[b-hebrew] Origins of the definite article of BHebrew

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Mon Dec 19 07:00:58 EST 2005

On 18/12/2005 21:50, Herman Meester wrote:

>... - alif al-wasl for stems vii, viii, x (surely
>no historical hamz!), and some more.
>No, neither the alif al-wasl of article, stem vii, viii, x, the words
>ism, ibn, etc., nor the alif at the end of the 3rd person plural
>perfect verb (the latter is only a vertical line I think to seperate
>words), represent historical consonants.

Let me clarify a point here. The Arabic verb stems you refer to are the 
ones cognate with Hebrew hiphil, hithpael etc, right? And with Aramaic 
'aphel etc? So we are talking about causative verb forms which in Hebrew 
start with he, in biblical Aramaic with alef (possibly silent), and in 
Arabic with silent alif. In all these languages, in the prefix 
conjugation the initial consonant is replaced with the personal prefix, 
i.e. in Hebrew the hiphil "imperfect" is yaqtil, not something like 
yehiqtil, and similarly in Arabic and Aramaic. Ethiopic/Ge'ez seems to 
have the same pattern, with the basic causative verb starting with the 
equivalent of alef.

This situation seems closely parallel to the article. Very likely the 
prefix in both cases originally started with a vowel, which became 
written with he and pronounced with an H sound in Hebrew and perhaps 
also Ugaritic and north Arabian; became written with alef and perhaps 
pronounced as a glottal stop in Aramaic and Ethiopic; and became written 
with alef but not pronounced in classical Arabic. There seems to be a 
clearly parallel pattern here.

So I tend to go for an original form of the article which was perhaps 
originally an- but became al- in central Arabia. Or possibly vice versa, 
except that we then need to explain why the form han- is apparently 
found in both Ugaritic far to the north and (if I remember correctly) in 
South Arabian. The original alternation between al- (less likely to 
assimilate) and an- (more likely to assimilate) in different Arabic 
dialects may account for the variable and apparently inconsistent 
assimilation rules.

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

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