From free variation to phonemic contrast: *i and *u in Hebrew and Aramaic
- 9 April 2018
- Descriptive and Anthropological Linguistics Discussion Group
- P.N. van Eyckhof 1
Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic are the original, Semitic languages of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). While Proto-Semitic only had two short non-low vowels, *i and *u, Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic have split these up into a number of phonemes: /i ɛ u ɔ/ in closed, unstressed syllables and /eː oː/ (Aramaic also /iː uː/) in stressed syllables. The distribution of these reflexes suggests that [i] ~ [ɛ] and [u] ~ [ɔ], respectively, were originally in free variation. In the languages as we have them, however, the contrast has become phonemic. I would like to discuss the possibility of this resulting from language contact during the oral transmission of the Hebrew Bible's reading tradition, as well as a possible split of stressed Biblical Aramaic /i u/ into /iː eː uː oː/ due to incorporation into the phonology of Biblical Hebrew.