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

Herman Meester crazymulgogi at gmail.com
Thu Dec 1 15:03:15 EST 2005

2005/12/1, Peter Kirk <peter at qaya.org>:

Dear Peter,

> >... 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.

That may be true, but this would only mean that NW Semitic and Arabic
more enthusiastically applied gemination than other Semitic languages.

> >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.
> >Example:
> >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.)

This is getting tricky.. are we moving toward a discussion on who are
more conservative, Bedouin nomads or sedentary Egyptians? ;)
I only talked about phonological conservatism, which does not
necessarily have to be related to other kinds of conservatism. I
imagined Bedouins travelling lots of kilometers through (semi-)desert
each year, meeting and talking to all sorts of people with their own
pronunciations, while Egyptians could be living in one village for
generations. Take the "Boer" population in South Africa: their form of
Dutch is highly innovative in syntax and phonology when we compare it
to Dutch, although their ethics are generally considered to be very
Well, I don't know if we should elaborate on this; too bad I couldn't
convince you with this Arabic example yet. How about we consult a few
Arabists, specialised in Arabic phonology?
About your latter remark, I have been in Sharm once, and I usually
heard people say something like "Sharm esh-Sheykh", I didn't hear the
"L" I think. If they use the "L"-sound, I'd say it's for the tourists'
convenience? Anyway, I didn't stay because I couldn't afford the
hotel, so I went on straight to "Jebel Musa" ;)
I love the Sinai desert, by the way.

> >...
> >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.

I'm afraid my knowledge of Arabic is not such that I could argue in
this direction any further. I like the example, obviously, because it
suits me ;) You call it an obscure example, I guess it is; obviously
it is not a powerful enough example to be considered evidence. Perhaps
all little examples have to be put on the scales and weighed.
However, what is your comment on the at-tarika vs. iltaqaa example?
That, too, is illustrative. I don't think dissimilation has to happen
in every case of gemination, as you suggest we should expect. The
difference with other geminations in Arabic is that the "article" is a
gemination of the first consonant, whereas other geminations usually
occur in the second or third consonant of a word (stem II/V, IX).

> ...
> >***
> >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.

But is there an essential reason why the "primary prefix gemination
leads to Wayyqtl" theory would be more probable or less probable,
depending of the kind of Yiqtol "inside" Wayyqtl? If the apocopated
yiqtol was selected for forming the Wayyqtl tense, can we do anything
other than just take that for granted? Obviously, the loose apocopated
yiqtol really differs from Wayyqtl.

> >...
> >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.

I think I agree with you. But then we still have the big problem: how
can *wa-yaqtulu (or *wa-yaqtul) lead to both wayyiqtol *and*
I guess, even if we have to assume there was a preterite yiqtol
(*yaqtul), that when the distinction between the several yiqtols got
blurred (when short end vowels fell off) and the preterite yiqtol
started looking a lot like other yiqtols, the prefix gemination
apparantly took over the job of given expression to what the preterite
yiqtol (*yaqtul) had done before.

> >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.

I don't agree with you here, I think subordinate clauses are not so
rare in Dutch, and certainly not in German. I speak the former daily,
the latter I'm not so fluent in, but I think I can safely say that if
we analyse direct speech in both, we will find a lot of "if..",
"when..." "whenever...", "unless.." type of clauses in these two


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