[b-hebrew] Re: from lamo to logograms

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Wed Dec 22 08:20:13 EST 2004

On 22/12/2004 12:43, Vadim Cherny wrote:

(in the first part, quoting me, Peter Kirk, without attribution)

>>It is indeed quite likely that sometime in the misty prehistory of the
>>Afro-Asiatic languages, before the split between Semitic, Berber and
>>Egyptian (for these groups share the triliteral root structure), many
>>roots were composed from some kind of biliteral root plus a suffix
>>giving a more precise semantic - perhaps much as Greek, Latin, Russian
>>verbs etc are commonly made up of an often monosyllabic root with a
>>prefix giving a more precise semantic.
>What makes the third radical in, say, pr-derived roots a suffix? Suffix is
>something employed across the words with the same meaning. ...

Not necessarily. In Russian, the various verbal prefixes have up to 
seven distinct meanings, according to Terence Wade's "A Comprehensive 
Russian Grammar".

>... But the same
>radical in pr and nsh roots hardly relates exactly the same meaning. Third
>radicals are no suffixes. ...

It would be an interesting study to see if there are any semantic 
regularities in third radicals. But there is probably not enough 
remaining evidence to decide this question.

>... Besides, if they were suffixes, a highly developed morphological device,
>then the addition was deliberate. ...

Well, this depends what you mean by "deliberate". Yes, it was the 
conscious act of some human to coin a new root and suffix combination. 
But it is highly unlikely that there was some plan by an influential 
individual or committee to introduce a set of suffixed words. Such 
things just didn't happen in the Stone Age, to which these changes must 
be dated.

>... In any case, the Semitic morphology is
>quite beyond the cavemen and cavewomen. To me, the language seems slowly
>adapted to the people, from picto- to logograms to alphabet.

This is based on a complete misunderstanding of linguistic history. For 
one thing, we are not talking about writing, but about changes in spoken 
language, which must predate writing as they predate the split between 
the world's oldest written languages, Egyptian and Akkadian. But it is 
demonstrably untrue that complex morphology is not used by primitive 
peoples. On the contrary, the most morphologically complex languages in 
the world are spoken by primitive pre-literate tribes in the Amazon, who 
were living in a Stone Age culture until very recent contact with 

>The logograms demonstrate that people knew the words before they knew
>letters (alphabet). But in the root system, they had to know the letters
>first in order to compose the roots and words. ...

This is simply untrue. It is demonstrable from all over the world that 
peoples are able to develop and speak complex languages without 
conceptualising the division of words into individual letters. In 
preliterate societies there is usually no concept that words are made up 
of individual segments which can be represented by letters - but these 
people are still able to speak, and speak very complex languages which 
have never been written.

>... How could anyone explain this
>on the natural-language grounds?
>Vadim Cherny

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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