Historical linguistics can help understand the languages of the bible and are therefore relevant to this site even when they do not discuss a specific text. Because that seems to be the main criteria for questions here, I have refrained from asking questions like "How can metathesis in the hithpael in biblical Hebrew be explained historically?" or "Is the masculine/feminine distinction the original reason for the different noun endings, or was there historically an other distinction?" here in the past. However, reading the answers on Are questions about the languages themselves (without referencing a specific text) on topic? I feel that these questions might, in fact, have been received well after all. The second-highest answer there suggests changing a wording of the help centre, but is out of date. The help centre currently reads:

Questions that do not arise from a Biblical text are off-topic unless they are about hermeneutical approaches. Not sure? You can find much more detail and all the nuances on our meta site.

Following those links yields A new guideline for doctrine in questions. What do you think? and A helpful flowchart for asking questions on BH.SE, but both seem to distinguish between "what the text means" and "how to apply the text", and don't deal with linguistic questions of the sort I mentioned above. It is unclear to me if this falls under "the process of hermeneutics or relevant sub-disciplines" (left top of the flowchart).

I am studying biblical Hebrew using textual criticism and data from other semitic languages. Historical developments can help understand the language and therefore indirectly help understand texts. Currently (as the Hebrew Language proposed site is still rather far from beta) the only SE site where such questions could possibly work is here, and I expect the community here to be very knowledgable on this topic.

So could you please clarify for me: what is the current position of the community on historical-linguistics questions like this, that focus on the biblical languages without deriving from a specific text? And, if these questions should be / are allowed, might I suggest that the help centre and flowchart are updated to reflect this?

2 Answers 2


It's a reasonable question, but my own sense is that "historical linguistics" ("HL" in what follows) questions are not a good fit for BH.SE.

  1. The examples provided would only very tangentially -- if at all -- illuminate the interpretation of given texts. I can only think of one Q&A (on "Mahanaim") where HL was a significant element for the answer. There might be other examples, but there won't be many. So while on rare occasions HL might inform answers to questions of interpretation, interpretation is not a presenting reason for questions of HL. HL is typically its "own thing".

  2. The members of this "community" competent to answer these questions could be comfortably counted on the fingers of one hand, and they're only intermittently active. There isn't the "expert" knowledgebase here that makes this a sensible place for HL questions.

  3. There is a Stack Exchange network where the example questions are "on topic", and that's Linguistics.SE. There one would get a much better match of expertise to interest there than here. And since that much better option exists, BH.SE shouldn't extend its remit to include HL questions. Assuming such questions were posted at Linguistics.SE, one could always post a link in chat where those interested would be likely to pick it up.

While it remains to see what the community thinks (and we won't unless a sufficient number vote, or respond to OP's question), this answer is that HL questions remain off-topic on BH.SE.

  • 1
    Thanks. I hadn't thought about the linguistics beta / don't know how many semitists there are, but I'll keep an eye on it.
    – user2672
    Aug 17, 2017 at 9:06

I would think that HL might be on topic in certain contexts. As the help center says, questions that arise from a text and involve interpretation are on-topic. This means that you would 1) need to find an example passage in which this is relevant and 2) understanding the history of the word or phrase would need to somehow impact interpretation of the text.

Hapax Legomenon would be prime candidates where HL might be on topic, however there are loads of cases where HL wouldn't relate to the texts at all, so this would really need to be on a case-by-case basis.

Most ideally however, you would be willing to commit to the Simitic Languages and Greek Langage proposals. So long as the question relates to a text and there is no other better place for answers, we should probably tolerate some leeway, but really this isn't our focus or forte and Stack Exchanges for these expertises would be preferred.

  • 2
    Thanks. I think this falls under point 1 of Davïd's answer. (I created the Semitic Languages proposal after the Hebrew one was closed.)
    – user2672
    Aug 17, 2017 at 9:04

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