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Discussion Details

Title: Re: Segollate Words
Submitter: Joel Hoffman
Description: I offer detailed information about segolate words in Hebrew in my latest book (''In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language,'' NYU Press), along with more details about the summary below:

The hypothesis presented by Vadim Cherny, while comprised of plausible steps, does not accord well with the history of what we know about these words.

The ''Ancient Hebrew'' we know and study today only goes back just over 1,000 years, to a group of people called the Tiberian Masoretes. It was the Tiberian Masoretes who gave us the system of vowels we now use, including the segol (/E/) and penultimate stress pattern seen in the segolates. From a scientific point of view (that is, ignoring any help the Masoretes may have had enjoyed from a diety), there is no reason to believe that the Tiberian Masoretes had any particular insight into how Hebrew was ever actually pronounced, and, in fact, it can be demonstrated that some of the vowels marks introduced by the Masoretes not only do not but indeed cannot correspond with any spoken language. Therefore, we are really studying an artificial system. (One of the goals of my book is to determine the extent to which the Masoretic system is historically accurate.)

Futhermore, there were other groups of Masoretes living at the same time as the Tiberians, and these groups, who also created vowel systems for Hebrew, did NOT indicate any /E/-/A/ alternation in the ''segolate'' nouns.

Further potential confirmatory evidence, such as Greek
transliterations, also fails to confirm any historic accuracy of the Tiberan Masoretic understanding of the segolates

In short, it seems as though the segolates are an invention of the Tiberian Masoretes, and best understood in that context.

I hope this helps.

Date Posted: 16-Oct-2004
Linguistic Field(s): Phonology
LL Issue: 15.2927
Posted: 16-Oct-2004

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