By William M. Schniedewind
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Extra resources for A Social History of Hebrew: Its Origins Through the Rabbinic Period
Likewise, spelling is especially habitual, remaining long after speech forms have changed, as we readily observe in English words like knight, gnat, or name. ”35 So, for example, the spelling with b in loanwords like debt, doubt, and subtle does not derive from Old French but rather was created by learned scribes who knew the Latin antecedents debitum, dubito, and subtilis. The changes in spelling, lexicon, and even grammar tend to be instigated by historical and ideological developments and not simply by the constant change in speech forms.
Even in ancient Israel, language was a social marker linked with identity. The sociolinguist Andrée Tabouret-Keller notes, “The language spoken by somebody and his or her identity as a speaker of this language are inseparable. ”57 This truism can be readily illustrated by an example that we have already discussed, namely, the shibboleth-sibboleth episode in Judges 12:5 – 6. Although the problem of how exactly the Gileadite and Ephraimite dialects differed is still a matter of debate (in part because of the imprecision of the graphemes), the commonplace sociolinguistic observation that language and linguistic forms can index social groups is played out.
In particular, the name of a certain Bebi, “General of the Asiatics,” linked these alphabetic inscriptions with Semitic laborers and mercenary soldiers working in Egypt. ” These inscriptions suggest that the texts might be related to the “Asiatics” and also point to the role of Egyptian scribes in administrative positions outside of Egypt. The innovation of these alphabetic inscriptions must be related to the spread of Egyptian hegemony outside of Egypt. New cultural settings allow for the expression of nontraditional forms, and new scripts tend to emerge at moments of societal change.
A Social History of Hebrew: Its Origins Through the Rabbinic Period by William M. Schniedewind