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Merger of pharyngeal and velar fricatives in NW Semitic

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Ihsiin, Sep 6, 2012.

  1. Ihsiin

    Ihsiin Senior Member

    England
    English
    I've done a bit of searching but I've not found a thread that really tackles this issue.

    So, I'm aware that in some (or all?) North-West Semitic languages there is a merger between /ʕ/ and /ɣ/ and between /ħ/ and /x/, but my knowledge of this phenomenon is very incomplete. I have some questions:
    Is this merger common amongst all NW Semitic languages or only amongst some?
    When did it occur in those various languages? Assumedly Phoenician had this merger since before they developed their alphabet, since they have only one letter for each pair.
    Is it safe to assume that a language/dialect that realised one as a velar fricative also realised the other as velar, and the same for pharyngeal? Is there any evidence for a language which had one pharyngeal and one velar fricative?

    I'd also be very grateful to people for directing me to some academic literature.

    Thanks.
     
  2. origumi Senior Member

    Hebrew
    In some other threads we saw that Hebrew maintained both /ħ/ and /x/ until late Mishnaic / Early Gemaraic time (circa end of 2nd century AD), both /ʕ/ and /ɣ/ were maintained at least until Septuagint time (2nd-1st centuries BC?). So it seems that the distinction was lost only when the last Hebrew speakers adopted Aramaic as their mother language.
     
  3. rayloom Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Arabic (Hijazi Arabic)
    Ugaritic maintained the distinction between those 4 phonemes within NW Semitic.

    I'm afraid I didn't understand the last part of your question :(
     
  4. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    This all depends on how you define “North-West” Semitic. On the whole, there does not seem to be any very good reason to group Ugaritic together with Aramaic and Canaanatic; in this context “North-West” is purely a geographical concept.

    The spellings of Hebrew names in the Septuagint imply that the distinction of (for example) /ʽ/ and /γ/ was still alive when the Septuagint was composed (whenever that was), though it is not indicated in Hebrew script. That is why we still have “Gaza” or “Sodom and Gomorra” in the English Bible.
     
  5. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    This is discussed in some detail in the long introduction to Klaus Beyer, Die aramäischen Texte vom Toten Meer, vol. 1.
     
  6. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
    The same thing has also happened in Maltese I believe, and some other Arabic dialects in Africa.

    It seems common to almost all Semitic languages, as there's very few that didn't undergo these mergers. They are hard sounds to distinguish/produce and so are often the first to go.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2012
  7. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
  8. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    An example for the ح خ distinction can be found in the difference between Rachel and Isaac.

    It's not unlikely that the merge happened because the same letter was used for both (though שׁ and שֹ remained distinct)
     
  9. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Actually, this is not the way languages work. People to not normally change their speech to conform with spelling, especially not in what are essentially pre-literate societies. Origumi has given a better explanation in no. 2.
     
  10. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    The Jewish society was very literate, perhaps the most in the world of that era. Speaking of Aramaic, a similar merger happened there in the same era. The Aramaic equivalent of ض merged into ע. In that case also both letters were written with the letter ע (like in the word ארעא earth)
     
  11. Ihsiin

    Ihsiin Senior Member

    England
    English
    Thanks everyone for your replies.

    I'm a little wary of the transliteration of names as a demonstration of phonemic distinction. Is it not possible that the transliterations simply reflect the conventions of the places from where they're being transliterated? With Rachel and Isaac, for example, do we know if the different realisations of ח match up with what we'd expect from proto-Semitic? I know that Isaac corresponds to Arabic يضحك, but what about Rachel?
    Regarding the transliteration of names in the Septuagint, particularly Gaza (Γαζα?). I remember reading somewhere that the name derives from the root ע-ז-ז, meaning powerful or mighty, which would correspond with Arabic ع-ز-ز. Wouldn't then this imply a shift from /ʕ/ to /ɣ/?

    Fdb, thanks for the reference to the book. Do you know if it exists in English translation? Unfortunately, I have no German.
    Also, Abu Rashid, thanks for the link to the article; will definitely read it.

    FighterPilot, I find it very unlikely that merger took place as a result of the orthography. Arabic also used the same letters for both sets of phonemes, until disambiguation ~ 7th Century AD, and did not undergo the merger.

    Rayloom, with my last question I was asking if we know of any language that, having undergone the merger, had ח = /ħ/ and ע = /γ/, or vice versa ח = /x/ and ע = /ʕ/?
     
  12. rayloom Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Arabic (Hijazi Arabic)
    Yes...Then again the same thing can be said on grouping Canaanite into the NW Semitic group. You have Hetzron for example who proposes an Arabo-Canaanite group within Central Semitic. Anyways, several scholars do make the case for grouping Ugaritic and Canaanite (along with Aramaic) into a NW group, see Huehnergard (1991) & (2005).

    Not that I'm aware of. Only similar case is Israeli Hebrew in which the ח merger which previously used to be realized as ħ is currently being realized (phonetically) as /x/ (but due to a secondary phonological process beyond this topic). While the ע merger is NOT realized currently as /γ/.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2012
  13. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
    Yes, in Arabic it has خ. The word means ewe in Arabic, and this is what the name is derived from in Hebrew.

    That was a guess at etymology by Jewish scholars before they understood their language had undergone phonemic mergers.
     
  14. origumi Senior Member

    Hebrew
    Iranian name for a town in Canaan, not too far from Egypt, 2nd millenium BC?
     
  15. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Why do you think this is "probable"? From the first mentioning of the city's name as "Azzati" in the Amarna letters (written in Akkadian in Egypt/Egyptian controlled Canaan) to the Acheaemenids you have 800 years to account for and it is not obvious to me how you would do that.

    EDIT: Crossed with Origumi's post.
     
  16. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
    The Semitic root that it most likely could be derived from is غ - ز - و meaning to strive, battle, raid. Perhaps indicative of its bloody history as a city caught in the middle of many wars, battles and raids.

    The fact the city name has غ in Arabic, and appears to have had a similar sound in Hebrew tends to suggest it has nothing to do with the phoneme ع, but merely ended up being realised like this in those languages due to their mergers.
     
  17. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    My oversight! The place name az-za-ti does occur once in the Amarna letter 296: 32, in juxtaposition with ia-pu.
     

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