Obviously Phoenician was an alphabetical writing system, where characters combine phonetically to build words. But Wikipedia claims (implies?) both that the Phoenician letter "he" evolved from the earlier glyph "hillul" (meaning "jubilation") and that the name "he" means "window".

If either of those claims aren't true, I want to know! Assuming they are true, I'm searching for a more authoritative (vetted expert/published etc) source than Wikipedia. The Wiki pages themselves nominally have citations, but I can't find either of the above claims in either of the provided references. The parent page has the same claims, but provides a link to Wikipedia's own biography of Theodor Nöldeke as a reference.

I'll try my local library, but if anyone knows where I should be looking, thanks in advance!

(As an aside, I'm also unclear about the pronunciation. Is the Phoenician letter pronounced differently from the Hebrew analog? Is it "hee rhymes with tea" or "hey rhymes with bay"?)

  • 1
    Maybe a better question for Linguistics SE but I'm pretty sure you can find the answer in: scholar.google.com/…
    – Brian Z
    Feb 12 at 12:33
  • Hmm, thanks for the lead, but I can't find any discussion in that book (or the 2007 followup "Morphologies of Asia and Africa", ed. Alan Kaye) of the individual characters of the Phoenician Alphabet or its close relatives. (also that link is weird; it works on my phone but not my laptop which is the opposite of what i'm used to) I'll flag for moderator attention; you may be right that Linguistics is a better place to ask. Feb 12 at 14:30
  • I've asked Linguistics if they would accept migration. If they accept, I will migrate
    – MCW
    Feb 12 at 14:53
  • Yeah you can migrate this
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 12 at 20:50
  • 1
    Note that the Wikipedia article does not actually say that the Phoenician letter 𐤄 evolved from the glyph hillul – it just says that the Phoenician equivalent to hillul (in the alphabet) is he, and that he has thus replaced hillul. This could be true regardless of whether the shape of 𐤄 actually derives from the hillul glyph. Feb 13 at 0:34

1 Answer 1


In Phoenician writing, the letters were named after words in the language, but didn't mean those words. ʔalp (or something like it) was the Phoenician word for "ox", but the glyph ʔalp didn't mean "ox", it meant /ʔ/—just like its descendant, Greek alpha, meant /a/ rather than meaning "ox".

However, the Phoenician alphabet descends from the "Proto-Sinaitic" writing system, which did use some of these symbols as logograms (signs standing for entire words or morphemes). In this system, the ox glyph could mean /ʔ/, but it could also mean the actual word ʔalp. Similarly, the glyph of a man with his arms raised was used both to stand for the word hillul "celebration", and just for the sound /h/ (as in hiʔ "her"). (Source)

Well…probably. The problem here is that there aren't very many Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions, and scholars are still divided about how exactly to interpret them. There's not a universal consensus that the Phoenician he actually comes from the Proto-Sinaitic arms-raised glyph, or that the arms-raised glyph actually stood for the entire word hillul.

It is pretty clear, though, that the Proto-Sinaitic glyphs were adapted from Egyptian hieroglyphs, which did have logographic uses. In Egyptian, the arms-raised glyph could stand for a word like qꜣ "exalted". But this is a separate language, and there's no connection between qꜣ and hillul except in meaning—they're not derived from the same source, for example.

  • The source, Brian Colless, notes that "The two main treatises on the letters of the early alphabet (and its inscriptions) are by Benjamin Sass (1988) and Gordon Hamilton (2006)" and that his interpretation differs significantly. Perhaps the difference should be noted? Also, he refers to blogposts on a website called cryptcracker throughout and I'm not sure that's just a racial epithet; but in favour of the journal, after 2010 they recruited J. F. Quack as Co-Editor.
    – vectory
    Mar 6 at 14:17
  • On another note, different scholars debate the derivation of Greek epsilon and heta from he and ḥeth respectively, so I'd argue that the precise morpho-phonological interface remains poorly understood and frequently substitutes Phoenician for Northwest-Semitic (viz. Biblical Hebrew) because ... too many crypto crack heads believe in the truth is out there. No wait, that was X-Files. Anyway ...
    – vectory
    Mar 6 at 14:35
  • @vectory I have no idea what you're on about. Yes, the author points readers to his personal blog to see more extensive notes than would go in a journal article. As far as I'm aware Antiguo Oriente is a legitimate scholarly journal. Apart from that, see the third paragraph of the answer.
    – Draconis
    Mar 6 at 16:23
  • I repeat, Perhaps the difference should be noted? And maybe you shouldn't cite somebody's personal blog, whether directly or indirectly, and if you do, summarize the gist of it before it goes offline.
    – vectory
    Mar 6 at 16:34
  • 1
    @vectory From this answer: "scholars are still divided", "[t]here's not a universal consensus", etc. I'm giving a source for the claim discussed in the original question and also pointing out that many other scholars disagree. And neither this answer nor the paper "cite[s] somebody's personal blog".
    – Draconis
    Mar 6 at 16:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.