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"The Biradical Origin of Semitic Roots"

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  • Stewart Felker
    I ve come across a dissertation by a Bernice Varjick Hecker called The Biradical Origin of Semitic Roots (University of Texas at Austin, 2007) - supervised
    Message 1 of 8 , Jul 9, 2013
      I've come across a dissertation by a Bernice Varjick Hecker called "The
      Biradical Origin of Semitic Roots" (University of Texas at Austin, 2007) -
      supervised by Robert D. King (whose main area of expertise seems to be
      languages of the medieval period).

      It argues: "1) that all the words in the first language spoken by the
      Semitic peoples consisted of biradicals; 2) that the majority of the
      postulated biradicals entered the Semitic languages after being expanded by
      the addition of a third radical, with the resulting triradical having a
      semantic relation to the original biradical."

      This seems extremely controversial - I want to say 'indefensible'
      (especially the first part); but I'm honestly not skilled enough in Semitic
      linguistics to really pinpoint exactly why. I also don't understand how
      there's not a contradiction between 2) and 1), in the way that he writes
      it.

      Other dubious things include the bibliography only having about 50 works.

      Anyone familiar with this, or have any thoughts?


      Stewart Felker,
      University of Memphis


      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Peter T. Daniels
      The biradical nature of Afroasiatic has been recognized at least since Diakonoff some 50 years ago, and has been explored in depth by several other
      Message 2 of 8 , Jul 9, 2013
        The biradical nature of Afroasiatic has been recognized at least since Diakonoff some 50 years ago, and has been explored in depth by several other Afroasiaticists; there was even a very elaborate attempt to demonstrate the essential biradicality of Arabic (by isolating "affixes" with some sort of common meaning) that was not widely accepted.

        A biradical approach to Hebrew goes back at least to the mystic Fabre d'Olivet in the early 19th century; the book was even translated into English in the 1950s because it was embraced by Theosophists (or some such sect).

        Bob King's main fields are Yiddish and historical linguistics; but there must have been Semitists at Austin before Huehnergard and Hackett moved there? Who else is on the committee?

        Of course the question is entirely moot when it is recognized that there's no such thing as a "consonantal root." (That concept is an artifact of Arabic orthography as it stood at the time the first grammarians were making their investigations: all the CVVC words were written with three _letters_, so it wasn't a distant conceptual leap to the claim that all the words had three _consonants_.) Observe that when some aspects of traditional Arabic grammar were taken into the already existing Syriac grammatical tradition (beginning in the 9th century or so), one concept that was _not_ imported was the triliteral root.

        Rather, like any other language on earth, the base forms of Semitic verbs are pronounceable units, maybe CCVC as in _yaqtulu_ (and the V has to be specified at least as /a/, /i/, or /u/ to know how to inflect it).

        I think the "first language spoken by the Semitic peoples" in (1) must refer to something that might still be called Afroasiatic, with the hallmark of "Semitic" being the emergence of triradicality in (2).

        Someone named Bernice is probably a she.
        --
        Peter T. Daniels grammatim@...
        Jersey City


        >________________________________
        > From: Stewart Felker <stewart.felker@...>
        >To: ANE-2@yahoogroups.com
        >Sent: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 12:57 PM
        >Subject: [ANE-2] "The Biradical Origin of Semitic Roots"
        >
        >
        >

        >I've come across a dissertation by a Bernice Varjick Hecker called "The
        >Biradical Origin of Semitic Roots" (University of Texas at Austin, 2007) -
        >supervised by Robert D. King (whose main area of expertise seems to be
        >languages of the medieval period).
        >
        >It argues: "1) that all the words in the first language spoken by the
        >Semitic peoples consisted of biradicals; 2) that the majority of the
        >postulated biradicals entered the Semitic languages after being expanded by
        >the addition of a third radical, with the resulting triradical having a
        >semantic relation to the original biradical."
        >
        >This seems extremely controversial - I want to say 'indefensible'
        >(especially the first part); but I'm honestly not skilled enough in Semitic
        >linguistics to really pinpoint exactly why. I also don't understand how
        >there's not a contradiction between 2) and 1), in the way that he writes
        >it.
        >
        >Other dubious things include the bibliography only having about 50 works.
        >
        >Anyone familiar with this, or have any thoughts?
        >
        >Stewart Felker,
        >University of Memphis
        >

        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Douglas Petrovich
        Dear Stewart, This is a fascinating thesis, and I—for one—am grateful that you brought it to our attention. I will be interested to hear what others have
        Message 3 of 8 , Jul 9, 2013
          Dear Stewart,

          This is a fascinating thesis, and I—for one—am grateful that you brought it to our attention. I will be interested to hear what others have to say, but hopefully we will be honest enough with the thesis to give it a fair hearing, before running to conclusions that dismiss it out of hand instantaneously. Certainly it does seem that the topic was outside of the advisor’s area of expertise, though.

          Yes, it does seem from the way you have worded it that 1) and 2) are self-contradictory. However, if we substitute ‘before’ for ‘after’, the contradiction seems to dissipate. Could this be the correct way that you should have worded it? Otherwise, it is a bit difficult to see how even a supervisor out of his area of expertise could approve the dissertation, let alone an outside reader/specialist.

          As for Hecker’s 1) argument, I must say that it would explain perfectly what is otherwise an absolute anomaly that I recently encountered in my own research. I will not discuss that anomaly here, but I will need to study Hecker’s work to gather enough data to see whether it seems plausible.

          Douglas Petrovich
          Toronto

          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • Jim Wagner
          As the final year of my M.Div. ptogtam at the University of Toronto, in the late 70s, I did a year of independent studies, culminating in a major paper
          Message 4 of 8 , Jul 9, 2013
            As the final year of my M.Div. ptogtam at the University of Toronto, in
            the late '70s, I did a year of independent studies, culminating in a
            major paper entitled "The Double ayin verbs in Hebrew." It's been many
            years, but as I recall, at least one conclusion was that there was often
            some semantic relationship between the double ayin verbs and those verbs
            where a different third radical had been introduced.

            Jim Wagner
            Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

            On 13-07-09 10:57 AM, Stewart Felker wrote:
            > I've come across a dissertation by a Bernice Varjick Hecker called "The
            > Biradical Origin of Semitic Roots" (University of Texas at Austin, 2007) -
            > supervised by Robert D. King (whose main area of expertise seems to be
            > languages of the medieval period).
            >
            > It argues: "1) that all the words in the first language spoken by the
            > Semitic peoples consisted of biradicals; 2) that the majority of the
            > postulated biradicals entered the Semitic languages after being expanded by
            > the addition of a third radical, with the resulting triradical having a
            > semantic relation to the original biradical."
            >
            > This seems extremely controversial - I want to say 'indefensible'
            > (especially the first part); but I'm honestly not skilled enough in Semitic
            > linguistics to really pinpoint exactly why. I also don't understand how
            > there's not a contradiction between 2) and 1), in the way that he writes
            > it.
            >
            > Other dubious things include the bibliography only having about 50 works.
            >
            > Anyone familiar with this, or have any thoughts?
            >
            >
            > Stewart Felker,
            > University of Memphis
            >
            >
            > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            >
            >
            >
            > ------------------------------------
            >
            > Yahoo! Groups Links
            >
            >
            >
          • Douglas Petrovich
            Peter, Thanks for your insightful input. You said/asked, “Bob King s main fields are Yiddish and historical linguistics; but there must have been Semitists
            Message 5 of 8 , Jul 9, 2013
              Peter,

              Thanks for your insightful input. You said/asked,

              “Bob King's main fields are Yiddish and historical linguistics; but there must have been Semitists at Austin before Huehnergard and Hackett moved there? Who else is on the committee?”

              The committee consisted of the following: Robert T. Harms, Richard P. Meier, Esther L. Raizen, and Peter F. Abboud.

              “I think the "first language spoken by the Semitic peoples" in (1) must refer to something that might still be called Afroasiatic, with the hallmark of "Semitic" being the emergence of triradicality in (2).”

              Is there a well presented description of Afroasiatic in published form? As for your suggested hallmark, this seems to imply an Afroasiatic origin of “Semitic”, and thus seems to imply the potentiality of Hecker’s title. I am not trying to call you self-contradictory, but rather to understand how you would see the difference in this implication and your statement that the question is entirely moot.

              If tri-radical “Semitic” did derive from this Afroasiatic, are we to understand that one day the “Semites” simply broke free and said, “Let’s add another radical to our words, and just get along with it.”?

              Yours,

              Douglas Petrovich
              Toronto

              [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            • Peter T. Daniels
              Douglas, Besides the two versions of Diakonoff s classic, The Semito-Hamitic Languages (1965) and The Afroasiatic Languages (1987), there are several
              Message 6 of 8 , Jul 9, 2013
                Douglas,

                Besides the two versions of Diakonoff's classic, The Semito-Hamitic Languages (1965) and The Afroasiatic Languages (1987), there are several sketch-length treatments here and there (I think the most recent is in Weininger et al.'s Handbook of Semitic Languages from de Gruyter, 2011) -- and two recent surveys: in the "Cambridge Green" series, edited by Frajzyngier and a colleague (2011) [I can never remember exactly how to spell that name] and in Harrassowitz's Porta Linguarum Orientalium, *Semitic and Afroasiatic: Challenges and Opportunities, edited by Lutz Edzard [yes, the son of the Assyriologist] (2012), which is a collection of descriptions of the AA languages intended for Semitists.

                Harms is a Chomskyan linguistic theorist, I don't recognize the next two names, and Abboud is a modern Arabist.

                Language families form when speech communities break up. The most likely homeland of AA is what is now the eastern Sahara, which at a suitable time was lush and fertile; as the population grew, a part of it seems to have made its way northeastward and found suitable territory in the Arabian Peninsula and then Mesopotamia. (It's even been suggested that they crossed at the Bab el-Mandab at the south of the Red Sea rather than over the top through the Sinai.) If that bunch of AA-speakers started turning independent words into suffixes (via the well-attested and well-described processes called "grammaticalization"), so that new vocabulary-words formed, rather than phrases with two components, then we would have lots of words with similar front ends and different tails, and a smaller number of tails that could wag lots of different words.

                Linguistically, no need for "biconsonantal roots" -- just CVC words earlier on -- or "triconsonantal roots" -- just either bisyllabic words (CVCVC) or words with a cluster and a vowel (CVCC? CCVC?); and a variety of apophonic patterns for deriving forms and for inflecting them.
                --
                Peter T. Daniels grammatim@...
                Jersey City


                >________________________________
                > From: Douglas Petrovich <dp@...>
                >To: ANE-2@yahoogroups.com
                >Sent: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 2:14 PM
                >Subject: [ANE-2] Re: "The Biradical Origin of Semitic Roots"
                >
                >
                >

                >Peter,
                >
                >Thanks for your insightful input. You said/asked,
                >
                >“Bob King's main fields are Yiddish and historical linguistics; but there must have been Semitists at Austin before Huehnergard and Hackett moved there? Who else is on the committee?”
                >
                >The committee consisted of the following: Robert T. Harms, Richard P. Meier, Esther L. Raizen, and Peter F. Abboud.
                >
                >“I think the "first language spoken by the Semitic peoples" in (1) must refer to something that might still be called Afroasiatic, with the hallmark of "Semitic" being the emergence of triradicality in (2).”
                >
                >Is there a well presented description of Afroasiatic in published form? As for your suggested hallmark, this seems to imply an Afroasiatic origin of “Semitic”, and thus seems to imply the potentiality of Hecker’s title. I am not trying to call you self-contradictory, but rather to understand how you would see the difference in this implication and your statement that the question is entirely moot.
                >
                >If tri-radical “Semitic” did derive from this Afroasiatic, are we to understand that one day the “Semites” simply broke free and said, “Let’s add another radical to our words, and just get along with it.”?
                >
                >Yours,
                >
                >Douglas Petrovich
                >Toronto
                >
                >[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >

                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              • Brian Colless
                I had a Hebrew teacher who played with this idea. He pointed me to KRT and KTB, This set of examples is one I have assembled, and it seems to extend beyond
                Message 7 of 8 , Jul 9, 2013
                  I had a Hebrew teacher who played with this idea. He pointed me to KRT and KTB,

                  This set of examples is one I have assembled, and it seems to extend beyond Afrasian:

                  KT/QT. = 'cut'
                  KTB 'inscribe'; KRT 'cut'
                  QT.B 'cut down'; QT.N 'small'; QT.L 'kill"

                  Brian Colless
                  Massey University, NZ

                  On 10/07/2013, at 4:57 AM, Stewart Felker wrote:

                  > I've come across a dissertation by a Bernice Varjick Hecker called "The
                  > Biradical Origin of Semitic Roots" (University of Texas at Austin, 2007) -
                  > supervised by Robert D. King (whose main area of expertise seems to be
                  > languages of the medieval period).
                  >
                  > It argues: "1) that all the words in the first language spoken by the
                  > Semitic peoples consisted of biradicals; 2) that the majority of the
                  > postulated biradicals entered the Semitic languages after being expanded by
                  > the addition of a third radical, with the resulting triradical having a
                  > semantic relation to the original biradical."
                  >
                  > This seems extremely controversial - I want to say 'indefensible'
                  > (especially the first part); but I'm honestly not skilled enough in Semitic
                  > linguistics to really pinpoint exactly why. I also don't understand how
                  > there's not a contradiction between 2) and 1), in the way that he writes
                  > it.
                  >
                  > Other dubious things include the bibliography only having about 50 works.
                  >
                  > Anyone familiar with this, or have any thoughts?
                  >
                  > Stewart Felker,
                  > University of Memphis
                  >
                  > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                  >
                  >



                  [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                • Antonio Lombatti
                  Found in Jerusalem: http://matthewkalman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/ground-zero.html Antonio Lombatti ... Professore di Storia della Chiesa Università Popolare
                  Message 8 of 8 , Jul 10, 2013
                    Found in Jerusalem:

                    http://matthewkalman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/ground-zero.html

                    Antonio Lombatti
                    ---------------------------------------------
                    Professore di Storia della Chiesa
                    Università Popolare
                    Parma - Italia
                    http://www.antoniolombatti.it

                    [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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