Monday, January 29, 2007

shin and sin

Well, we're almost done with the alphabet. Today we'll deal with the second-to-last of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet - shin / sin. The name of the letter derives from the early shape - that of a tooth or teeth, as in the Hebrew word for tooth - shen שן (Steinberg adds that the sound is also made by using the teeth). According to Klein, the word shen derives from the root שנן - "to sharpen".

As you can see from the title of this post, this letter is more complicated than others. Sin or shin? Klein writes:

The letter ש marks two different sounds: sin and shin. Hebrew sin corresponds to Aramaic shin and samech, Syrian samech, Ugaritic sh, Arabic sh. ... compare Hebrew נשא, Biblical Aramaic נשא, Aramaic נסא ( = he lifted, took, carried), Ugar. nsh (to lift), Arabic nasha'a (= he rose, was high, grew up)...

There are exceptions to the rule according to which Arabic sh corresponds to Hebrew sin and vice versa. These exceptions are due mainly to assimilation, partly also to the circumstance that Hebrew sin sometimes stands for original samech (see שכך, שבר, שתם). In earlier Aramaic, and Biblical Aramaic sin is generally preserved, but many words that have sin in Biblical Hebrew are regularly spelled with samech in Medieval Hebrew.

Hebrew shin corresponds to Aramaic-Syrian shin, Ugaritic sh, Arab s ... compare Hebrew שלום, Aramaic-Syrian שלם, Ugaritic shlm, Arabic salam...

In many cases Hebrew shin corresponds to Aramaic-Syrian tav, Arabic th ... compare Hebrew שלוש, Aramaic-Syrian תלת, Arabic thalath...

So we see that there are two letters - sin and shin. Horowitz goes further, and divides shin into two different letters:

Two different sounds are represented by the Hebrew letter shin. One is originally and really shin; the other is a "th" sound that coalesced into shin in Hebrew. Scholars write this second sound ת.

He then gives a number of examples where shin becomes tav in Aramaic: שור / תור , פשר / פתר, שנים / תנים.

He then continues by saying (as we have seen with ayin and tzade) that because of the dual nature of shin, you cannot connect certain words even though they seem to have the same root:

  • שמן (fat) and שמונה (eight)
  • שער (reckon) and שער (gate)
  • נשר (eagle) and נשר (drop or fall off)
  • שאר (remainder) and שאר (kin)
  • חרש (plow) and חרש (be silent)
  • ישן (sleep) and ישן (old)
  • שלח (send) and שולחן (table)
All of these, according to Horowitz, can be proved by examples where only one of the pair gets a tav in Aramaic (or Ugaritic).

Steinberg writes that there are some Hebrew words that have shin added as a suffix instead of tav:

  • חרמש - from חרם
  • חלמיש - from חלם
  • עכביש - from עכב

In Greek there was no "sh" sound, so many proper names were translated with "s": Moshe / Moses, Shlomo / Solomon, Shmuel / Samuel.

The letter shin as a prefix (she-) means "that". The full word for "that" is asher אשר. Eliyahu Netanel here discusses which came first - she- or asher? He believes that she- came first, with an alef and resh added on later.

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