Rashi script (and signed languages)

Valerie Sutton Sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Mon Jun 17 22:53:53 UTC 2002

Hello Izzy - Thanks for this message. I have forwarded it to our 
SignWriting List Members, who may be interested. Val ;-)


From: "Cohen, Izzy" <Izzy_Cohen at bmc.com>
To: DAC at SignWriting.org
Subject: Rashi script (and signed languages)
Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2002

>Valarie Sutton --
>Because sign languages probably existed before standard
>written languages, I thought this item might be of
>interest to you.
>Dosh kham,
>Israel "izzy" Cohen
>izzy_cohen at bmc.com
>* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
>"fcwa2002" <fcwa2002 at yahoo.com.ar> wrote:
>Does anybody know if there is a relation between the fingers and the
>hebrew letters? I wonder where can I find any information about what
>Judaism (maybe specially Kabbalah) says about hands and fingers.
>1 - Stan Tenen of the Meru Foundation believes that Hebrew letters are
>     based on shapes generated by images of the hand. For example, browse
>     http://www.meru.org
>     and in particular, "The God of Abraham: A Mathematician's View" at
>     http://www.meru.org/GodofAbe/onegdpix.html
>     The idea that hand/sign-langusge preceded written language is not
>     far-fetched. In a hunter-gatherer society, silent hand signals
>     would enable a group to communicate without alerting their prey.
>     American Indians were able to communicate coast-to-coast with a
>     fairly uniform sign language long after their spoken languages
>     had become mutually unintelligible.
>2 - I asked Stan Tenen why he believes the Rashi script is older than
>     Asheris Meruba (the standard square Hebrew script). He replied:
>     "Because it's more similar to the script on the Elephantine Papyrus,
>     and  because all of the letters are generated as 2-dimensional
>     outlines of a single 3-dimensional object -- a model "hand"-shaped
>     "tefillin strap", bound on the hand. The specially shaped tefillin
>     strap is defined by the sequence of letters at the beginning of
>     B'reshit, by the Sh'ma, and as described in a wide variety of
>     Kabbalistic texts."
>On the Antiquity of the (so-called) Rashi Script
>Dan "Moonhawk" Alford wrote:
>>  ... one Sanskrit tradition closer to the writing demands keeping
>>  the sounds accurate in order to preserve their vibrational power
>>  even if the verbal meaning fades; another, spoken, tradition demands
>>  staying with the meaning while the regional sounds become variable.
>[This is easier to read with a Courier non-proportional font.]
>I find both of the above "traditions" happening in (proto) Hebrew.
>When the sound of a letter changes, for example:
>aleph - GHT/CHS --> T --> current glottal stop (written as ? below).
>The Rashi aleph is similar to a modern het. This is evidence that
>the ancient aleph once had a somewhat het-like sound.
>bet   - MB --> B
>The Rashi bet looks somewhat like an M turned 90 deg clockwise.
>Compare Latin mansio = abode & Hebrew BayiS; mausoleum & beis-3olam.
>heh   - DH --> H
>The Rashi heh looks like a modern taf/saf turned 90 deg clockwise.
>Linguists equate the taf with TH/DH, but it seems the ancient heh
>had a DH sound. This may explain why heh is the definite article
>in Hebrew while "the" has this function in English.
>vav   - F --> V
>het1  - W --> KH (written as X below) Compare ancient Greek digamma
>                                       and Germanic Wynn.
>het2  - X = KS --> KH (compare English/Spanish Mexico)
>yod   - G/K --> Y
>mem   - a "lazy" mem (made with the mouth not fully closed)
>         sometimes sounds like a W in other languages.
>aiyin - G/K --> almost soundless velar (written as 3 below)
>tzadi - S --> TZ
>The Rashi tzadi has a thin S shape.
>shin  - D/T --> SH (note the T in English -tion and -tial suffixes)
>The Rashi shin looks like a modern tet turned 90 deg clockwise.
>This is evidence that the ancient shin had a tet-like sound.
>SHeN = tooth. Compare TaN = jackal, TaNiN = crocodile. Giving the
>ancient shin a dental sound makes SHeN cognate with L dens and
>Sanskrit dánta; and LaTiN/LaDiNo related to LaSHoN = tongue.
>sounds of resh/nun/lamed rotate. Often: lamed = N, nun = R, resh = L.
>1 - The word retains its original spelling but acquires the new sound.
>     This occurs most often.
>     Example 1: bet-aleph = come, come in
>       BaCHS --> Ba? (where ? = glottal stop)
>       Compare Bacchus, Gk god of wine/fertility; female body-part box.
>       For semantic range, compare English "come on to" = sexual advance
>       and the noun "come" = semen.
>     Example 2: "Fire, Women, and Other Dangerous Things"
>       aleph-shin oCHSa:D --> ?a:SH = fire
>       Compare oxid(ation), the essence of fire.
>       *shin-heh-aleph D/T-[D]H-oGHT --> aleph-shin-heh
>       ?iSHaH = wife, woman. Compare daughter/Tochter. In ancient
>       times, the Hebrew wife went to live with the tribe of her
>       husband. For everyone else, she was like another daughter.
>     After the aleph lost its sound, it usually moved to the beginning
>     of the Hebrew word, so most correspondences (today) have the form:
>     aleph-C1-(C2) = C1-(C2)-GHT. Compare Belova's Law.
>2 - The word retains its original sound but becomes respelled with
>     other letters that afterwards most nearly represent that sound.
>     This occurs less often. I call this the NBOW (new bottle,
>     old whine) phenomena. This may involve "borrowing back" the
>     original sound from a neighboring language in which that sound
>     did not change.
>     Examples:
>     het-shin replaces aleph. In Aramaic, het-dalet replaces aleph.
>     *aleph-bet = 1,2 = *to count --> het-shin-bet KHaTaV --> KHaSHaV
>       = to count. Compare Latin abacus < Gk ábax = a counting board.
>     *aleph-bet-lamed --> het-shin-mem-lamed=(color of) amber/electrum
>       Ezekiel 1:4 --> XaSHMaL = electricity
>       electrum = an ancient amber-colored alloy of gold and silver.
>       Amber becomes charged with static electricity when rubbed.
>     *nun-aleph-saf --> nun-het-shin-taf NaXoSHeT = copper.
>      Compare het-yod-nun-heh XeNaH = henna (copper colored)
>     *nun-aleph --> nun-het-shin = snake. Compare Eunectes murinus
>      = anaconda < anacandaia < Sinhalese henakandaya
>     Another example: Hebrew has replaced the presumed *heh = DH with
>     a dalet. Greek and Latin lost the D in the DH and have an H-sound:
>   DaM = blood                    Gk HeMo-/HaeMo- Gk HaiMa = blood
>   DaMem = bleeds                 Gk HyMen = membrane (that bleeds when
>                                             punctured)
>?aDoM = red       compare earth (below) and Gk erythrós = red
>?aDaM = Adam, man, mankind    Latin HoMo  = man, HuMman; but compare Gk
>   DeMos = people, population
>  ?aDaMah = ground, earth     = Latin HuMus ~ Gk cHaMaí = on the ground
>    DiMooY = image              Latin  iMaGinem < imago=a copy, likeness
>    DoNaG = (bees)wax              OE HuNiG = honey
>    DVoRah = bee                   OE HyF = (bee)hive  [maybe]
>    DaGaR = hatch                        ME HaCchen; ~ MHG hecken = to
>    DuR = circle, Talmudic: rim    Gk HáLos = circle, halo
>    DaG = fish                     OE HaCa = hake
>    DaG = fish                     MD HoK = hook, angle; OHG hako=hook
>    DaG < *DHaG and Gk iCH-THi = fish  are reversals of each other.
>3 - Both 1 and 2 occur, creating synonyms where 2 seemingly
>     different words have the same meaning.
>     Example:
>     SHaD = breast   This word has the older letters but the newer sound.
>                     Compare [T]Chad (an area south of Lybia < LeV = heart,
>                     south of the Gulf of Sidra = SHiDRa = spine, backbone
>                     on an anthropomorphic body-part map of north Africa.
>     DaD  = breast   This word has the newer letters but the older sound.
>                     Compare teat/tit; titer/titrate (drop by drop).
>4 - Based on the ancient sounds suggested above, YH+VH becomes very
>     meaningful.
>5 - It is well-documented that "Rashi" script was adopted by printers
>     as a convenient method to make a clear visual distinction between
>     Talmudic text and later commentary, especially that of Rashi. But
>     the script is *not* an arbitrary design. If the shape of a Rashi
>     letter significantly differs from the standard script, the change
>     represents an ancient difference in pronunciation.
>     The pronunciation elicited by the Rashi script is OLDER. In other
>     words, it is as though the printers used an older script to represent
>     newer writings simply because the older script was still recognizable,
>     readable and sufficiently "different" to accomplish their goal. The
>     Rashi script may have still been used by descendents of Jews who were
>     not taken to Babylonia.
>dosh kham,
>Israel Cohen
>izzy_cohen at bmc.com

More information about the Sw-l mailing list