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PhD Defence

The development of the Biblical Hebrew vowels

Wednesday 21 September 2016
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


  • Prof. H. Gzella
  • Prof. A.M. Lubotsky


Over time, every language undergoes changes in pronunciation. For example, words that originally contained a th, which is preserved in English, are pronounced with d in modern Dutch: compare Dutch dat ‘that’, denk ‘think’ and dood ‘death’ to their English equivalents. In historical linguistics, it is assumed that these sound changes are regular, i.e. that the same sound always undergoes the same change, regardless of the meaning or part of speech of the word in which it occurs. Only factors involving the word’s pronunciation can determine whether a sound change takes place; for instance, an older k changed to ch in English before i, as in chin (Dutch kin), but not before a, as in can (Dutch kan).

The linguistic study of Biblical Hebrew, the language of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), has a long history. Nevertheless, only few truly regular sound changes had been identified, in part because many Hebraists doubted whether sound changes must really be conditioned by phonetic factors alone. Based on an examination of the entire Biblical Hebrew lexicon, as well as extra-Biblical sources and data from related Semitic languages, this dissertation concludes that the development of the Biblical Hebrew vowels can, in fact, be explained through exclusively regular sound change. This confirms the more broadly accepted ideas about language change and has some implications for our understanding of the oral transmission of the Hebrew Bible’s reading tradition after the extinction of Hebrew as a spoken language.

Pdf (Dutch)


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