[b-hebrew] Why Semitic languages had no written vowels?

Vadim Cherny VadimCherny at mail.ru
Tue May 3 11:24:17 EDT 2005

> My point is that complex vowels are still vowels. Your argument about
> the alphabet requires that Hebrew has no vowels at all, or at most one
> vowel with no distinctions.

The issue is diachronical. Biblical Hebrew with diverse grammatical forms
likely (though not necessarily) had several vowels. BH, however, might
inherited some tradition of the earlier proto-language with single vowel.
This tradition explains the vowelless script.

There is also a moderate hypothesis: Hebrew lacks vowels because in a
simpler Hebrew at the time of emergence of alphabet, vowels could be
unamiguously reconstructed through syntax. For example, if we assume that at
the time of emergence of aplhabet piel did not exist (and could not be
confused with vowelless paal), and also haial did not exist (and davar -
future segholates - could not be confused with haial), then vowels are clear
from syntactical transposition.
There might be confusion between vowelless verbs and adjectives, but usually
roots have either form, rarely they exist as both verb and adjective.
You know, I think this hypothesis is better than the other one. Especially
if developers of alphabet knew that all vowels are just accent-affected
kamatz, they might onsider vowelless script a sufficient descriptory system.

> >I likewise explain every morphological form. They all derived from the
> >form.
> >
> In this case you need to explain why in many cases there are
> semantically distinct words which differ from one another only in their
> vowels. On your theory this is impossible.

Please elaborate, I'm not sure I understood. An, example, perhaps.

Vowels are morphological instrument. Of course, different vowels produce
different meaning. davar seems the original noun form. haial is word-initial
stress version of verbs. segholate are ex-davar nouns with reduced second
vowel, either because of shuruk suffix or because gemination of second
radical was already reserved for haial.

> >In the most simplest form, the argument boils down to: did the Hebrew (or
> >proto-Egyptian, for that matter) emerged as developed language, or did it
> >start from a single grammatical form, likely davar? I think, the latter
> >obvious. If so, it has necessarily the single vowel - just did not use
> >others.
> You seem to assume that Hebrew emerged in isolation as some kind of
> proto-language among a previously entirely mute population.

Rather, I should call this language proto-West Semitic or proto-Egyptian.
Yes, I assume that this proto-language to which Hebrew is traceable emerged
or was offered to previously speechless humans.

You ignore a simple issue: obviously, we can trace Hebrew back to a
proto-language that had a single grammatical form, davar nouns. Later, more
grammatical forms emerged, until we received Biblical Hebrew. But at some
point, proto-Hebrew had less forms, all the way down to a single form. At
that point, no other vowels were needed besides kamatz.

> By Moses' time, Egyptian hieroglyphs had been in use for nearly two
> millennia, and the only writing known in Egypt was this and simplified
> variants of it. This, and nothing else, was the old tradition of writing.

No problem with that. The point is that this old tradition of writing was

> The religion of Aten was not ancient Egyptian religion, but if it did
> predate Moses it did so by less than a century.

I would just register complete disagreement, since this is a side topic.

Vadim Cherny

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