[b-hebrew] Hebrew grammar, (was Zech 6:8)

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Thu Dec 1 13:56:36 EST 2005

On 01/12/2005 17:37, Herman Meester wrote:

>Peter (and all others interested),
>Thank you for your elaborate response to all the several issues
>related to my obsession (wayyqtl) ;)
>I will treat the issues in the order you come up with them in the mail
>I reply to.
>It took me a while to write this all down.
>I hope the length won't discourage you and others. I want to thank you
>all in advance for carefully weighing my arguments, and criticizing

Thank you, Herman. I make a few responses below.

>... I feel gemination as a morphosyntactic marker is usually taken
>for granted but never really taken seriously. It may be only about
>double consonants we usually don't hear when we read the MT ourselves,
>but gemination is just as "real" as a suffix, a prefix, a stress shift
>or vowel change! Take a look at Arabic for instance, how very much
>relevant a double consonant can be.

One problem with your analysis here is that gemination in verb forms, 
i.e. Piel and its cognates, is common to all Semitic languages and so 
goes back to proto-Semitic. In fact it may also have originated as an 
infixed consonant which has been totally assimilated. But the gemination 
for definiteness which you are talking about seems to be restricted to 
NW Semitic, including Arabic, and so is probably a later development.

>Talking about Arabic, I think you are the victim of my erroneous
>writing on that subject.
>I am very sorry, the error harms my own theory.
>Here the correction: Egyptian Arabic has *more* consonants that are
>not *dis*similated in the "definite article".
>The process is dissimilation, and Egyptian Arabic has kept the
>original geminated forms in more consonants than MSA.
>iGGawaami` "the mosques"
>iKKursi "the chair".
>MSA would have -LG- and -LK-, respectively.
>(It is not surprising that Egyptian, and not Arabian Arabic for
>example, kept this older practice by the way, because Egypt is
>sedentary and agrarian, which may explain why its language changes a
>little slower, phonologically, than some other dialects. But it's not
>my field of expertise)
>Sorry for the confusion.

Understood. But I doubt if Egyptian Arabic is generally more 
conservative than Arabian Peninsula Arabic, for generally nomads are 
more conservative and Egypt has been by no means a cultural backwater. 
Then there is the question of the pronunciation Sharm el-Sheikh, used by 
the residents of that town, at least while speaking English to 
tourists(!), in contradiction to the regular rules. If this is not 
Egyptian Arabic, is it the dialect of the local Bedouin, which is likely 
to be highly conservative? Or is it simply a pronunciation according to 
spelling which has arisen through ignorance, as outsiders have moved to 
this boom town which was very obscure not long ago? (Sharm, by the way, 
is a local dialect word for a gap in a reef providing a harbour.)

>Anyway, Job 3,7: גלמוד Galmud.
>What is the root? The word is usually understood "hard, infertile,
>stony"; we have the Arabic root جمد GMD "be solid, frozen"
>(Köhler/HALOT 185, H.Wehr 158). It looks convincing that what we have
>in גלמוד is dissimilation of גמוד Ga(m)mud to גלמוד Galmud. ...

Possibly - or vice versa, Arabic GMD is from assimilation and 
regularisation of an original quadriliteral GLMD, perhaps originally a 
loan word. To turn your argument round, if dissimilation of certain 
geminated consonants is a regular process in Arabic, why is it seen only 
with the definite article, and in this obscure example in Job, and not 
regularly in Arabic verb and noun forms with geminated consonants? If 
there is a phonetic rule mmV > lmV in Arabic, why is it not found in 
words like حمّال ḥammaal "porter"? Incidentally, this word is 
dissimilated in a different way, to "hambal", in Azerbaijani.


>Then you talked about the apocopation etc., in other words, the
>make-up of the yiqtol base. I have to say, this issue is obviously
>potentially so complicated that it is beyond me. ...

I don't actually agree that it is all that complicated. It seems to me 
that WAYYIQTOL is always based on the shorter (apocopated) form where 
there is a distinction, except for a few mistakes in later biblical 
Hebrew when the old verb form distinctions were breaking down; but that 
in the first person (perhaps also the second person) the shorter form is 
not in fact truly shorter because it generally has an extra he, which is 
also found in the cohortative. From what I remember this is consistent 
with Rolf's statistics. And it is a synchronic observation.

There are all sorts of problems with your theory:

>Why then the preferred apocopation? As I said before, I can imagine,
>language being economic, people being lazy ;), that if a verbal form
>is getting heavier in the front due to the gemination, it might as
>well lose some weight at the back. In a yiqtol verb, presence or
>absence of an apocopated ending, or a short -a or -u short vowel in
>older phases of Hebrew would have given the yiqtol a certain meaning,
>but Hebrew lost its short end vowel anyway, and wayyqtl gets its
>meaning out of the gemination. The loose yiqtol is still available in
>the short jussive version and in the longer version.

If this kind of phonological process happened, it should have happened 
consistently - a point which you yourself made concerning Arabic. In 
fact apocopation simply cannot be analysed as phonological shortening 
(for economy or from laziness), but it can very easily be explained 
phonologically on the basis of the known existence in an earlier stage 
of the language of separate yaqtul and yaqtulu verb forms. This point 
can be demonstrated on the basis of regular and jussive YIQTOL forms 
quite independently of WAYYIQTOL, which is formally identical to jussive 
and cohortative with a prefixed WA- and gemination.

>For those who want to suppose there was also a preterite yiqtol, I
>won't forbid that, but even if this had been the case in proto-Hebrew,
>proto-NWSemitic or proto-Semitic, it is not so relevant to the
>biblical stage of Hebrew that we find in our MT. Why not? If the
>(simple) past tense that Wayyqtl basically is, can be satisfactorily
>explained by means of the primary gemination, then "Ockham's razor"
>forbids us to *also* try to explain it by means of some proto-Hebrew
>preterite yiqtol, which is after all a reconstruction.

But Occam's Razor applies only if the simple explanation explains all 
the phenomena. And the difference in forms between regular YIQTOL and 
jussive cannot be explained in the way you have put forward, which (in 
the absence of other convincing hypotheses) suggests to me that the 
simplest hypothesis is that regular YIQTOL and jussive come from 
different proto-NWSemitic verb forms, which are attested in cognate 
languages. If this can be demonstrated independently of WAYYIQTOL, it 
then becomes by far the simplest explanation of WAYYIQTOL that it is 
(formally, rather than semantically) based on the jussive rather than 
the regular YIQTOL.

>One concluding remark on word order: this is best studied by writing a
>syntax of only those passages in BHebrew prose that clearly represent
>direct speech.
Possibly, but that would skew the analysis of German and Dutch because 
subordinate clauses are rare in direct speech.

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

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