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ALEPH. Not only in Coptic but in other languages also, aleph (=/’/) is a consonant of a very special kind: it is certainly a laryngeal occlusive, but it is really unvoiced? for some, it clearly is (e.g., Vergote, 1973, Vol 1a pp. 12-13), while others hesitate to place it either among the unvoiced or among the voiced sounds, or resign themselves to putting it somewhere between the two (e.g., Dieth, 1950, p. 98; Dubois et al., 1973, p.25; Kasser, 1981a). It is best thought of as a stop followed by an abrupt emission of sound, especially a stop separating two adjacent vowels, for instance at the beginning of a syllable after a hiatus (e.g. in “reenter” or in French “la haine” [[...]]), or as a “glottal stop” replacing a consonant hurried over in pronunciation (e.g., “wa’er” for “water”; cf. the Arabic hamza).
In Coptic, so far as it is really preserved, it is in every case a CRYPTOPHONEME (that is, a phoneme not rendered by any written letter of its own), and it is no doubt for this reason that its existence in this language has long been ignored or disputed; even today it is not universally accepted. For this reason, it occupies a very special place in the Coptic phonological inventory.
It is true that pharaonic Egyptian, down to its last full manifestation prior to Coptic (i.e. demotic), possessed both the phoneme aleph = 3 and the corresponding grapheme (the “Egyptian vulture” of Gardiner, 1957, p.27, a hieroglyph that, among other things, became [...] in demotic; cf. du Bourguet 1976, pp. 3, 75). Now this [...] was, on the one hand, almost everywhere muted and disappeared (cf. Vergote, 1945, pp. 80-98, and 1973, Vol 1b, pp. 28-33; and ‘Ayin); but, on the other hand, the aleph does indeed seem to have reappeared in Coptic as a phoneme /’/ and as a product of the transformation of various other consonants. It is appropriate in this connection to examine above all what can be observed in P. Bodmer VI, the sole witness to DIALECT P (which in its orthography and phonology often looks like what can be known about a primitive proto-Sahidic, *ppS, that became a more evolved proto-Sahidic, *pS, a reconstructed proto-Sahidic, however, not situated in its region of origin but probably immigrant into the Theban region, where it was superimposed on A and probably also on some variety of L; cf. Vergote, 1973b, and Kasser, 1982). One can there see the scribe rendering what seems indeed to be /’/ by a quite particular grapheme [...], but only sporadically, for in the same or similar cases he also, through confusion, uses – (normally equivalent to [...]); or again, as in S properly so called, he practices graphic vocalic gemination; or finally he omits any graphic proceeding that might render /’/ and presents an orthography without vocalic gemination in the manner of M, for example (where it is admitted that the phonological system has lost its primitive /’/). Here are these unique vestiges of [...] (Kasser, 1981c, p.35): [...] (to put) one case, but [...] one case; [...] (deficient) one case, but [...] two cases, [...] one case; [...] (being) two cases, but [...] one case; [...] (to say) three cases, but [...] one case, [...] one case; also [...] (sic) (bone one case, but [...] four cases. However, apart from these relatively weak and evanescent remains of an ancient usage (and those still more rare, vaguely similar, but, despite that, very uncertain, which one may eventually think to discover in rare Old Coptic texts; Kasser, 1980, pp. 258-59), one no longer finds any specific grapheme for /’/ in the other Coptic DIALECTS and PROTODIALECTS at present known.
One notices, however, in some of them—especially in A, pL (=i), L4, L5, L6, V5, F5, S, but not in M, W, V4, F4, F7, B and its subdialects, G—a graphic vocalic gemination (succession of two identical vowels graphemes; cf. GEMINATION, VOCALIC), of which the first element is, in phonology, an authentic tonic vowel, but the second seems manifestly to render a consonantal phoneme, to define, and itself replace, a vanished consonant such as [...] , [...], r, or t.
This substitute phoneme is consonantal for two reasons difficult to contest, First, in A, every final sonant placed after a consonant becomes a rising voiced consonantal phoneme: thus S [...] (holy) = A [...], just as S [...] (to hear) = A [...], which proves that in [...] or [...] the second vowel grapheme a phonologically renders a consonant. not a vowel. On the other hand, it is known that if the pronominal suffix vowel of the first person singular is always [...] after a single vowel, it is always [...] after a consonant and, likewise, after a succession of two identical vowel grapheme, of which the first and tonic element is, in phonology, manifestly a vowel, but the second element, although a vowel grapheme, is nevertheless phonologically clearly a consonant; thus for example, S kaa=t, to leave me, like sop=t, to receive me, and not like [...], to reach me. It is true that one finds likewise [...] and not [...] in similar cases in the dialects that do not have graphic vocalic gemination and for that reason are considered as having lost even this substitute /’/ (e.g., B [...], to leave me, I Tm. 1:12; M [...], Mt. 27:46); but this shows only that these dialects also possessed this substitute consonant in an earlier stage of the language and that they subsequently lost it, this phenomenon having come about before the time at which their orthographic system was fixed.
In a general way, it is admitted (Vergote, 1945, p.71, etc.) that this substitute phoneme is /’/ clearly and in all cases, and not now /’/. now /‘/, as Till (1955, p. 46) expresses it, not without reservations and ambiguity: “’Aleph and ‘Ayin are still present in Coptic, although no separate letters exist for them. Both may have been pronounced alike (probably ’), even though ‘ in some circumstances exercises a different effect on the neighbouring vowel than 3.” Certainly, /‘/ is voiced fricative, as are the glides /j/ and /w/. and like them, in Till’s hypothesis, this fricative, although a consonant in phonology, would have been rendered by a vowel grapheme, while /’/, on the contrary, is an occlusive considered as unvoiced (according to Vergote, 1973, Vol. 1a, pp. 12-13) and even as belonging to the category of the most unvoiced phonemes; from this point of view /‘/ rather than /’/ would appear to be the more capable of playing the role of substitute consonant. (Stern also may have thought this; see Stern, 1880, pp.29-30, 54-55.)
In spite of that, It is for various reasons proper to set aside this solution. First, ‘ayin seems to have disappeared from Late Egyptian before the formation of literary Coptic and even PRE-COPTIC (Vergote, 1945, pp. 122-23, and 1973, Vol 1b, pp. 31-32: after the sixth century A.D.). Second, as a consonant replacing i, ‘, r, or t (or even j or w; see below), it is manifestly /’/ rather than /‘/ that is the better suited to assume this manifold function: for example b„ n becomes in Coptic [...], bad; [...] becomes (with metathesis) [...] (or kwwbe), to constrain; dr.t.f. becomes [...], his hand (cf. ibid., p. 35: “The tendency which contributed, in numerous words, to change proto-Semetic r and l into Egyptian 3 . . . continued to exercise a certain influence during the historical period”); mútrat becomes mú’ra, then [...], midday; [...] to soil, qualitative sáyfu becomes sá’fu and then [...], soiled; and wagiwat becomes wágwat, then wáwga, then wa’ga, and finally [...], jaw, cheek (Vergote, 1973, Vol. 1b, pp. 36-37). In Dieth (1950, pp. 99-100) some similar modern example will be found in which [’] replaces even occlusives other than /t/. The final and probably decisive argument is that the grapheme [...] in P, which seems to render /’/, resembles the demotic [...] = [...] in a rather striking manner (with eventual influence from [...] = [...]), much more in any case than it does the [...] (or [...]) = demotic ‘.
The graphic vocalic gemination attesting /’/ in Coptic occurs only within a word—that is either within a final syllable where this /’/ is followed by another consonant (cf. [...] above) or at the end of a penultimate syllable where this /’/ is followed by another consonant beginning the final syllable (cf. [...] above). It is true that some ancient S manuscripts present spellings such as [...] (and not [...], pity) or [...] (and not me [...], truth) and so on (cf. Polotsky, 1957a, p. 231, and 1957b, pp. 348-49); but this is always before the copula [...] (masc.), [...] (fem.), or [...] (pl.) in such a way that one may suppose that the (atonic) copula was felt as forming part of the ‘word’ that it immediately follows and that bears the tonic accent on the vowel of its last syllable, a vowel that is normally and graphically the last letter of the “word”; it is thus entirely legitimate to put, for example, [...], that is true, in parallel with [...], to separate. Vergote (1973, Vol 1a, p. 12) further considers that A and L “present an /’/ at the end of certain monosyllabic words, where it is marked by the hiatus [...] plam-tree: [...] to have pity; A [...] to appear (of stars). In B [and] F it is transformed into /j/: B [...] or F [...]" (cf. ibid. Vol. 1b, p. 31). However, even if it may find support in etymology, this phonological interpretation of the final letter of the A and L lexemes mentioned above seems likely to raise numerous questions; orthography, it must be remembered. Expresses above all not the profound or semi-profound phonological structure of the word, but its most superficial structure (cf. Hintze, 1980, p. 49). Thus one might ask how there can be hiatus if these lexemes are monosyllabic in Pre-Coptic and polysyllabic, through their hiatus, in Coptic? Another question is, why must one in this case envisage the presence of a hiatus if the final [...] = /’/ and not /e/ or [...]? Are there reasons based on etymology, and must these reasons be considered compelling? Finally, with regard to the B and F parallel forms, apparently also monosyllabic (by analogy with other Coptic finals of identical spelling, and whatever the conditions linked with etymology), would they not make the hiatus equally unlikely in A and L, even if the final there is /e/ or [...] and not /’/? The solution of this delicate problem will without doubt still require some supplementary investigations (cf. in particular Kasser, 1981b, p. 37).
[See also: Syllabication.]
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