voicing and devoicing

flockhat

Member
English
Hi guys,

When native speakers speak they change the voicing of the first of two adjacent consonants to match the second. So, they will pronounce תסגור "You will close" as tizgor, תזכור "You will remember" as tiskor, and תכבסו "you (plural) will launder" as tekhapsu (which makes it sound like תחפשו). Are these changes exclusive to modern Hebrew?

Thanks again
 
  • duhveer

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    Hello, the issue you talked about is rather subtle and unnoticeable to the native's ear (I seem to think so), your implication that one's may pronounce "tizgor" instead of "tisgor" (to close) might be related to one's accent or their mother tongue, but even so, it is a common thing.
     

    bazq

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    Are you asking if voice assimilation is exclusive to the modern strata of Hebrew (contrary to Biblical Hebrew, for exmaple), or if it is exclusive to Hebrew in the sense that it is not observed in other languages around the world?

    I generally know these as a Modern Hebrew thing, rather than Biblical/Mishnaic/Medieval. Nevertheless, there were obvious "assimilation forces" in play in more ancient forms of Hebrew since we have for example the assimilation in the hitpa'el verbal pattern - hizdaken "in lieu" of the nonexistent *hitzaken.
    We can only make an educated guess based on our knowledge of how common this phenomenon is cross-linguistically (which it is - calling it common is even an understatement, I just don't want to make too bold of a statement). So were there voice assimilations in older spoken stratas of Hebrew? Probably...

    And just to make it clear for future visitors of this forum - Voice assimilation is very very commom in spoken Modern Hebrew. Speakers say tizgor, midbax, xejbon instead of tisgor, mitbax, xeshbon. Even if they swear they've never heard anyone talk like this. They have.
    If you're a Hebrew learner it is advised to disregard this phenomenon and just pronounce words as they are formally pronounced. Native speakers do not even notice the difference, as I said earlier, so it doesn't matter at the end of the day, it's not really a tell natives have to spot a foreign speaker - they're oblivious to it most of the time.
    If you're a linguist - Modern Hebrew is yet another example of a language with voice assimilations.
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    I believe that historically speaking, voicing assimilation was common in Semitic languages, but rarely became phonemic (hizdaqqen is one of those rare instances) and thus os rarely recorded in writing. The reason it rarely became phonemic, unlike many other language groups, is because of the importance of the tri-consonantal root system. If you know the past tense is sagar, you're less likely to confuse the samekh with a zayin in lisgor as well, even if you pronounce it lizgor.
     

    Abaye

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    Also, the question is not (only) how one pronounces a word, but how one perceives it. Even if voice recording of many modern speakers will show that certain percentage say תזגור instead of תסגור (or more likely, something between these two), I believe that practically 100% will tell you they say תסגור. This is how we perceive it. Therefore such alternative pronunciation is not likely to become non-marginal, or "phonemic", any time soon.

    In a certain thread (that I don't find now), an Arab forum member said that she (as an Arab) has difficulties to pronounce "p", yet when she happens to pronounce the consonant cluster "-bt-", non-natives tell that they hear "-pt-". This seems to me more relevant to how foreigners perceive it than to how natives employ the language.
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    Agree with you @Abaye, but as a counterpoint, I have to bring up a comparison to English "th". In English, there is a voiced "th" (as in "the", "other", and "breathe") and a voiceless "th" (as in "thing", "pithy", and "breath"), and they are completely phonemic and not interchangeable (a great minimal pair is "either" and "ether"). And yet, most English speakers are not consciously aware that there are two different "th" sounds. So much so that when I was taking Arabic in college, the native English speakers in my class were having trouble understanding the difference between ث and ذ, and having trouble pronouncing ذ, despite the fact that they have no trouble properly distinguishing and pronouncing these phonemes in English words (subconsciously).
     

    סייבר־שד

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Mexico
    Agree with you @Abaye, but as a counterpoint, I have to bring up a comparison to English "th". In English, there is a voiced "th" (as in "the", "other", and "breathe") and a voiceless "th" (as in "thing", "pithy", and "breath"), and they are completely phonemic and not interchangeable (a great minimal pair is "either" and "ether"). And yet, most English speakers are not consciously aware that there are two different "th" sounds. So much so that when I was taking Arabic in college, the native English speakers in my class were having trouble understanding the difference between ث and ذ, and having trouble pronouncing ذ, despite the fact that they have no trouble properly distinguishing and pronouncing these phonemes in English words (subconsciously).
    I find that very interesting, Drink! And I can certainly relate to that, because as a native Spanish speaker, it wasn't until I digged a little into this topic, well into my late teens, that I realized that the b's, g's and d's that I thought I was pronouncing in words like escoba, lavar, lago, agua, madera and lodo were not, as I had always thought, , [ɡ] and [d], but rather [β], [ɣ] and [ð]. Made me feel like quite an idiot back then, if truth be told :D , but now I think it might be much more common than I thought.
     

    Abaye

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    but as a counterpoint, I have to bring up a comparison to English "th". In English, there is a voiced "th" (as in "the", "other", and "breathe") and a voiceless "th" (as in "thing", "pithy", and "breath"), and they are completely phonemic and not interchangeable (a great minimal pair is "either" and "ether"). And yet, most English speakers are not consciously aware that there are two different "th" sounds.
    Can it be a result of different kind of development: in the English case, historically the two sounds were regarded as absolutely distinct but centuries later some people forgot it because both are similar and written the same, while in the Hebrew case historically there was one sound that (maybe) has developed a marginal secondary pronunciation.
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    They are still completely distinct in English, no less than in the past. It's just that English speakers are not consciously aware of it.

    Were English speakers more consciously aware of it in the past? Probably not. On the contrary, before widespread literacy, I believe people were generally less of conscious of such details in their language. Since the "th" distinction is not written, it preserves the lack of consciousness that was formerly ubiquitous.
     

    Abaye

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    Since the "th" distinction is not written, it preserves the lack of consciousness that was formerly ubiquitous.
    My gut feeling in such cases is that in our literate age spelling does affect conscious, therefore this unawareness by English speakers is, in part, a result of the identical spelling.

    This may prove to be a rescue for Hebrew ע and ה even if they completely merge in spoken language with א: we fully maintain them in writing so we consider them as definitely different. There's a counterexample with Hebrew shin/sin, but in this case the sounds became totally distinct in a non-literate age so today we say them completely differently while write them identically, and just ignore this oddity.

    By "literate age" I mean age in which most people acquire significant part of their education through written material.
     
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    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    Yes, I agree with that.

    In Russian as well, even though "а" and "о" are pronounced identically in unstressed syllables, I often feel like I "hear" a difference, just because I know the spelling, even though in reality, it's the exact same sound.
     

    Abaye

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    This kind of consonant variation is attested in letter #24 from Arad, 7th or 6th century BC: הבקידם for הפקידם and נבשכם for נפשכם (assuming the reading of the ancient text is accurate). One could speculate Arabic influence but this would be far-fetched and anachronistic.
    מכתבי ערד – ויקיפדיה
    וּשְלַחְתֶם אֹתָם רָמַת נֶגֶ[ב בְּיַ]
    ד מַלְכִּיָהוּ בֶּן קָרַבאוֹר וְהִבְ
    קִידָם
    עַל יָד אֱלִישָע בֶּן יִרְמִיָ
    הוּ בְּרָמַת נֶגֶב, פֶּן יִקְרֶה אֶת הַ
    עִיר דָבָר. וּדְבָר הַמֶלֶך אִתְכֶם
    בְּנַבְשְכֶם. הִנֵה שָלַחְתִי לְהָעִיד
    בָּכֶם הָיֹם: הָאֲנָשִם אֶת אֱלִישָ
    ע, פֶּן תָבֹא אֱדֹם שָמָה!
     

    amikama

    a mi modo
    עברית
    הבקידם for הפקידם and נבשכם for נפשכם
    But this is dissimilation (same voicedness → different voicedness), not assimilation (different voicedness → same voicedness). We're talking about assimilation in modern spoken Hebrew.
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    But this is dissimilation (same voicedness → different voicedness), not assimilation (different voicedness → same voicedness). We're talking about assimilation in modern spoken Hebrew.
    Not necessarily. It's more likely confusion of the letters under assimilation. Since הפקידם and הבקידם would be pronounced the same, the two spellings are confused with each other.
     
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