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

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Wed May 4 06:48:17 EDT 2005


On 04/05/2005 08:28, Vadim Cherny wrote:

> ...
>
>
>Well, by "I don't think" I just trid to state politely that such examples
>must be non-existent. If you refer to them - pre-2000 BCE - then name some.
>
>  
>
The basement of the British Museum is full of them. Seriously, there is 
a huge quantity of surviving cuneiform tablets. Exactly how many of them 
are Akkadian and before 2000 BC I don't know, but the number is 
significant. There is a much larger number of surviving tablets from the 
Old Babylonian period, 2000-1600 BC, which was certainly before the 
western Semitic alphabet was in widespread use. See 
http://www.sron.nl/~jheise/akkadian/ for some more details. This 
includes the following:

> Old Akkadian. Akkadian is first attested in proper names in Sumerian 
> texts (ca. 2800 BC). From ca. 2500 BC one finds texts fully written in 
> Akkadian. The language attested in documents of the third millenium is 
> called Old Akkadian. It is the language spoken in the central parts of 
> Mesopotamia (the city Akkad is near present day Bagdad). The number of 
> tablets in Old Akkadian is not very large.

...

> ...
>
>>It is universally accepted.
>>    
>>
>
>No, it is not. This is what I learned, at the very least.
>It is simply a question, whether Aramaic affix aleph predated Hebrew hey. To
>anyone not prejudiced with your view of the history of language, it is
>obvious that aleph is a late pronunciation of vowelized hey.
>Even while rare late cases of clear feminine gender of animate objects might
>indeed by influenced by Greek -a, other cases, not related to gender, likely
>employ affix hey in its vague meaning of direction. At any rate, -a in malka
>has different semantics from -h in milhamah.
>
>  
>
The final -a in Hebrew (and Aramaic) feminine nouns (which is derived 
from an original -at which survives in the construct form) is a common 
feature of Semitic languages, so old that it is shared with Egyptian 
which has -t as the feminine marker. Arabic has a very similar 
alternation between -a and -at. It is certainly not influenced by Greek 
-a. It is clearly an indication of femininity in words like malka as 
well as in feminine adjectival endings. In other words it simply marks 
feminine grammatical gender. The common origin of this ending is shown 
in the way that it changes to -at in the construct state.

The Aramaic definite suffix alef is a quite different object. Note that 
the definite state of Aramaic feminine nouns ends in tav-alef, i.e. -at 
plus the definite suffix, with the -t reappearing before the vowel.

The directional he suffix is also something quite different.

Also different is the 3rd person feminine possessive suffix -ah, which 
has a pronounced he marked with mappiq.

...

>>>Would you agree with these points:
>>>
>>>- at some time, speechless humans received or developed a primitive
>>>      
>>>
>language
>  
>
>>Yes. But this process may have started before our ancestors were fully
>>human. It certainly happened many tens of thousands of years ago, so is
>>of little relevance to Hebrew.
>>    
>>
>
>I'm not a specialist in the field, but I recall publication some years ago
>of unearthing in Jericho the remains of the oldest human with some specific
>anatomical feature, necessary for speech. Articulate speech did not start
>long ago.
>
>  
>
I would be interested in more details of this one. But most scholars 
seem to hold that humans have been anatomically modern and so capable of 
speech for more than 100,000 years. On your theory there is also a 
serious issue of how Native Americans and Australian aboriginals are 
able to speak, for it is known that their ancestors were almost entirely 
cut off from the rest of the world since before the time of Jericho.

> ...
>
>>>- Hebrew developed, ...
>>>... accumulating grammatical forms
>>>      
>>>
>>No. Hebrew demonstrably developed from an earlier language which seems
>>to have had more grammatical forms. Hebrew may have added a few new ones
>>of its own, but also dropped many of those of the earlier language.
>>    
>>
>
>That's an issue of terms. Say, predecessor language of Hebrew developed from
>a single grammatical form to diversified grammar.
>
>  
>
OK, I will accept that "human language developed, accumulating 
grammatical forms".

>>>- earlier stages of development of proto-Hebrew included progressively
>>>      
>>>
>less
>  
>
>>>grammatical forms
>>>      
>>>
>>No.
>>    
>>
>
>How so? A developed language includes many forms, the earliest language -
>one only. So as we go back in time, less forms are there.
>
>  
>
Again a matter of terminology. Earlier stages of development of human 
language included progressively less grammatical forms, true, but these 
earlier stages cannot be described as proto-Hebrew any more than 
proto-English.

> ...
>
>>>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.
>>>      
>>>
>>No, I would not agree. This seems to me fairly obviously false.
>>    
>>
>
>What false? That a proto-language had only nouns? ...
>

Possible if we are talking about proto-human rather than proto-Hebrew, 
but entirely speculative.

>... That these nouns, like
>davar, had a single vowel? That proto-language, consequently, had a single
>vowel?
>  
>

For proto-human, not obviously false, simply improbable and baseless 
speculation.

>You keep avoiding the major point, that all Hebrew vowels developed just as
>expected from the syntactical accent elongation and stress-shift shortening.
>  
>

No, I don't ignore it, I have repeatedly rejected it and denied it. I 
have provided some evidence to refute it, but if you wish to put forward 
such an apparently crazy theory you will only be taken seriously if you 
can provide some good positive evidence in favour of it. Simply 
repeating it without evidence will just annoy people and lead to you 
being written off as a crank. In fact most of this list has probably 
done so long ago.

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



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