wa, fa, and questions about pronunciation

Jonathan Bailey jonathan.bailey at gmx.de
Tue Dec 19 20:07:40 EST 2000

Quite early on while studying Arabic at the Defense Language Institute here in California I stumbled upon the fact that Arabic has two coordinating conjunctions that are translated (generally) as 'and'. The first, wa-, is graphically notated with a waw, the letter corresponding to Hebrew vav, and means generally the same thing as the Hebrew waw copulative. fa, however (written with the fa grapheme that corresponds to Hebrew pe) seems to have a slight relative force, and is used when the intended meaning should be light enough so as not to warrant an appropriate preposition. The Arabic ra'aytuhu waqataltuhu (I saw him and I killed him) can also be stated ra'aytuhu faqataltuhu (I saw him and consequently/subsequently I killed him). The subtle difference is usually left untranslated in English, however.

Arabic having these two separate conjunctions lead me to the idea that Hebrew waw+patah+dagesh forte and waw+schwa might be two completely semantically and etymologically distinct particles that just happen to sound similar in Hebrew as a result of diachronic phonetic drift. When checking Waltke and O'Connor I noticed that every hypothesis that they quoted for the origin of the wa(y) particle stemmed from the assumption that it was at one time the we particle. Instead of growing apart, is it possible that they grew together?

This leads me to pose a number of questions around the early pronunciations of the letter waw. Could the Ashkenazi pronunciation (vav) be older and more authentic? Could there originally have been a Hebrew vayyiqtol which would resemble the fayaqtulu of Arabic? Seeing as Akkadian possesses a preterite prefix conjugation which differs only from its durative prefix conjugration by a dagesh forte, could vayyiqtol be a fa+preterite?

My biggest question, other than asking for general support or rejection of the idea from listmembers, is about the origin of the various pronunciations of the waw grapheme. If v is the original sound, then it is easy to see how f would become v, but then how would w come from from f or v?

Jonathan Bailey
Defense Language Insitute
Middle East School I

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