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

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Tue May 3 11:48:54 EDT 2005


On 03/05/2005 16:24, Vadim Cherny wrote:

> ...
>
>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. ...
>

This is a bit more promising, although I suspect that context was always 
required to reconstruct vowels.

>... 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) ...
>

This assumption is demonstrably incorrect, because the Akkadian 
equivalents of paal and piel were already distinct before the alphabet 
emerged, which demonstrates that this distinction goes back to 
proto-Semitic.

...

>>>I likewise explain every morphological form. They all derived from the
>>>      
>>>
>davar
>  
>
>>>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.
>  
>

Just think of any two nouns which have the same consonants (and no 
matres lectionis) but different vowels, and clearly different meanings. 
Even an obvious pair like MELEK "king" and MALKA "queen" are 
distinguished only by vowels (the final he in the latter is a mater 
lectionis, a late development). Are you saying that these two persons 
would not have been distinguished in speech?

> ...
>
>>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.
>  
>

Well, your assumption is very different to those of most scholars, and 
myself.

>You ignore a simple issue: obviously, we can trace Hebrew back to a
>proto-language that had a single grammatical form, davar nouns. ...
>

I'm sorry, but this is not at all obvious. Many scholars consider, 
although this must be speculative, that the three-letter Semitic root is 
a relatively late standardisation of a previously more complex 
situation. There are certainly indications that many Hebrew roots were 
originally biliteral with some kind of suffix modifying the meaning - or 
else an added final he, internal yod or vav, or gemination. If that is 
true, very likely there never was a language with standardised davar 
forms. And even if there was, there is no remaining trace of it which we 
can follow.


-- 
Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)
http://www.qaya.org/



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