Saturday, January 9, 2010

Zayin - a non grammatical letter

O how impatient - to think you can do three letters at once, zot! - as if non-grammatical letters are unimportant. You can't. חט will have to have their own posts as wellWhy are you so anxious to get to the next letter of the first 11 when you know so little about anything? And ז is the first sibilant. What does grammar surround if not the substance?

Did I learn English grammar at one go? No - it took years and lots of repetition and I used the language with native unconscious feel and without the self-referential absorption of study. Sounds just were - neither spelled, nor analysed,  nor even pondered.

There are some important words in Ruth that begin with these three letters. One at a time, here are some examples. The first usage for ז is the word for old. In this verse too is a form of construct of the infinitive of 'to be'. Besides vav, I think that the construct is another way of connecting words and I wonder to what extent it happens with sounds that are easy to elide.

כִּי זָקַנְתִּי מִהְיוֹת לְאִישׁ
 ky zaqànty mihyvot l)ysh
for I am too old to have a husband
The elders זָקֵן occurs 4 times in chapter 4 balancing this one bitter aged woman in chapter 1. E.g. in this phrase from Ruth 4:4
וְנֶגֶד זִקְנֵי עַמִּי
vneged ziqnéy `àmy
and before the elders of my people
The pointers, demonstrative pronouns, זֹאת and זֶּה occur. There is a collection of these at the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2.

וַתֹּאמַרְנָה הֲזֹאת נָעֳמִי
vàto)màrnah hazo)t na`amy
and the women said - is this Naomi?
לְמִי הַנַּעֲרָה הַזֹּאת
 lmy hànà`arah hàzo)t
to whom the lass this one?
זֶה שִׁבְתָּהּ הַבַּיִת מְעָט
zeh shibtah hàbàyit m`a+
this sitting of her in the house a little
וְגַם לֹא תַעֲבוּרִי מִזֶּה
 vgàm lo) tà`abvury mizeh
and even do not stray from this one
In reading the BDB section on this word, we might be tempted to think that in other Semitic languages, ז became a member of the first 11, playing a serious grammatical role even as a relative pronoun! There are other letters one might second to the team as well - like ח heth in order to include all the stand-alone pronouns in the grammatical word group. But I don't want to throw out Saadya's 10th century thesis too soon even if I have identified the wrong teams! Splitting 22 letters evenly into 2 groups has already been too useful a help to the eye and ear to aid understanding of this very foreign force.

The sibilant zayin plays an internal role in several words in this story - notably Bo'az, בֹּעַז, which of course occurs frequently. Is this name related to 'ear'? No - the ear is the slowest to grow, and this word might mean quickness.
וַאֲנִי אָמַרְתִּי אֶגְלֶה אָזְנְךָ
 và)any )amàrty )egleh )aznka
and I myself will disclose in your ear
There are more words with zayin in Ruth related to seed and winnowing. I will leave them for a discourse on the story as a whole some day - perhaps concerning the fruitful harvest that comes from a suitable redemption.

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