So a popular theory in the pronunciation of Hebrew is that "Biblical Hebrew" (or, at the very least, Hebrew up to the point to the fall of the Second Temple and well into the 8th century CE) had pharyngeal pronunciations for certain letters that are lost in modern Israeli Hebrew today. The ayin was actually an "3ayin" where the letter is pronounced as a pharyngealization of which ever vowel the niqqud shares. The teth is not just a "T" sound, but rather a T with this constriction with the pharynx. The same with the tsade as well, as it is actually an "S" with the same constriction as with the teth. Some scholars dispute this and claim that these pronunciations came later and were borrowed by South-West Semitic languages (namely Arabic) while many others claim that these were common pronunciations 2000 years ago.

However, if this is the case, then how come there is no "Dad" in Hebrew, Syriac, and other Levant languages? The "Dad" is just that some pharyngealization that is done on the consonant "D," so why does this letter only appear in South-West Semitic languages (once again, namely Arabic)? If a people could pronounce "Teth" "Sade" and "Ayin" as pharyngeal letters then wouldn't it be pretty simple to also pronounce a "Dad" as seen in Arabic? Is it fallacious to think it's weird that the "Dad" should be expected in Levant Semitic languages? Does this show problems with theories of pharyngeal letters in Semitic languages (and that these letters of Hebrew and Aramaic alphabets actually changed pronunciation due to Arabic influence)?

1 Answer 1


Are you familiar with Steiner 1977 The case for fricative-laterals in Proto-Semitic?

The standard reasoning behind reconstructing a series of emphatic (or something'd) consonants lies in nonrandom distinctions in correspondences across branches of Semitic. There is a correspondence between Targum Aramaic ʕ and Arabic ḍ ("ill" = mraʕ (Aramaic). mariiḍ (Arabic)), in fact I think Old Aramaic kept all of the hypothesized PS consonants distinct. What is not at all clear is what the original phonetic value of the consonants were, so if Arabic emphatics derive from multiple sources (glottalization vs. lateral fricatives), then it would not be surprising to lose one but not the other.

  • Would you mind elaborating on what the "PS consonants" are and what you mean about the vagueness of the difference between the original phonetic values and consonants? I'm sorry that I lack the technical vocabulary, I've never had any formal education in linguistics itself. Also, what is the correspondence between the " Targum Aramaic ʕ and Arabic ḍ"? Do you mean the Babylonian (Bavli) or the Jerusalem (Yerushalmi) dialect? And in which sense is their correspondence? Are the phonetic values the same or...? I'm sure all of this is explained in the paper, but I don't know where to find it.
    – rosenjcb
    Dec 15, 2014 at 11:45
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    By "PS consonants", I mean the consonants of Proto-Semitic. It is clear that there are certain consonant distinctions in Proto-Semitic, but we don't know how they are pronounced. The letters <s š ś> are used in some reconstructions, but it's debatable how these were pronounced (one of these might be ɬ; Arabic "dad" might come from or even have been originally pronounced as ɮ). The book I mentioned is probably available in any well-stocked research library, and not many other place, so good luck with that. Oldest Aramaic failed to distinguish "q1" and "q2" but this was later fixed.
    – user6726
    Dec 15, 2014 at 17:06
  • Would you happen to know any later or more common books on the subject that I can reference? Not finding it in my school's library.
    – rosenjcb
    Dec 15, 2014 at 17:38
  • You could try "Comparative semitic linguistics : a manual" by Patrick Bennett -- could be in a nearby library.
    – user6726
    Dec 15, 2014 at 18:25

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