Sunday, February 27, 2011

The etymology of Ashtei-Esrei

I responded to this in a comment thread on this post, but it is post-worthy in and of itself, so here goes. An Anonymous commenter asked:
11 in modern Hebrew is "Echad-Esreh".

What is the etymological origin of the different word for 11 in the Torah (eg Shmos 36:14): "Ashtei-Esreh"?

My response was as follows:
I've seen an etymology of a contraction 'ad-shtei esrei, and absent other knowledge, this is attractive.

But I recently acquired Dr. Hayim ben Yosef Tawil's "An Akkadian Lexicon Companion for Biblical Hebrew", and he notes there that this is a cognate of Akkadian "ishten", meaning "one, unique, first". (He refers us to OA, OB on (CAD I/J 275a; AHw 400a), which is references on where to find it on cuneiform tablets, I think.) In Biblical Hebrew, he notes, it only occurs in combination with asar/esrei, meaning 'eleven'

In Akkadian (in CAD I/J 279b) there is the word ishteneshret, which is a cognate of the word eleven in Biblical Hebrew.

So, I suppose, it has no relation to shtayim, but due to historical linguistic accident, this word in this form got carried in to Biblical Hebrew, even though it did not in the general case.

I would note that he has no entry I can find for echad/achat, such that I guess Akkadian did not have such a word, but rather only 'ishten.


Jenny said...

A dikduk-man once told me that the word שתי (two), is to be pronounced shtei, rather than shetei, as one might normally pronounce a shva at the beginning of a word. He said that's because "shtei" is from the longer "ashtei".

No idea how to figure out if that's true or not.

MG said...

Re Ashtei: See Ebn Ezra Bamidbar 7:72

joshwaxman said...

thanks. maybe i'll develop both of these into a follow-up post. Here is the relevant Ibn Ezra:

kol tuv,

Anonymous said...

I was intrigued by the usage of the word Asthei as well, so I did some research to makes sense of it. Of everything I saw this made the most sense:



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