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

Vadim Cherny VadimCherny at mail.ru
Tue May 3 15:20:07 EDT 2005

> >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.
I cannot imagine general need for context, given fixed syntax and absence of
likely late similar forms davar/calb/haial and piel/paal.

> >... 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.

On how many pre-alphabet piel/paal Akkadian examples do you rely? Is the
difference between pre-alphabet Akkadian piel and paal really semantic,
beyond mere intensity? If you date "hieroglyphic" Semitic alphabet to 2000
BCE inscription, I don't think we have a meaningful number of earlier
Akkadian examples of piel semantically different from paal. Besides,
Akkadian might be more developed. In the modern time, post-Soviet Ukrainians
try to develop their language from scratch, and do so primitively, instead
of accepting powerful Russian language.

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

Why do you think hey is mater lectionis, and not consonantal suffix? I don't
think this view is universally accepted.
But anyway, I don't see how your example contradicts my argument that all
grammatical forms derived from davar nouns:

malAku - mAlak - mal'k - malk - malka

> >Yes, I assume that this proto-language to which Hebrew is traceable
> >or was offered to previously speechless humans.
> Well, your assumption is very different to those of most scholars, and
> myself.

Would you agree with these points:

- at some time, speechless humans received or developed a primitive language
- primitive language had a single grammatical form, nouns

- Hebrew developed, accumulating grammatical forms
- earlier stages of development of proto-Hebrew included progressively less
grammatical forms
- at some time in prehistory, very primitive proto-Hebrew had a single
grammatical form, davar nouns
- C'C' and C'C'C' nouns are perfectly suitable for humans beginning to speak

> >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.

You are right, I simplified the matter. Let's replace "davar nouns" with
"c'c' and c'c'c' nouns." Would you agree that proto-Hebrew at some time
consisted only of such nouns? This seems fairly obvious. This was a
single-vowel language.

Vadim Cherny

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