The complexity of language change: The case of Ancient Hebrew

  • Jacobus A Naudé


This article develops a theory of language change and diffusion in the light of new developments in contemporary linguistics on the themes of language evolution and the rise of linguistic complexity. The core assumptions of this article are, first, the fact that a language inevitably changes and diffuses over time and, second, a language inherently displays variation, which originates in geography or in the idiolect of a single speaker. The article focuses on the description and explanation of linguistic variation of Biblical Hebrew. The traditional division of Biblical Hebrew into chronological periods assumes that both spoken and written Hebrew constituted a single homogenous variety at any given time that transitioned into another variety over time by means of exceptionless sound changes (Hurvitz, 2006). These (Neogrammarian) assumptions concerning language change and diffusion are not psychologically feasible. However, the claims of Young et al. (2008) – that the language features used by Hurvitz to distinguish pre-exilic from post-exilic Hebrew are no more than manifestations of synchronic styles available to biblical authors – are also not psychologically real.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2012, 30(3): 395–411

Author Biography

Jacobus A Naudé
Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, University of the Free State, PO Box 339, Bloemfontein 9300, South Africa

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614