Variation, Simplifying Assumptions and the History of Spirantization in Aramaic and Hebrew
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Like all ancient historians, those of us who deal with the history of ancient languages are dependent on chance discoveries for the data with which we work. We are faced with enormous gaps in the historical record, and we compensate for them by making simplifying assumptions - assumptions that favor uniformity over variation. For example, when we attempt to date Aramaic sound changes, we conveniently assume that evidence gathered in places where it is plentiful (say, Egypt) is applicable to places where it is not (say, Mesopotamia). In other words, we assume that a change attested in several regions occurred in all of them at roughly the same time and in roughly the same way. In addition, we assume that all of the consonants (belonging to a well-defined class and) affected by a regular phonetic change were affected at the same time.1 These are examples of what Moshe Bar-Asher has called “the preconception of uniformity”.2 ! . 2 # ' = 7
Steiner, Richard C. “Variation, Simplifying Assumptions and the History of Spirantization in Aramaic and Hebrew,” in Aharon Maman, et al., eds., _Shaʻarei lashon : studies in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Jewish languages _ (Jerusalem: Bialik, 2007), *52–*65
*This is constructed from limited available data and may be imprecise.
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