Not A Linguist Blog

דער אָנפֿאַנגער

In a second hand bookstore in Tel Aviv I found a Yiddish-language book from 1923, apparently written for Yiddish-language Hebrew teachers. It contains stories that explain Hebrew words and concepts in Yiddish. It's the third part of a series. Unfortunately I couldn't find the first two parts.

IMG 20160416 161012


IMG 20160416 161025

However the book found its way to Eretz Israel, I don't know.

One story:

IMG 20160416 161054

A great ocean

A clever answer

Why is the water in the ocean salty? A father has asked his little son one time.

I think, daddy, that is so because, the son has answered, there is a large number of herring there.

(The Hebrew word for herring translates to "salty fish".)



I really want coins and rings to be related to fingers

The Hebrew word for "colour" is צבע ("śaba3") and the Hebrew word for "finger" is אצבע ("eśba3").*

Following the Semitic cognates table we can see that Hebrew צ (emphatic s) can correspond to Aramaic ט (emphatic t) and Arabic ظ (emphatic z) or to Aramaic צ and Arabic ص (emphatic s). The first צ derives from a proto-Semitic emphatic voiceless interdental fricative (that doesnt exist any more in the three daughters peeped at here), the second from, you guessed it, an emphatic s.

The Hebrew words for "coin" and "ring" are, respectively, מטבע ("ma6be3a") טבעת (pronounced "6abba3at" with a doubled Bet).

Both words seem to derive from a root טבע (emphatic t, b, Ayin) and I really want them to be loan word from Aramaic טבע which hopefully means "finger" but it might not.

Assuming the first derivation of the roots, the Aramaic and Arabic cognates for צבע and אצבע are quickly determined. The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon gives for Aramaic טבע the following meanings

  1. to seal, to sink
  2. seal, coin

And for Arabic ظبع (emphatic z, b, Ayin), Google gives me nothing.

Assuming the second derivation, the Aramaic cognates are

  1. to moisten, to dye
  2. to cast lots
  3. colour
  4. finger

And for Arabic صبع (emphatic s, b, Ayin) Google gives:

  1. اصبع ("eśba3"): finger

Wunderful. I am not getting anywhere. It didn't work. While the words for "finger" and "colour" appear to derive from the same root which has survived in all three languages, the words for "coin" and "ring" don't seem to be related. The obvious solution is to look at what the root טבע (of coin and ring) actually means, in Hebrew.

  1. nature
  2. to drown, to sink (causative)
  3. to mint, to coin

I have a sinking sensation as if coins and rings are simply the products of melting metals and sinking them into a bath. (That means that I drowned with my theory.)

I don't think the translation "nature" has anything to do with this (although it also exists in Arabic as طبيعة (pronounced something like "6abu3a").

So that's it. I cannot connect rings and coins to fingers and colours. But I will always remember the four words as if they belonged together.

*I use ś for an emphatic s and 3 for an Ayin.
**I also use 6 for an emphatic t.

Doubt

In 1066 the Normans invaded England.

They came from France.

They brought with them the French language.

And they changed the English language forever.

The Anglo-Saxon dialects of the Germanic languages have been infused with French words but remained otherwise a model Germanic language. Since the French-speaking Normans were the rulers, it is mostly courteous words (and the word "courteous" is a hint where this is going) that were replaced with French words, while familiar words remained Germanic. In many cases both the French and Germanic words survived and even today it is usually improper to use the Germanic word in police society while the French word should be used instead.

One word that was replaced completely was the Angl0-Saxon word for "doubt".

The original Anglo-Saxon word for doubt is a direct cognate of the German word for "doubt", "Zweifel".

Recall that a Germanic <t> corresponds to an original Indo-European <d> and, ultimately, a German <tz> (spelt "z").

The German word "Zweifel" is cognate with Latin "dubio".

The "z" corresponds to the "d", the "w" to the "u" and the "f" corresponds to "b". This mirrors the German word "zwei" and its Latin cognate "duo" (as well as its English cognate "two", which has "t" instead of "z").

A "doubt" is in fact a possibility that there is more than one outcome for something. It is quite literally a "two-ness" of a thing and the word "doubt" ultimately derives from the Indo-European word for "two".


The Alefbet and Semitic Cognates

In this article I try to make myself understand the general relationship between Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and Akkadian (East-Semitic, includes old Assyrian and old Babylonian) by comparing Hebrew letters with the corresponding (in pronunciation) Aramaic and Arabic letters and by comparing all Hebrew sounds with the corresponding (cognate) Aramaic, Arabic and East-Semitic sounds.

A few notes on the usage of the Arabic script in this article:

I use the Arabic script for both Arabic and East-Semitic because it has more glyphs and can thus better represent a larger variety of sounds than the Hebrew script. In the Hebrew script dots signify a different pronunciation, in the Arabic script they signify a different letter. This is not a cosmetic issue. East-Semitic was, of course, actually written in the cuneiform script inherited from the Sumerians but that script wouldn't be helpful here because a) nobody can read it and b) nobody has the script installed on their computer and could even see it.

I use ا for the glottal stop and not for a long "a". I do not use ء or ى or ة, since they are only different forms of existing glyphs introduced later to make up for misuse of existing glyphs. (To be fair, in the case of ة the misuse predates the use of the glyph for the Arabic language and Arab grammarians did well in fixing that issue by marking ه for "Tawness".)

The glyphs ש and ע in Hebrew represent two distinct sounds each. In the first case the two sounds still exist as individual sounds (although one of them has collapsed with ס). In the second case the two sounds still existed as distinct sounds just over 2000 years ago but today only show themselves in the different vowel configurations they used to cause when they still were distinct.

Arabic ج is the equivalent of Hebrew ג but pronounced differently in most dialects ("j" instead of "g"). Arabic ف is the equivalent of Hebrew פ but always pronounced "f" rather than "p".

A few notes explaining the notes:

You can find the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets with pronunciation guide here.

ا is an Alef and originally stood for a glottal stop. In Arabic it is now most often used as a long "a" vowel.

ء is a Hamza and used in Arabic to mark a glottal stop when the Alef fails to do so.

ى is a form of the letter Yud and stands for short "a" vowel.

ة is a form of the letter He and stands for a He that replaced an original Taw. (It is thus a very helpful hint telling us about the history of a word.)

Note how Akkadian lacks several consonants and has no corresponding consonants for those lacking. Those missing consonants just vanished before they even changed. I think it is because many Akkadian speakers were really Sumerians who mispronounced consonants they didn't have and didn't recognise consonants they couldn't even perceive as sounds (like, apparently, glottals and pharyngeals).


Green: Consonant apparently survived unchanged in all daughter languages except possibly East-Semitic
Blue: Ghayin survived in Hebrew and Aramaic for some time but was already written as Ayin and ultimately pronounced so too.


Ancestral Proto-Semitic Language
שמית
Akkadian (East-Semitic)
אכדית
Arabic
ערבית
Aramaic
ארמית
Hebrew
עברית
b
ب
b
ب
b
ب
b
ב
b
ב
p
پ
p
پ
f
ف
p
פ
p
פ
voiced interdental fricative ("this")
ذ
z
ز
voiced interdental fricative ("this")
ذ
d
ד
z
ז
voiceless interdental fricative ("thin")
ث
sibilant ("shire")
ش
voiceless interdental fricative ("thin")
ث
t
ת
sibilant ("shire")
שׁ
emphatic voiceless interdental fricative?
emphatic s
ص
emphatic z
ظ
emphatic t
ט
emphatic s
צ
d
د
d
د
d
د
d
ד
d
ד
t
ت
t
ت
t
ت
t
ת
t
ת
emphatic t
ط
emphatic t
ط
emphatic t
ط
emphatic t
ט
emphatic t
ט
sibilant ("shire")
ش
sibilant ("shire")
ش
s
س
sibilant ("shire")
שׁ
sibilant ("shire")
שׁ
z
ز
z
ز
z
ز
z
ז
z
ז
s
س
s
س
s
س
s
ס
s
ס
emphatic s
ص
emphatic s
ص
emphatic s
ص
emphatic s
צ
emphatic s
צ
l
ل
l
ل
l
ل
l
ל
l
ל
voiceless lateral fricative
שׂ
sibilant ("shire")
ش
sibilant ("shire")
ش
s
ס
voiceless lateral fricative
שׂ
emphatic voiceless lateral fricative?
emphatic s
ص
emphatic d
ض
voiced pharyngeal fricative
ע
emphatic s
צ
g
ج
g
ج
g
ج
g
ג
g
ג
k
ك
k
ك
k
ك
k
כ
k
כ
q
ق
q
ق
q
ق
q
ק
q
ק
voiced velar fricative (Dutch g)
غ

voiced velar fricative (Dutch g)
غ
voiced pharyngeal fricative
ע
voiced pharyngeal fricative
ע
voiceless velar fricative (German ch)
خ
voiceless velar fricative (German ch)
خ
voiceless velar fricative (German ch)
خ
voiceless pharyngeal fricative
ח
voiceless pharyngeal fricative
ח
voiced pharyngeal fricative
ع

voiced pharyngeal fricative
ع
voiced pharyngeal fricative
ע
voiced pharyngeal fricative
ע
voiceless pharyngeal fricative
ح

voiceless pharyngeal fricative
ح
voiceless pharyngeal fricative
ח
voiceless pharyngeal fricative
ח
glottal stop
ا

glottal stop
ا
glottal stop
א
glottal stop
א
h
ه

h
ه
h
ה
h
ה
m
م
m
م
m
م
m
מ
m
מ
n
ن
n
ن
n
ن
n
נ
n
נ
r
ر
t
ر
r
ر
r
ר
r
ר
w
و
w
و
w
و
w
ו
w
ו
y
ي

y
ي
y
י
y
י

Source: Rishon Rishon

Some examples for those correspondences can be found in these blog entries:




Interdentals ת (Taw), ש (Shin), ד (Daleth) and ז (Zayin)

Previously: Pharyngeals ח (Heth) and ע (Ayin) 

Now: Interdentals ת (Taw), ש (Shin), ד (Daleth) and ז (Zayin)

Arabic has two distinct letters Taw, a stop <t>, like Hebrew תּ, and a fricative <th>, like Hebrew ת without the dagesh. But in Arabic these two consonants are really distinct consonants, not different pronunciations of the same consonant depending on vowel configuration.

Aramaic, like Hebrew, has only one letter for <t> and <th> and pronunciation is defined by the vowel configuration. The two consonants describe the same phoneme, meaning that they are allophones, meaning that they mean the same thing.

Taw, Shin, Daleth and Zayin also derive from Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Taw derives from the symbol for a mark, Indiana Jones will love this, is an x.

hiero_Z9

The Hebrew word "taw" means "mark" as well, which suggests to me that whoever took the symbol to mean the consonant <t> used it first to write the work for "mark" in both Egyptian and Hebrew (or Canaanite) before using it for all occurences of the consonant the Hebrew "mark" started with.

Arabic Thaw (Taw fricative) also derives from this symbol.

Word correspondences show that an original Semitic <th> turned into <t> in Aramaic and <sh> in Hebrew while remaining <th> in the more conservative dialects of Arabic.

Shin derives from a hieroglyph for a tooth. The word "shin" (spelt with a Shin) also means "tooth" in Hebrew.

hiero_Aa32

This again suggests that the symbol was used first for the Egyptian word for "tooth" and then for the Hebrew word for "tooth" and finally as a symbol for the consonant the word "tooth" started with in Hebrew, <sh>.

Now guess what the symbol for Daleth meaning "door" in Hebrew meant in the ancient Egyptian language?

hiero_O31

It was a door. Again the process was from the Egyptian "door" to the Hebrew "door" to the consonant <d>.

Incidentally, this same transformation happened within the Egyptian language as well, but not to the extent as in Hebrew, Phoenician and Aramaic. Egyptians too started using hieroglyphs representing words to represent the starting consonants of the words. (Like in a Semitic language, in the Egyptian language it wouldn't make a lot of sense to represent a vowel.)

Many words in Arabic starting with ذ (Daleth fricative) have corresponding words in Hebrew starting with ז (Zayin) and in Aramaic with ד (Daleth stop or fricative depending on vowel configuration). Seeing that Arabic has two distinct Daleths (stop and fricative as distinct consonants) and that the consonant managed to become a <z> in Hebrew and <d> in Aramaic, the logical conclusion is that the original consonant was a <dh>, a fricative of <d>, like "th" in English "this".

Finally, the Zayin derives from no hieroglyph but simply represents first a sword and later the consonant the Hebrew word for sword ("zayin") begins with.

An interesting correspondence is the aforementioned <t> <- <th> -> <sh>. 


Arabic
ثور
thur
ox
Aramaic
תּור
tor
ox
Hebrew
שור
shor
ox
Proto-Semitic*
תור
th-w-r
ox**
*Reconstructed
**Probably

Arabic
ثلاث
thalaath
three
Aramaic
תּלת
talath
three
Hebrew
שלוש
shalosh
three
Proto-Semitic*
ת-ל-ת
th-l-th
three* (root)
*Reconstructed
**Probably

Arabic
اثنان
athnaan
two
Hebrew
שניים
shnaim
two
It's not easy reconstructing the original meaning of the root. It's not "two".


Arabic
ثوم
thum
garlic
Aramaic
תּום
tum
garlic
Hebrew
שום
shum
garlic
Proto-Semitic*
תום
thum
garlic**
*Reconstructed
**Probably


Obviously not all <sh> in Hebrew have correspondences to <t> in Aramaic and <th> in Arabic. This is how we can see how the consonants developed. The extinction of the (original*) <th> in Hebrew caused words with <th> to become words with <sh> but this didn't affect words with an original <sh> (for example שיר shir = song) or even words with original <sh> where the <sh> became an <s> in Arabic (שלום shalom = peace, سلام salaam = peace).

*Recall that <t> in Hebrew is pronounced <th> after a vowel, re-creating a sound that had died out in Hebrew before. Apparently the same happened in Aramaic.

And here are a few examples of the Dhalet - Zayin - Dalet range:

asd

Arabic
ذقن
dhaqan
chin, chin beard
Aramaic
דּקן
daqan
beard
Hebrew
זקן
zaqan
beard, old
Proto-Semitic*
דקן
dhaqan*
beard**, old**
*Reconstructed
**Probably


Arabic
ذكر
dhakar
male, remember
Aramaic
דּכר
dakhar
male, remember
Hebrew
זכר
zakhar
male, remember
Proto-Semitic*
דכּר
dhakar*
male**, remember**
*Reconstructed
**Probably


Arabic
ذا
dha
this
Aramaic
דּא
da
this
Hebrew
זה
ze
this
Proto-Semitic*
דא
dha*
this**
*Reconstructed
**Probably
All "this" are male.


Arabic
ذي
dhi
this
Aramaic
דּאת
dath
this
Hebrew
זאת
zoth
this
Proto-Semitic*
דאתּ
dhat*
this**
*Reconstructed
**Probably
All "this" are female.





Next I will look at the ridiculous amount of non-empathic "s"-like sounds in Hebrew and Arabic.

Pharyngeals ח (Heth) and ע (Ayin)

Some languages have a common ancestor language. They evolved from that ancestor language and took separate paths.

People pronounce words differerently now then they used to in the past. But they pronounce them (roughly) the same as other people around them. When people start to pronounce a consonant or vowel differently, they pronounce the same consonant or vowel differently the same way in the same situation. If a <t> becomes an <s> in a certain situation in one word, people are likely to pronounce the <t> like an <s> in other words too if the same situation holds true.

This happens for several reasons, the most obvious being the introduction of new speakers to the language who simply aren't used to pronouncing a certain consonant and use the most similar consonant they do know to replace it everywhere it appears.

For example, native speakers of a European language learning Hebrew find it so difficult to pronounce Ayin and Het that they simply pronounce them like Alef and Khaf (and even those two are difficult for English speakers, who often forget to pronounce the Alef and pronounce Khaf like Kaf and then Het like Heh instead).

Ayin is a voiced pharyngeal fricative and Heth is the unvoiced counterpart of Ayin. Pharyngeal consonants don't exist in most non-Semitic languages. They also died out in those Semitic languages spoken in areas were Sumerian was dominant for hundreds of years, in Iraq. (They returned to Iraq with Aramaic and later with Arabic in full force.)

Outside the influence of outsiders, consonants tend to collapse; that is people start pronouncing two similar consonants the same.

If that happens before the introduction of a script, the two consonants will appear to be the same in all written text and be understood as such.

If it happens after the introduction of writing, it will create a headache for those learning how to write as they struggle to figure out why there are two distinct symbols for the same consonant. (This problem must be rather worse in syllable-based scripts.)

If it happens during the introduction of the writing system, knowledge of the distinct pronunciations might survive among readers but not be marked in the script. (Or alternatively, they do mark the distinction somehow.)

It happened, for example, with the pronunciation of the voiceless pharyngeal fricative (Heth) which apparently had two distinct pronunciations (and was likely understood as two distinct consonants) in ancient Egyptian because the original Sinaitic script adopted two hieroglyphs that represented two distinct words to represent these two distinct pronunciations.

Apparently this is a "hasir", a courtyard, so says Wikipedia.



I don't know where the word comes from I find the word חצר in Hebrew meaning "courtyard" and the word حصر (spelt the same) in Arabic meaning "enclose". (And according to the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon, the same root means "besiege", "grass" but also "little finger" in Aramaic, so these things can be driven too far.)

You can play with the words on my script transliterator.

But likely representing a word that originally started with a similar-but-different consonant is this hieroglyph "hait" which represents a "thread". In Arabic "thread" is خيط which indeed still starts with a similar-but-different consonant but which uses the same symbol as the unvoiced pharyngeal fricative of "hasir" with a dot added.

Behold, the hieroglyph "hait". (Note that the "t" in "hait" is an emphatic <t>.)

hiero V28

So why did the Arabs add a dot rather than use a different symbol for their different consonant?

The answer is remarkable simple. There was no other symbol. The two consonants collapsed in the languages the original script was used for and became Heth, the first letter of the Hebrew word חית meaning "fence" which sounds eerily related to both "courtyard" and "thread" and maybe that was one of the reasons it was used to replace both the original symbols. (Note that חית ends with a normal <t> but not, like "hait" an emphatic <t>. "Heth" and "hait" do not share the same type of "t".)

When the Arabs took whichever version of the Aramaic script they used, they only found one symbol for the unvoiced pharyngeal fricative and the closely related consonant they still had in their (unwritten) language and so they used the symbol for Heth ح and added a dot خ to make it stand for the other consonant as well.

Incidentally, in Hebrew the same word (but with the Heth instead of the Arab alternative consonant) חיט means "taylor".

Let me quickly list the two cognates (related words) we have found in Arabic and Hebrew so far, just taken from the names of the letters of the alphabet.

Arabic-Hebrew Cognates
Arabic
Arabic*
Translation
Translation
Hebrew
حصر
ح ص ر
enclose
courtyard
חצר
خيط
خ ي ط
thread
tailor
חיט
(*The second Arabic column is to show the individual letters.)

That was an easy one. Two consonants became one and then two again. Problem solved by treating them as one in writing and all cognates are easily found.

There is another famous case related to collapsing consonants in Hebrew. The Hasir-Hasar-Heth debacle happened before writing was invented but another such problem happened a little later.

It's the Ayin-Ghayin dilemma.

In the Arabic there are two distinct consonants Ayin and Ghayin which are, like Heth and its similar-but-different compagnon, represented by the same symbol (and added dot): ع is Ayin and غ is Ghayin.

But Ayin and Ghayin do not sound similar... It's a bit of a riddle.

What can be seen is that Ghayin doesn't exist in the Hebrew script. Ayin is ע and that's it.

However, in an early Greek translation of the Bible from 200 BCE names and place names with Ayin was transliterated into Greek using two different Greek letters. The symbol for "g" was used for ע in some places and the symbol for "h" (or two vowels in a row) in others. (Ayin in words other than names and place names was not transliterated but the words were translated into Greek words that didn't have Ayin or Ghayin.)

Hebrew-Greek Transliteration
Hebrew Name or Place Name
Latin Transliteration*
עזה
GAZA
עמורה
GOMORRAH
עברים
HEBRAEI
יהושע
IOSUE
(*I don't know Greek. So I used Latin.)

Bold and underlined are the Latin letters representing the Greek letters used to transliterate written Ayin.

2200 Years ago learned Rabbis still knew the difference betwen Ayin and Ghayin. The difference can still be seen in vowel patterns even in Modern Hebrew. Pharyngeal consonants (like Heth and Ayin) cannot be pronounced easily (or at all) when they follow or precede certain vowels, most prominently "i". But they collaborate well with others vowels, most prominently "a". Their presence therefor causes "i" vowels to vanish where they usually belong and be replaced with "a" or it causes an "a" to be added to a word before or after the pharyngeal consonant. I don't want to go into this. Anyone who ever conjugated Hebrew verbs knows the phenomenon rather well. The rest of you should just believe me.

A very good example for the Ayin-Ghayin debacle is the word רע which pronounced "re3a" (the "3" represents the Ayin) means "neighbour" or "friend" while pronounced "ra3" means "evil". The words are not related. The original Ayin in "re3a" caused an "a" vowel to be added to the word after the Ayin, while the original Ghayin in "ra3" did not. This difference in vowels remains until today.

And just like with Heth Arabic words with Ayin and Ghayin show Hebrew cognates with Ayin, consistently.

Arabic-Hebrew Cognates
Arabic
Arabic*
Translation
Translation
Hebrew
عرب
ع ر ب
Arab
Arab
ערב



Desert**
ערבה
عبد
ع ب د
Slave
Servant
עבד
عين
ع ي ن
Eye
Eye
עין
غرب
غ ر ب
West
Evening
ערב
مغرب
م غ ر ب
Morocco***
West***
מערב
(*The second Arabic column is to show the individual letters.)
(**Hebrew ערבה does not have an equivalent Arabic word I know of. But I believe its meaning is related.)
(***Literally: "West-Place")

However, the two pronunciations of Heth do not show up at all in Hebrew, which makes it convenient to assume that Hasir and Hait collapsed (became one) before writing was introduced to the Hebrew language while the difference between Ayin and Ghayin remained even over a thousand years after the introduction of a writing system that only had one symbol to represent both consonants. 

Next in series: Interdentals ת (Taw), ש (Shin), ד (Daleth) and ז (Zayin)

The Phoenician Alphabet

The Latin alphabet, as well as the runic alphabets of northern Europe, the Greek alphabet and the cyrillic alphabets of eastern Europe is ultimately based on an alphabet used by the Phoenicians and Hebrews for the Phoenician and Hebrew languages.

The history of the alphabet is explained in some detail on Wikipedia. To summarise:

The Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic languages are written in this alphabet system. East-Semitic languages (Akkadian and its Babylonian and Assyrian descendants) were written in cuneiform syllabic script based on Sumerian cuneiform.

Since the Proto-Sinaitic script was developed for use with Canaanite languages (Hebrew, Phoenician and Moabite) it has symbols for all the consonants in those languages including consonants that exist in, for example, Hebrew but not in Akkadian but not for all  original Semitic consonants that survived in other Semitic languages, most notably Arabic.

Vowels were not represented by the scripts.

Aramaic is similar enough to Hebrew and Phoenician to require the same set of consonants. Hebrew and Aramaic also tend to pronounce some consonants differently depending on their relationship to nearby vowels. In some texts dots in the centre of the letters denote which of the two pronunciations is meant (but this information can usually be deduced from context).

Arabic, which preserves a larger number of the original Semitic consonants, uses the same letters and uses some of them for two distinct consonants (as opposed to distinct pronunciations of the same consonant). It uses a similar system of dots to denote which of the two pronunciations (or consonants) is meant.

א
ב
ג
ד
ה
ו
ז
ח
ט
י
כ
glottal stop
b
g
d
h
w
z
voiceless pharyngeal fricative
emphatic t
y
k
zero
v
(gh)
(dh)
a/e vowel at end of word
o/u vowel



i vowel
kh
ל
מ
נ
ס
ע
פ
צ ק
ר
ש
ת
l
m
n
s
voiced pharyngeal fricative
p
emphatic s
emphatic k
r
s
t




(voiced uvular fricative)
f



sh
th

(Find an Arabic version of this table and explanations here.)

The consonants in brackets are pronunciations that are known to have existed but have died out in Hebrew.

The common ancestor of Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic was never a written language (as far as know).

This post was meant as in introduction. With the next post I will try to describe the consonant shifts between the Semitic ancestor of Arabic and Hebrew and the modern languages.

Middle-Eastern Christianity

Generally, this is the Not A Linguist blog. Today, for this one entry, it becomes the not A Linguist Blog.

This year the state of Israel has (finally) recognised the Aramaean nationality.

This is likely the first recognition of the existence of the Aramean nation since antiquity outside religious recognition of their several churches (including by the Ottoman government). Israel has now done for the Aramaeans what it has done to the Jews before and recognised a secular existence of a nation; even though, ironically, it was a religious leader, Father Gabriel Nadaf, who was the driving force behind the recognition.

The Aramaeans are one of the oldest peoples in the world.

Of course, all human populations including their ancestors are of the same age. But people form peoples and the Aramean nation has existed in antiquity long before the Germans (as a seperate culture from, say, the English) or the Americans (at all) existed.

There are several different groups of Christians native to the Middle-East.

  • Copts (Egyptian Christians)

    The traditional churches of Egypt are the (Oriental, that is non-Greek, Orthodox) Coptic Church and the Coptic Catholic Church (which is a particular church in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church). Copts can be found in Egypt and Sudan. Their native language is traditionally Coptic, a late evolution of the Egyptian language, and it remains their liturgical language. It is distantly related to Semitic languages.

  • Ethiopians

    Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt is home to Ethiopian Christians of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which is part of the Oriental Orthodox Church. Ethiopian Christians have many different languages, including Amharic and other Semitic languages and a few non-Semitic but related languages. Their liturgical language is Ge`ez, another Semitic language.

  • Sudanese Christians

    These are traditional Christian tribes of Sudan and, today, mostly South Sudan. There are many Roman Catholics and Protestants among them. Their connection to the Middle-East is basically that they were the most popular slaves of the Arab and Turkish masters. There are still many slaves in Sudan that were captured in South Sudan and given Muslim names after capture. Sudanese Christians speak Nilotic languages including Dinka and Nuer.

  • Greeks (Arab Christians)

    A large number of Arabic-speaking Christians  of Israel and Transjordan and elsewhere, mostly of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Melkite Catholic Church identify as Christian Arabs. Others of the same group identify as Aramaeans. Liturgical languages include Greek, Latin and Aramaic.

  • Phoenicians (Lebanese Maronite Christians)

    The Maronites of Lebanon feel a strong connection to Lebanon and Lebanese history exclusive of later Arab and Turkish influences (but they did assimilate a lot of French during Ottoman times and after WW1). The Maronite Church is another particular church in full communion with the Roman Church. Maronites speak Arabic (and traditionally French) and their liturgical language is Aramaic. The difference between the Maronites and the Aramaens is cultural rather than linguistic or religious.

  • Aramaeans (Syrian Christians)

    Aramaeans live in Israel, Lebanon and Syria (i.e. in greater Syria) and are organised in different Catholic churches as well as the (Oriental Orthodox) Syriac church and the Greek Orthodox Church. Some Aramaeans speak Aramaic natively, most speak Arabic. Their liturgical languages are Aramaic (in the Syriac churches) and Greek (in the Greek churches).

  • Armenians

    Armenians, typically resident in Armenia, Jerusalem, Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, are generally organised in the (Oriental Orthodox) Armenian Orthodox Church. Their language is Armenian including liturgical.

  • Assyrians (Iraqi and Iranian Christians)

    Assyrians live east of the Syrian desert in Iraq and Iran. Their native Church is the ancient Assyrian Orthodox Church (which is distinct from both the Greek Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches). Some Assyrians became Catholics. Some later converted to Protestant Christianity. Their original language, long before they became Christians, was Assyrian (which was a Semitic language closely related to Babylonien) but since Persian times they spoke Aramaic and today Aramaic-speakers remain among Arabic- and Persian-speakers.

Today's image of Islam is that of an intolerant faith out to destroy all other cultures. But in the past, pre-Islamic religions have survived Islamic rule in contrast to Europe where all faiths except Judaism have been destroyed by the advent of Christianity whether peacefully or in war.

In the Middle-East most pre-Islamic faiths survived until modern times. But outside Israel none of the pre-Islamic faiths have had a real lasting renaissance and might not survive in the long run.



הלילה הזה

In a song sung during a Passover Seder, the phrase "הלילה הזה" (halaila haze), "this (masculine) night" confirms that לילה (night) is masculine, despite ending on a ה (He).

Most often a He at the end of a word marks a feminine form (and replaces an original Taw doing that same job).

מה נשתנה?

What changed?

There are five reasons a word could end on He, as far as I know.

1. The word is feminine and the He replaces an original Taw.

חברה, javera, female friend (I use "j" to write a voiceless pharyngeal fricative similar to German "ch" in "Bach".)

2. The word belongs to a third person feminine singular.

חברה, javera, her male friend (a lot of this context, modern Hebrew uses חבר שלה, the male friend of hers) 

3. The word is a masculine pronoun or number.

אתה, ata, thou (male)

שלולה, shlosha, three (male)

4. The word just happens to end on He.

היה, haya, he was

קרה, qara, it happened

5. The other reason.

Noun cases (almost) died out in Biblical Hebrew. Only a few instances of Genitive markers remained (and plural nominative markers stayed on). But one case survived, an allative case for a movement towards something.

Hence "הביתה" (habaita) means "towards home" and "צפונה" (šafona) means "northward" ("š" is my emphatic "s", like "ts" or German "z") and "שמה" (shama) means "to there" (i.e. "thither").

Since the root of לילה appears to be ליל (which is also the root and the word for "night" in Arabic), I am assuming now that לילה is an allative case of ליל and originally meant "towards the night" or "tonight". Over the centuries the nominative form of the word simply died out and only the allative was ever used in all positions.


Introduction to Akkadian - Lesson 2

This entry is taken from my old blog and was originally written in 2009.

This is a continuation of “Introduction to Akkadian”.


abum (אבום): father; Hebrew - av (אב)

achum (אחום): brother; Hebrew - ach (אח)

ashatum (אשתום): wife; Hebrew - isha (אישה)

Note that in the construct form the Hebrew is ishath (אישת).

awatum (אוותום): word

banium (בניום): builder, maker; Hebrew - livnoth (לבנות): to build

beltum (בעלתום): lady, mistress; Hebrew - ba3ala (בעלה)

I am assuming that there is an Ayin missing between the "b" and the "l" in the Akkadian. Cuneiform could not represent pharyngeal consonants and/or those consonants might not have been used in Akkadian.

belum (בעלום): lord, master, owner; Hebrew - ba3al (בעל)

bishum (בישום): possession

darium (דריום): everlasting

dinum (דינום): judgment, legal case; Hebrew - din (דין)

ekallum (אקלום): palace

The book notes that this as a loan fom Sumerian "egal".

eli (עלי): on, upon; Hebrew - 3al (על)

elishu (עלישו): on it; Hebrew - 3alo (עלו)

eqlum (עקלום): field

I am going with Ayin here because the book notes that the original root was Het Quf Lamed (חקל). Ayin and Het are both pharyngeal consonants that Cuneiform apparently didn't represent correctly.

erreshum (ערשום): tenant farmer

(Again the root is given with a Het.)

ertsetum (ארצתום): earth; Hebrew - erets (ארץ)

The Akkadian form of the word is feminine with a final Taw.

eshemtum (עשמתום): bone

chulqum (חולקום): lost object

idum (אידום or עידום): arm, side

inum (עינום): eye; Hebrew - 3ayin (עין)

itti (איתי): with; Hebrew iti (איתי) = with me

ittishu (איתישו): with him; Hebrew - ito (איתו)

kalum (כלום): totality, entirety; Hebrew - kol (כול)

kanukkum (כנוכום): cylinder seal

Must have been the rage back then...

libbum (ליבום): heart, centre, middle; Hebrew - lev (לב)

Marduk (מרדוך): Marduk, one of the local gods

In the Hebrew Bible he is known as Merodakh  (מרדך).

marum (מרום): son

matum (מתום): land

misharum (מישרום): justice

nidintum (נידינתום): gift

qatum (קתום): hand

qistum (קישתום): present, gift

re'utum (perhaps ראותום): shepherdship

ruba'um (רובאום): prince, noble

shechrum (שחרום): small

tsibtum (ציבתום): construct, interest (on capital)

shirum (שירום): exalted

I want to say that this is the same root as Hebrew "sarah" (שרה): "princess".

shaknum (שכנום): governor

shalshum (שלשום): one third; Hebrew - shlishi (שלישי)

shalushtum (שלושתום): one third (feminine)

shama'u (שמאו): sky, heavens; Hebrew - shamayim (שמים)

sharratum (שרתום): queen; Hebrew - sarah (שרה): princess

Note again that a He (ה) suffix denoted a Taw (ת) in the root. sharratum and sarah share the same root Sin/Shin Resh Taw (שרת) which is again a female version of the root Sin/Shin Resh (שר).

sharrutum (שרותום): kingship

shiprum (שיפרום): work

shabtum (שבתום): seat, dwelling

shulmum (שולמום): wholeness, health; Hebrew - shalam (שלם): complete

shumum (שומום): name, offspring; Hebrew - shem (שם)

shuqurum (שוקורום): very costly, previous

tuppum (טופום): clay tablet

Now I notice that emphatic t is marked with a dot in the book.

u (ו): and; Hebrew - w (ו)

zerum (זרום): seed

zittum (זיתום): share of property


I uploaded an archive of the original Not A Linguist Blog here.

 © Andrew Brehm 2016