whatisaword?

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Thu Dec 23 17:37:25 EST 1999


Randall,
> is a root a word, a verb,
> or is a formed verb a word, but root isn't?
> 
> one conceptual problem continually seems to reoccur with hebrew students. 
> they mistake a root for a real word.

An excellent point.  There are cases where a "root" is used as a 
"real" word, e.g. BFRF) in Gen 1:1 or RUAX in Gen 1:2, the former 
a verb and the latter a noun (obviously).  But there are "roots" that 
don't occur at all, as you point out below.

[snip examples - good material]
> this applies especially to the word frequency lists mentioned in recent
> days on this list. 
> all of the ones mentioned suffer from the same conceptual problem for
> beginning students. 
> they present roots as though they are words. they also get the semantics
> confused from time to time. 
> (sometimes that is explainable because they confuse roots with words.) 

One thing I like about the Watts list is that in cases like the ones 
you mentioned where a verb doesn't occur in qal, he lists the "root" 
unpointed and indicates in parentheses what stems it does occur 
in.  OTOH, the modern Hebrew dictionaries I have list things like 
$FLAX and HI$LIAX separately under shin and he, respectively.  I 
like that arrangement, but wonder how likely it is that a BH 
dictionary arranged this way will appear in any of our lifetimes.  
One reason I use Holladay's lexicon and recommend it to my 
students is because he lists things like nouns, adjectives etc. 
separately rather than listing them under triliteral roots the way 
BDB does.  Would you consider that a reasonable compromise 
approach for the time being?  Or perhaps my question should be, 
how would you like to see a dictionary (or a word list) arranged?  I 
suspect one reason that such resources are arranged the way they 
are is that this is how most of us learned the language: start with a 
root, apply the stem and get a "word" with a "meaning."  I'm also 
thinking of the average English dictionary, which has an entry for 
"think" but no (verbal) entry for "thought" as a past-tense form; this 
is usually indicated as part of the entry under "think."  Since they 
are forms of the same verb, that makes sense even if it is 
occasionally difficult for some learning English who don't yet fully 
understand the strong verb system.  Of course, it's a little easier in 
English since we only have three basic "principal parts": think, 
thought, thought or shake, shook, shaken.  Hebrew is a tad more 
complex since we not only have the two "tense" forms qatal and 
yiqtol, but we also have the various stems.  I'm not sure there's a 
"good" way to do it, but I'd be interested in your thoughts on it (as 
well as everyone else's).



Dave Washburn
http://www.nyx.net/~dwashbur
Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.
                                   Psalm 86:11



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