Hebrew Dialects in OT Period?


It’s probably been a long time since I opened a thread asking an honest question :D, but this one’s for any linguists/Hebrew aficionados out there.

My internal linguist is quite wondering, what exactly do we know about the dialect variation in Biblical (Israelite) Hebrew? I only know about the shibboleth/sibboleth incident in Judges, plus the tendency for Northern (Samarian) Hebrew to simplify the /aj/ (ay, as in ‘eye’) sound to /e:/ (eh) and for Southern (Judahite) Hebrew to add /i/ (so the word for ‘wine’ would be pronounced something like yēn in the north and yayin in the south.) And are any of these dialects represented in the text of the Hebrew OT?


Fr. Mitch Pacwa stated that Horeb is the Northern name for the mountain, while Sinai is the Southern. Not sure though if this is a dialect or naming difference.


I’ve never really researched this issue. Could anything be done with the cognate languages–what little we have of them? (Moabite, Ugaritic) and then try to draw something out of the biblical text based on what seem like regional variations?


Plus Biblical Hebrew itself is developing during the time the Bible is being written. So what’s an historical development versus a dialectical variant? Very difficult.


The few things I know about Moabite is:

  • The plural form is -în (which is -îm in Hebrew), so the Moabite word for ‘kings’ would be mlkn (Hebrew mlkm məlākîm).
  • The old feminine ending -at is retained, whereas in Hebrew it had turned into -ah (except for the construct state nominal form): so qyrt for Hebrew qiryāh (but cf. Hebrew qiryat Yisrael “town of Israel”). AFAIK Ammonite and Edomite also retained the -at. And I believe the northern (Samarian) dialect of Hebrew did so as well. (From what I’ve read, Northern Hebrew is apparently very similar to Phoenician and Moabite.)

But then again, some people do say that the Moabite, Ammonite, and Edomite languages are not really distinct languages from Hebrew per se, more like dialects, because the differences are not major enough. (But then again, these peoples are pretty much related to one another, something also attested in the Bible.)

P.S. I’ve also found out that the way the theophoric -yah names are written are also different in the north and the south: in Judah, it’s generally written -yhw (-yahu) or -yh (-yah), but in the north, it’s written -yw (-yaw = -yu? -yo?) (However, you also find the -yw version in Judah in the 8th century BC.)


I’ve studied some of Dr. Michael Wise’s stuff, and he would know. Here is his contact info. unwsp.edu/web/academics/faculty-listing/-/asset_publisher/7EmHmFRs4Mum/content/michael-o-wise/402531


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