Hebrew In Israel | Aramaic and Hebrew in contact #3: Consonant Changes – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Aramaic and Hebrew in contact #3: Consonant Changes – Learn Torah

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In this article I want to demonstrate the changes which happen between related languages.  I will use the word for snow to do this.

The Hebrew word for snow is שֶׁלֶג-Sheleg which can also be found in other Semitic languages:
  • Hebrew- שֶׁלֶג-Sheleg
  • Aramaic-תְּלַג-Tlag (T<S change between Hebrew in Aramaic)
Some other languages:
  • Ugaritic- glṯ (it could be that scholars read this one in reverse and it is like Aramaic)
  • Akkadian- šalgu(m)
  • Egyptian- śrg, sá-l-qu
  • Arabic- ṯalj
Notice how in some languages the word is almost the same, indicating the connection between the languages as having a similar origin.  This comparative element helps us find the meaning of words which are obscure and rare.  In some texts we can find a word which, in other texts, is unclear.  Comparing languages helps scholars find the connection and interpret the words.

Though context is key in understanding Hebrew, we find that in many cases words will have a root that can mean something else in a different context.  This is why comparative linguistics is important for the study of Biblical Hebrew.  In our case the word is well known to us, however other cases have to be deciphered by comparing Hebrew to sister languages.  An interesting case would be the following:
וַתַּעַן לָהֶם, מִרְיָם: שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה כִּי-גָאֹה גָּאָה, סוּס וְרֹכְבוֹ רָמָה בַיָּם
And Miryam sang to them:
“Sing to YHWH, for he is highly exalted!  The horse and its rider he threw in the sea!” (Exodus 15:21)
Though the English is clear, the Hebrew word תען is actually not that simple.  A Hebrew reader would immediately think it is the word ענה- to respond.  However, the root is actually ע’נה and not ענה.  The root with ‘ע in Arabic is to “sing”.  This case once again demonstrates the need to know more than just simple Hebrew.

Originally Published: 12 February 2016

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