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

Herman Meester crazymulgogi at gmail.com
Mon Dec 19 18:17:21 EST 2005

That's an interesting, and important, observation.
What do you think, this being the case, are the consequences to the
idea I have that the alifu l-wasl (of the article, stems vii-x, etc.)
of classical Arabic grammar does not represent, unlike the alifu
l-qat` (of stem iv, etc.), any historical hamz?
I.o.w. do you think the original article of Arabic could ever have
been *'al? Rather than just *l- or simply the gemination of C1, as I
This is something we've been discussing for a long time, without
having heard a well-informed Arabist voice decide the matter so far.

2005/12/19, Kevin Riley <klriley at alphalink.com.au>:
>  In looking at the spelling in the Qur'an you need to keep in mind that it
> was written in Hejazi Arabic which had lost the glottal stop and in which
> the 'alif was merely an initial vowel carrier.  Classical Arabic was based
> on the Eastern dialects in which the glottal stop was pronounced, hence the
> need for Hamza as a diacritic.  Tradition says that an Eastern dialect
> [diacritics and pronunciation] has been superimposed on a Western (Hejazi)
> consonantal text [plus a considerable amount of systematisation has been
> added] to form classical Arabic.  Perhaps a process not too dissimilar to
> the work of the Massoretes in Hebrew.
> Kevin Riley
> -------Original Message-------
> From: Peter Kirk
> Date: 12/19/05 22:11:34
> On 18/12/2005 21:50, Herman Meester wrote:
> > ...
> >
> >
> >No, I think laam is always meant as -L-, be it to be actually
> >pronounced, or "virtually".
> >All I do suggest is:
> >
> >* say we have a type of spelling (i.e. Arabic spelling) where the
> >pausal form is the way a word is represented, not the context form
> >(i.e. each word is spelled as if it stands alone). For this we have
> >thousands of examples all over each Arabic text: - taa marbuuta (in
> >context, usually pronounced (in classical Arabic grammar) as -t-, but
> >never written as taa'; - alif al-wasl for stems vii, viii, x (surely
> >no historical hamz!), and some more.
> >* this means, we have no attempt at phonetic speling, rather a certain
> >artificial approach to spelling;
> >* then we see that there is an "article" that was originally only
> >C1-gemination;
> >* however, because of dissimilation in certain consonants, in quite a
> >few cases the "article" looks like -l-
> >* the, in a way very practical, thought comes up (speakers/users of
> >Arabic not always being interested in comparative linguistics nor in
> >phonetic spelling, just as it goes with any language): "that laam must
> >be something real; we may not pronounce it all the time, but let's
> >write it whenever we think it "is there/could have been there", i.e.
> >in the definition marker of nouns."
> >* then we don't really have the Laam as a sign of gemination, we just
> >have a certain interpretation of the dissimilated laam as the "real"
> >article.
> >
> >
> OK, I understand you. If this is really how Arabic spelling developed,
> you may have a point. But I suspect that in fact the written language
> reflects reasonably accurately a particular stage of historic spoken
> Arabic - perhaps approximately that of the originally spoken Qur'an,
> because that seems to have become an orthographic standard. In that
> stage of Arabic taa' marbuta was I think always pronounced something
> like "t", but maybe in fact not quite the same as taa' (perhaps an
> aspirated t, or something like English "th") which would explain it
> being written differently. Of course the Arabic and general Semitic
> writing system required a consonant at the start of a word, and so alif
> was written even there is no glottal stop as also in long A vowels. Of
> course this was an ambiguity in the writing system, but then it is well
> known that Arabic writing at this time was ambiguous e.g. no vowel
> marking, certain consonant distinctions not fully made.
> >... (quoting Tropper)
> >
> >"In the Arabic branch [of Semit. lang. HM], the situation of the
> >definite articles that we find is complex... The article (')al-  [sic,
> >I wonder why not ('a)l- ? HM] of classical Arabic seems to differ
> >completely from the epigraphic material of early Northern Arabic
> >dialects; the latter, like Canaanitic, have as the normal form h-."
> >
> >
> >
> This is clearly because Qur'anic Arabic was not a Northern Arabic
> dialect, i.e. one from around Damascus and Petra which is where I think
> the oldest material comes from (and which would have been strongly
> influenced by Hebrew, Moabite, Ammonite and Edomite which I think all
> had h- for the article, in texts in which gemination is not marked), but
> one from much further south, where the article had developed a slightly
> different form. But yes, the situation is complex.
> > ...
> >
> >>This process is of course possible, although unlikely simply because as
> >>you say "Arabic is a stenographic type of script" which avoids writing
> >>anything unnecessarily. But my point is that written records prove that
> >>this writing convention must go back to the time of Mohammed, or at the
> >>very latest shortly afterwards.
> >>
> >>
> >
> >Or ages prior to that; ...
> >
> Possibly. But we don't have any evidence, or only a very small amount,
> for writing in this part of Arabia before the Qur'an - and we know there
> were at least different writing conventions in northern Arabia.
> ....
> >>But my issue here is not the comparison between modern Egyptian Arabic
> >>and other modern dialects, it is between modern Egyptian Arabic and the
> >>dialect of the Qur'an, as indicated by the spelling of the article in
> >>the oldest Qur'an MSS.
> >>
> >>
> >
> >I have to take a good look at that. The only Qur'an I have at home is
> >the traditional text. However, I think the oldest MSS are unvocalised,
> >so of little use to us: they'll all show the alif, the laam, ...
> >
> But that was my point! It is the alif and the laam, consonants not vowel
> marks, which I want you to look at, in the very oldest surviving
> Qur'ans. You don't need vocalisation to confirm that the article was
> written alif-laam before any word in the earliest surviving texts in
> this dialect of Arabic.
> --
> Peter Kirk
> peter at qaya.org (personal)
> peterkirk at qaya.org (work)
> http://www.qaya.org/
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