consonantal roots

M & E Anstey anstey at
Sat Dec 15 09:04:16 EST 2001

Dear B-Haverim,

There have been several posts lately about the (psychological) reality of
pure consonantal stems in Hebrew, modern and biblical. For those interested
in this issue, there are several points to remember:
1. Ussisshkin and Bat-El argue that vowels must be stored with consonants
for certain derviational processes to work. Their arguments are quite
strong, suggesting that lemmas are stored as complete. Breuning also argues
that segolates are stored complete, as in mélek, not as malk-# or mlk. These
arguments suggest that consonantal roots ARE NOT basic.
2. Psycholinguistic research of aphasic Hebrew (and Arabic) speakers
strongly suggests that consonantal roots ARE basic, since most of their
errors involve the placement of incorrect vowels into correct consonantal

There are various other arguments, but the complete picture suggests to me
that both are true. Words are stored as wholes, with vowels, but that
abstractions are made (mostly without awareness) of consonantal skeletons
that are invariate across many related forms. The preponderance of written
Hebrew without vowels would reinforce such abstraction I think.

Just some thoughts on the matter,

Matthew Anstey
Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
Faculteit der Godgeleerdheid
"Werkgroep Informatica"
anstey at

+31 (0)20 - 444-6626 (W)
+31 (0)255 - 52-6541 (H)

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