Hebrew question: Pronunciation of gemination

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Posted: Thu, Jan 16 2014 11:10 PM

I realize most people today don't bother emphasizing geminate consonants...as with most things contemporary, everything is just a convenient blur. But there is consensus that they were more orally distinct in the past. I am interested in a particular kind of gemination, cases where the consonant being doubled is one of the BeGaDKePaT letters that takes on a different pronunciation (generally speaking) depending on whether it is the initial consonant of a word (and sometimes of a syllable), or is instead medial or finial.

For instance, with מַפֶּלֶת, I wonder if the proper pronunciation is maphpeletth or mappeletth? Logically, the first option seems preferable, since the ph (f-sound) is the sound the pei' always makes at the end of a syllable. Of course, I doubt anyone actually pronounces it that way (besides me), but I could be wrong. The point is, I'm less concerned with what people do than with with what is correct.

I don't know if anyone can answer my question or not. Vincent, if your Hebrew antennae pick this up, what do you think?

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Vincent Setterholm | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Jan 17 2014 1:10 PM

I don't have a slam-dunk way of shooting that idea down, but I'm inclined to think it's not the case. The Septuagint uses phi for the final pe, for example in Ιωσηφ. It seems like Greek translators would hear 'php' as two distinct sounds and represent that as phi-pi in proper nouns, and this doesn't occur. Now 'φπ' might have been an awkward combination during the period that produced the LXX if phi hadn't already become the fricative it is now, so they may have not chosen that option because it was awkward (only a small number of native Greek words use this combination - though it does exist). However, if you look at Hebrew examples with a couple of these geminates in a row, it can get pretty awkward to use two different sounds every time. For example: אֶדַּדֶּ֥ה. 'eddadde is pretty easy to say. 'edhdadhde is more cumbersome. I'm no expert in historical linguistics or comparative Semitics, but my understanding is that originally all the begadkepat letters were pronounced hard, and then later the split between soft and hard sounds was introduced. It's hard to imagine a living language going from 'eddadde to 'edhdadhde - I think the trend of most languages is towards simpler phonetics over time (compare the vowel systems of ancient Greek and Hebrew with their modern counterparts, or how Modern Hebrew drops the doubling altogether for the simpler 'edade, in the example above).

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jan 18 2014 9:40 AM

Vincent Setterholm:

I'm no expert in historical linguistics or comparative Semitics, but my understanding is that originally all the begadkepat letters were pronounced hard, and then later the split between soft and hard sounds was introduced.

It's interesting to hear you say that, Vincent. I have been of that opinion for a number of years (pretty much since I started learning Hebrew), but I have had a hard time finding any resources that confirm that concept. Do you have any resource on the tip of your brain that you could point me to?

I am of the opinion that the fricative soup is waaaay oversold as an idea. For one thing, I simply don't get the whole concept...it just doesn't make sense to me that B becomes V or P becomes F or D becomes TH and it must be so. I don't believe that because I don't see any reason for that to be true. But to hear linguists, philologists, and phoneticists tell it, it's all a universal human language principle of inevitable certitude along the lines of atomic decay in radioactivity. To me, the variation in pronunciation is much more subtle and less dramatic than has been typically asserted.

My name is a good example: David. In some languages, there is a recognition of phonemic variation in the sound of the initial and finial D sounds. The second D doesn't have the same plosive quality that the first one does, and this variation results in the assignment of a different morpheme to reflect the phonemic variance. The two D sounds are recognized as being so distinct that they are perceived as two different letters. This results in something like Davidh, even though it is pronounced exactly the same way that English pronounces David. I am convinced that this is what is reflected in the original Hebrew...not some absurd decay to Davith, which is how some people insist it should be pronounced. Of course, if one conveys the original W sound instead of the later (modern) V sound, the pronunciation and spelling would be Dawidh. If someone introduces the long AA for the qaamats (which is how I transliterate it), then the result is Daawidh.

Anyway, if you have any suggestions for study, Vincent, that would be great.

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Brother Mark | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jan 18 2014 10:50 AM

David Paul:

But to hear linguists, philologists, and phoneticists tell it, it's all a universal human language principle of inevitable certitude along the lines of atomic decay in radioactivity.

#FavoriteSentenceOfTheDay. Geeked  I can picture your phrase becoming the standard by which all axiomatic declarations are measured... assuming, of course, that principles of atomic decay are indeed factual and not theoretical.  At the very least it gives us all an opportunity to work the word "certitude" into a casual conversation, and thats a treat by any standard that I can think of!

--Bro. Mark 

"I read dead people..."

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