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Consonants

 

In the concept of Hebrew, consonants denoted semantics and vowels made declensions. All syllables thus were cv. That system fell with introduction of confirming consonants (catavti) and consonantal prefixes (ncatav – nichtav).

 

Consonants were originally non-aspirated, and each CV syllable pronounced distinctly and semi-stressed. As the speakers became more fluent, and pronounced the words continuously, without explosive syllabification, consonants became aspirated.

 

All roots are three-letter. The ayn-ayn roots became two-letter, amam – am'm – am.

 

Gemination only occurs for the phonetic reason, to close open accented syllables.

 

Sophits reflect specific pronunciation of the five consonants in word-final position. They need either a leading vocal stop, or trailing vocalization, dvari.m or dvarim’.

Leading stop is necessary because the sophits are stop consonants. Trailing vocalization similarly detaches the sophit from the previous syllable, dvarim – dvari-m’.

Trailing vocalization also breaks concatenated clusters, melech gadol – mele-chgadol. The sophits concatenate badly because of the stop, and cannot begin a cluster, chg, especially in singing. Word connectors comfortably break the clusters, mele-ch’gadol.[1]

Characteristic elongation of the sophit letters suggests trailing, rather than leading vocalization.[2]

That the Masoretes included chaf among the sophits suggests that they heard it as stop caf. That may account for the absence of dagesh in 2ms nouns, d’varca. If so, the 2ms form in Secunda appeared, dvarca – dvarecA (compare dvarnu – dvarenu) – dvarEca – dvarec.

 

LXX transliterations show the Hebrew consonants aspirated long before the Masoretes. Only syllable-initial consonants in accented syllables lost aspiration.[3]

Any syllable is uptone after a stop, and so word-initial dagesh kal, a stop between the words to avoid their concatenation, makes word-initial syllables uptone. Accordingly, word-initial consonants lose aspiration.

Vocal schwa additionally aspirated syllable-final consonants (nich’.tav).

Aspiration changes with syllabification, and is irrelevant in Hebrew. Syllabification is different in the LXX and the Massorah, and different consonants are aspirated.

 

 


[1] Trailing vocalization was also present in Russian, yat’.

[2] Instead of vocalization, the sophit sounds could be elongated, chh, mmm.

[3] That is not a case after open syllables (davar). The paradox stems from erroneous syllabification. We pronounce d’-avar or monosyllable davar. DA-vAr is only heard with artificial secondary accent on the first syllable. The second root letter is not syllable-initial.