Metathesis — Permuting Letters

Here’s another nice one: גזרה, root גזר, referring to a decree or edict, usually negative. "And then" התרגז, root רגז, get angry. First the evil decree, then get angry. Makes sense. Cycling the last letter to the front of a root is just one form of metathesis. There are many others. הזדקן, "he got old," is a euphonic metathesis plus a substitution, from the formal reflexive הת+זקן, which is unpronounceable, but most certainly is a formation of the second-person pronoun אתה "you" plus the verb זקן "old." First, the metathesis of ת with ז -> הזתקן , then the softening of ת to ד to give הזדקן.

There are six permutations of every root. Maybe I’ll do a nice search for all of those. Complicating my procedure (greatly) is the fact that Hebrew letters are overloaded with respect to etymological origins. ח stands for two letters (written separately in Arabic as حhha and خ kha), ז for two (ز za and ظ zdha in Arabic), ש for two (Hebrew retaining dots often even in unvoweled text), ג for two (Arabic keeping only one, the ج jim), ד and ת each has historical soft forms retained in Arabic, בכפ each have modern soft forms, ע has two (ع and غ still in Arabic), and the ever-loving צ stands for three ancient letters (ص, ض, and another one), plus samekh ס seems out of place, perhaps retained in Greek as Ξ. This means that a permutation might be related to a considerable number of other roots, some of which are spelled exactly the same. What a mess, eh? Despite their being just 22 Hebrew letters, there are about 34 different potentially meaningful sounds to account for. Some of them, like ב and בּ are probably just euphonic differences and don’t harbor etymological distinctions. Others like ד and דּ are usually completely different letters.

# Hebrew Letter Arabic Cognate Candidate Transliteration
1 א ا glottal stop
2 ב   v
3 בּ ب b
4 ג ج j
5 גּ   g
6 ד ذ dh
7 דּ د d
8 ה ه h
9 ו و w, v
10 ז ز z
11 ז ظ zdh
12 ח ح hh
13 ח خ kh
14 ט ط tt
15 י ى y
16 כ خ kh (again)
17 כּ ك k
18 ל ل l
19 מ م m
20 נ ن n
21 ס   s (ks of old?)
22 ע ع (
23 ע غ gh
24 פ ف f
25 פּ   p
26 צ ص ss
27 צ ض dd
28 צ   ?
29 ק ق q
30 ר ر r
31 שׂ س s
32 שׁ ش sh
33 ת ث th
34 תּ ت t

~ by rebcabin on December 22, 2007.

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