[b-hebrew] Recreating the Origins of Language

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Sun Feb 24 19:15:56 EST 2013

Hi Isaac,

First of all, thank you for bringing the subject back to Hebrew, since
neither my reply nor the post I was responding to mentioned Hebrew,
but were addressing more general linguistic matters.

On Sun, 24 Feb 2013 17:05:00 -0500, Isaac Fried <if at math.bu.edu> wrote:
> Would not Hebrew be better since it needs barely a reconstruction?

I don't see how.  The question is, how far is it possible to
reconstruct an assumed proto-language on the basis of modern, purely
spoken descendents, and how far one can verify such a reconstruction.

Hebrew of course is considered part of the Semitic family of
languages, part of a larger Afro-Asiatic family.  How would the
computer reconstruction work here?  Unlike the scenario of the article
using the Austronesian languages, where one has a multitude of modern
languages/dialects, but essentially no historical written evidence,
the situation of the Semitic languages seems to me to be precisely the

One has a dearth of Semitic languages that have survived to modern
times.  Of course, Arabic has been a huge success, dividing into a
spectrum of modern spoken dialects unified by a common literary
language (somewhat similar to the position of early Romance dialects
vis-à-vis literary Latin in mediaeval times).  I'm not sure about the
situation of the African branch of the Semitic languages (i.e., the
descendents of Ge`ez), but in the Asiatic branch, first Aramaic seems
to have eclipsed other Semitic languages, including Hebrew and
Akkadian, and then Arabic eclipsed Aramaic.

Modern Hebrew is of course the "other" modern Asiatic-Semitic
language, apart from Arabic, but because of its revivification, does
not make itself an ideal candidate for historical comparison.  (I
understand that Aramaic still survives, but I suspect has been heavily
Arabicized, and may be of marginal status).

> On Feb 24, 2013, at 1:57 PM, Will Parsons wrote:
>> The good test case is that of the Romance languages
Will Parsons

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