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Bible Lexicons

Gesenius Hebrew Grammer

Part 19

§19. Changes of Consonants.

The changes which take place among consonants, owing to the formation of words, inflexion, euphony, or to influences connected with the progress of the language, are commutation, assimilation, rejection, addition, transposition, softening.

1. Commutation[1] may take place between consonants which are either homorganic or homogeneous (cf. §6q), e.g. עָלַץ‎, עָלַס‎, עָלַז‎ to exult, לָאָה‎, לָהָה‎, Aram. לְעָא‎ to be weary, לָחַץ‎ and נָחַץ‎ to press, סָגַר‎ and סָכַר‎ to close, מָלַט‎ and פָּלַט‎ to escape. In process of time, and partly under the influence of Aramaic, the harder and rougher sounds especially were changed into the softer, e.g. צָחַק‎ into שָׂחַק‎ to laugh, גָּעַל‎ into גָּאַל‎ to reject, and the sibilants into the corresponding mutes: ז‎ into ד‎, שׁ‎ into ת‎, צ‎ into ט‎. In many cases these mutes may be regarded as a return to an earlier stage of the pronunciation.

The interchange of consonants, however, belongs rather to the lexicographical treatment of stems[2] than to grammatical inflexion. To the latter belong the interchange (a) of ת‎ and ט‎ in Hithpaʿēl (§54b); (b) of ו‎ and י‎ in verbs primae Yôd (§69), יָלַד‎ for וָלַד‎, &c.

2. Assimilation usually takes place when one consonant which closes a syllable passes over into another beginning the next syllable, and forms with it a strengthened letter, as illustris for inlustris, affero for adfero, συλλαμβάνω for συνλαμβάνω. In Hebrew this occurs, (a) most frequently with נ‍‎, e.g. מִשָּׁם‎ (for min-šām) from there, מִזֶּה‎ (for min-zè) from this, יִתֵּן‎ (for yintēn) he gives. נ‍‎ is not assimilated after the prefix לְ‎, e.g. לִנְגֹּף‎, nor as a rule before gutturals (except sometimes before ח‎), nor when it is the third consonant of the stem, e.g. שָׁכַ֫נְתָּ‎ (cf. however נָתַ֫תָּ‎ for nāthántā) except when another Nun follows, cf. §44o; nor in some isolated cases, as Deuteronomy 33:9, Isaiah 29:1, Isaiah 58:3, all in the principal pause; on הִנְדֹּף‎ and תִּנְדֹּף‎ Psalms 68:3, see §51k, and §66f.

(b) Less frequently and only in special cases with ל‎, ת‎, ד‎, e.g. יִקָּח‎ (for yilqaḥ) he takes; מִדַּבֵּר‎ for mithdabbēr; יִטַּמָּא‎ for yithṭammā; תִּכּוֹנֵן‎ for tithkônēn; תִּנַּשֵּׂא‎ for תִּתְנַשֵּׂא‎; אַחַ֫ת‎ for ʾaḥadt; but in 1 Samuel 4:19 for לָלַת‎ read probably לָלֶ֫דֶת‎.

(c) In isolated cases with ה‎, ו‎, י‎, e.g. אָֽנָּא‎ prithee! if from אָהּ נָא‎; ו‎ and י‎ mostly before sibilants in the verbal forms enumerated in §71.

In all these cases, instead of the assimilated letter, a Dageš forte appears in the following consonant. Dageš, however, is omitted when the strengthened consonant would stand at the end of a word, since the strengthening would then be less audible (§20l), e.g. אַף‎ nose (from ʾanp), תֵּת‎ to give (from tint).

The cases are less frequent where a weak letter is lost in pronunciation,[3] and in place of it the preceding stronger sound is sharpened, i.e. takes Dageš, e.g. קְטָלַ֫תּוּ‎ from קְטָלַ֫תְהוּ‎ (§59g). אֶסַּק‎ for אֶסְלַק‎ (§66e) is an Aramaism.

3. Complete rejection takes place only in the case of weaker consonants, especially the sonants נ‎ and ל‎, the gutturals א‎ and ה‎, and the two half vowels ו‎ and י‎. Such rejection takes place,

(a) at the beginning of a word (aphaeresis), when these weak consonants (א‎, י‎, ל‎, נ‍‎) are not supported by a full vowel, but have only Šewâ, e.g. נַ֫חְנוּ‎ we, also אֲנַ֫חְנוּ‎; דַּע‎ for וְדַע‎; קַח‎ for לְקַח‎; גַּשׁ‎ for נְגַשׁ‎, הִי‎ for נְהִי‎ Ezekiel 2:10.

Aphaeresis of a weak consonant with a full vowel is supposed to occur in רַד‎ Judges 19:11 for יָרַד‎; in תַּ֫תָּה‎ 2 Samuel 22:41 for נָתַ֫תָּה‎; in שׁוֹב‎ for יָשׁוֹב‎ Jeremiah 42:10; on קָח‎ Ezekiel 17:5 for לָקַח‎, and on קָחָם‎ Hosea 11:3 for לְקָחָם‎, see §66g, end. In reality, however, all these forms are to be regarded merely as old textual errors.

(b) In the middle of a word (syncope), when Šewâ precedes the weak consonant[4]; thus in the case of א‎ (see further §23b–f, and §68b–k), e.g. in מוּם‎ for מְאוּם‎. As a rule in such cases, however, the א‎ is orthographically retained, e.g. לִקְרַאת‎ for לְקִרְאַת‎. Syncope occurs frequently in the case of ה‎, e.g. לַמֶּ֫לֶךְ‎ for לְהַמֶּ֫לֶךְ‎ (§23k and §35n), יַקְטִיל‎ for יְהַקְטִיל‎ (§53a).

Syncope of א‎ with Šewâ occurs in such cases as בַּֽאדֹנָי‎ for בַּֽאֲדֹנָי‎ (cf. §102m); וַאעְשִׁר‎ Zechariah 11:5.[5] On the cases in which א‎ is wholly omitted after the article, see §35d.

Finally, the elision of ו‎ and י‎ in verbs ל״ה‎ (§75h) is an instance of syncope.—On the syncope of ה‎ between two vowels, see §23k.

(c) At the end of a word (apocope), e.g. גִּלֹה‎ pr. name of a city (cf. גִּֽילֹנִי‎ Gilonite); וַיַּרְא‎, where א‎ though really rejected is orthographically retained, &c. On the apocope of ו‎ and י‎ in verbs ל״ה‎, see §24g, and §75a.

Bolder changes (especially by violent apocope), took place in earlier periods of the language, notably the weakening of the feminine ending ־ַת‎ ăth to ־ָה‎ ā, see §44a, and §80f.

4. To avoid harshness in pronunciation a helping sound, Aleph prosthetic[6] with its vowel, is prefixed to some words, e.g. אֶזְרוֹעַ‎ and זְרוֹעַ‎ arm (cf. χθές, ἐχθές; spiritus, French esprit).—A prosthetic ע‎ occurs probably in עַקְרָב‎ scorpion; cf. Arab. ʿuṣfûr bird (stem ṣafara).

5. Transposition[7] occurs only seldom in the grammar, e.g. הִשְׁתַּמֵּר‎ for הִתְשַׁמֵּר‎ (§54b) for the sake of euphony; it is more frequent in the lexicon (כֶּ֫בֶשׂ‎ and כֶּ֫שֶׂב‎ lamb, שִׂמְלָה‎ and שַׂלְמָה‎ garment), but is mostly confined to sibilants and sonants.

6. Softening occurs e.g. in כּוֹכָב‎ star, from kaukabh=kawkabh for kabhkabh (cf. Syriac raurab=rabrab); טֽוֹטָפוֹת‎ phylacteries for ṭaphṭāphôth; according to the common opinion, also in אִישׁ‎ man from ʾinš, cf. however §96.

  1. Cf. Barth, Etymologische Forschungen, Lpz. 1893, p. 15 ff. (‘Lautverschiebungen’).
  2. See in the Lexicon, the preliminary remarks on the several consonants.
  3. Such a suppression of a letter is sometimes inaccurately called ‘backward assimilation’.
  4. Syncope of a strong consonant (ע‎) occurs in בִּי‎ prithee! if this stands for בְּעִי‎ (see Lexicon), also in ונשׁקה‎ Amos 8:8, Kethîbh for וְנִשְׁקְעָה‎ (cf. וְשָֽׁקְעָה‎ Amos 9:5), and in בָּלָה‎ Joshua 19:3 for בָּֽעֲלָה‎ (as in Joshua 15:29). Probably, however, ונשׁקה‎ and בלה‎ are only clerical errors, as is undoubtedly כָאֹר‎ Amos 8:8 for כַיְאֹר‎ (Amos 9:5).
  5. Frensdorff, Ochla Wʾochla, p. 97 f., gives a list of forty-eight words with quiescent א‎.
  6. This awkward term is at any rate as suitable as the name Alef protheticum proposed by Nestle, Marginalien u. Materialien, Tübingen, 1893, p. 67 ff.
  7. Cf. Barth, Etymologische Studien, Lpz. 1893, p. 1 ff.; Königsberger, in Zeitschrift f. wissenschaftliche Theologie, 1894, p. 451 ff.
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