and all the uses of letters in the binyanim.

Between consonants in any word are these vowel sounds. What are their patterns? The vowel patterns used with a root come in pairs. The vowel patterns used with the affixes are in singles and pairs. The simplest pair within a tri-literal root is _o_e_. This is the present participle.

What are the others? And what are the vowels that are used with the affixes?

These are my base questions about vowels. I do have some pattern recognition available to me in some books, but finding them is a challenge. I think I might be able to spell them out as part of the concordance. Now that's a thought! There's nothing like reasoning from the database. Also I might try a psalm with the music since the libretto already specifies all the vowels both implicit and explicit. Watch this space...

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