Archive for the ‘Segert, Stanislav’ category

Segert, Stanislav, “Vowel Letters in Early Aramaic”, JNES Vol 37 no 2 (Apr 1978), 111-114

August 24, 2007

Segert suggests that the Greeks did not borrow the Alphabet directly from the Phoenicians, but that the borrowing was mediated by the Aramaeans. Most importantly, he discusses the use and influence of vowel letters in early Aramaic. The double-use of four signs for both consonant and vowel may seem to violate the one-to-one correspondence between phoneme and letter that was the hallmark of the Phoenician system, but Segert points out that consonants were already serving double duty in early texts since Aramaic distinguished 27 phonemes, 5 more than the 22 letters in the Phoenician system. In Early Aramaic inscriptions from the 10th to 8th centuries it is clear that waw was used exclusively for /ū/ while yod indicated /ī/ as well as the construct state of the dual and plural where *ay was possibly already monopthongized to /ē/. Final he is used for both /ē/ and /ā/, while alef primarily indicates /ā/. This leads to the general correspondence of alef = /ā/, waw = /ū/, yod = /ī/, and he = /ē/. These correspondences match the Greek system, adding ayin = /ō/, which leads Segert to suggest that the Greeks did not invent the vowel letters but were influenced by Aramaic. He therefore puts forth the hypothesis that the Greek alphabet was introduced at Pithekoussai, a colony founded in the mid-eighth century which is also the only place where Greek, Phoenician, and Aramaic inscriptions have been found.