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Topic review - Shin, Ayin, Hheth ~ Letters With 2 Sounds Each
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  Post subject:  Shin, Ayin, Hheth ~ Letters With 2 Sounds Each  Reply with quote
Shalom y'all!

Today, the ש Shin is pronounced as 'sh' (as in ירושלים Yerushalayim) and an 's' (as in ישראל Yisra'el). How old is this? Over a thousand years ago, the Masoretes gave a written distinction between the two sounds by adding a single dot over the Shin. If the dot was over the right side of Shin, i.e. שׁ, it was pronounced as 'sh', but if it was over the left side, i.e. שׂ, it was pronounced as a lateral 's' (or 'ś') and given the name "Sin" (i.e. Śin).

Do not confuse "Śin" with ס Samekh. Even though Sin's modern pronunciation is similar to the 's' of Samekh, in ancient times Śin and Samekh were distinct. Why does the modern language still distinguish Sin and Samekh if the sounds are basically the same today? Because they still want to distinguish roots with Sin from those with Samekh.

Both 'sh' and 'ś' are ancient and derived from Proto-Semitic equivalents, and Hebrew (i.e. a South Canaanite language) is one of the few Semitic languages to preserve 'ś' (Phoenician—a North Canaanite language—notoriously pronounced 'ś' as 'sh' in every case; compare this with how Samaritan Hebrew pronounces 'ś' as 'sh' today). While Arabic and Akkadian merged 'ś' with 'sh' and Aramaic with 's' (i.e. Samekh), Hebrew kept Samekh, Shin and "Śin" as separate phonemes (even though Shin and Śin were written with the same letter).

Even though ש Shin may have been a letter with two sounds, it wasn't the only letter with dual pronunciations in Ancient Hebrew. The Greek Septuagint provides evidence that ע Ayin and even ח Hheth had two pronunciations each. Ayin had a guttural sound and a 'gh' sound, corresponding to Arabic ع Ayn and ع Ghayn, and Hheth had a rough 'h', properly transliterated as 'hh', but it also had a harsher sound, here represented as 'kh', just like Arabic ح Hhaa and خ Khaa. Later, Hebrew lost 'gh' as a phoneme and originally lost 'kh', but in a stroke of irony, the modern pronunciation of Hheth sounds similar to 'kh' (it is however pronounced 'hh' traditionally).

When I use more direct transliterations for these phonemes, I use the following:

Gh = ġ
Kh = ḫ
Ayin = ˁ
Hh = ḥ

Usually, to restore roots with ''Ghayin'' and ''Kheth,'' as they were lost unlike ''Śin,'' we have to rely on the Septuagint transliteration of Hebrew names (and trace them back to their roots) and if we can't use that, we use related languages such as Arabic (which preserved these sounds) to figure out the related roots in Hebrew. If we can't use either, it's impossible to figure out which roots had them. So here are some which are proven to have had ''Ghayin'' and ''Kheth'':


1. Hebrew עמרה = current Amorah, but ''Ghamorah'' in earlier Hebrew (Greek Septuagint Gomorrha—which is where we get Gomorrah).

2. Hebrew פער Peor as in בעל פער Baal-Peor, but earlier ''Baal-Peghor'' (Greek Septuagint Phogor).

3. Hebrew עתליה Athalyah as in Queen Athalyah of Judah, but earlier ''Ghathalyah'' (Greek Septuagint Gotholia, Ogotholia).

4. Hebrew עולם olam ''eternity'' and עלמה almah ''virgin, young woman,'' but earlier ''olam'' and ''ghalmah'' from distinct roots. Compare Arabic عالم aalam ''world'' and root ghalima ''be lustful,'' but it's possible that עלם ''to conceal'' and the root of עלמה ''young woman'' were connected, as place names with Almon ''hidden (place)'' appear with 'g' in some versions of the Greek Septuagint (in this case, ''almah'' can be in reference to a ''virgin'' as she reached maturity, but she hasn't been ''uncovered/revealed,'' i.e. she hasn't had sexual relations yet); ''be lustful'' in Arabic could be an old verb derived from the noun.

5. Hebrew ערב erev ''sundown,'' but earlier ''gherev'' (Arabic gharb ''west'' = root gharaba ''to depart,'' and ''to set'' is a verbal derivative of gharb).

6. Hebrew רעמה Ra'mah, but earlier ''Raghmah'' (Greek Septuagint Ragma, Regma).

7. Hebrew רעואל Re'u'el, but earlier ''Reghu'el'' (Greek Septuagint Raguel).


1. Hebrew רחל Rahhel, but earlier Hebrew ''Rakhel'' (Greek Septuagint Rachel).

2. Hebrew סחר sahhar ''to go around,'' but earlier ''sakhar'' (Akkadian s̱aḫārum).

3. Hebrew חברון Hhevron ''Hebron,'' but ''Khevron'' in earlier Hebrew (Greek Septuagint Chebron).

4. Hebrew אחי Ahhi in proper names (from אח ''brother''), but earlier ''Akhi'' (Greek Septuagint Achi-, Arabic akh, Akkadian aḫum, Ancient South Arabian, Ethiopic and Ugaritic akh).

Peace and blessings to you in your studies always.

[ Post details ] Post Posted: Thu Feb 20, 2020 1:15 pm

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