Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav


SimHebrew: Hebrew unbound (and preserved)

Ask the average Westerner what Hebrew looks like, and they would probably imagine something like this:


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Why does Hebrew have the letters tet and tav?

They don’t actually have the same sound—or at least, they didn’t use to, in pre-Exile times. The tet is supposed to be pharyngealized (pronounced from the throat), while tav is not (some even speculate that tav may even have been pronounced like the English /th/).

However, in recognition of the fact that they are similar, however, when the Canaanites invented the alphabet using simplified versions of Egyptian hieroglyphs, they made tet a derivative of the tav in its form.  Tav in the form of an x- or “+”-like sign, as can be seen here in a grafitti inscription made on an Egyptian statue in the Sinai ca. 1550 BCE:

(from: Proto-Sinaitic script – Wikipedia, where it’s shown upside down)

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Why do Greek, Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, etc. have names for their letters like alpha, beta, lamda?

The names of the Hebrew/Phoenician alphabet were given by the ingenious Canaanite slave(s) who first invented them some time in the 1900s BCE, possibly in Wadi El-Hol in Egypt:

Detail of an inscription on a rock face in Wadi El-Hol, Egypt (near the Valley of the Kings)

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How does the Ancient Phoenician Paleo Hebrew tongue differ from modern Hebrew? (It was only written in consonants)

As Aaron Christianson has pointed out, script and language are not the same thing: the Palaeo-Hebrew script is one thing, and the language was another—just as the Roman script is distinct from, say, the English or French or German language.

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