Page 1 of 4 123 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 20 of 61

Thread: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Helsinki, Finland
    Native language
    Italia, italiano
    Age
    24
    Posts
    556

    Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Hi!

    Enciclopedia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/...chor=ref945186) argues that Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages. Though, it doesn't seem to clarify why Arabic is considered as such.

    Please, could somebody explain the statement better to me?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Geneva
    Native language
    German (Germany)
    Age
    55
    Posts
    20,100

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Such descriptions usually refers to phonology: Arabic preserves most of the Proto-Semitic consonant distinctions while many other living and attested dead Semitic languages have merged many consonants. See here.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Paris, France
    Native language
    Arabic (Hijazi Arabic)
    Age
    31
    Posts
    1,982

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    The article probably refers to Classical Arabic (CA).
    When it comes to CA, CA has preserved several archaic features attributed to Proto-Semitic PS, which have otherwise been lost in many living and dead Semitic languages. Some other features in addition to what berndf has mentioned:
    - Preservation of the PS word order: VSO, NG, NA. (The VSO has become SVO in Colloquial Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic still maintains the VSO order)
    - Preservation of the inflections and case endings of PS (some vestiges remain in Colloquial Arabic)
    - A functional dual (still preserved in Colloquial Arabic). A distinction of the dual in verb conjugation.
    - The PS 8 vowel system: 3 short, 3 long, 2 diphthongs. Many colloquial dialects have witnessed a monophthogization of diphthongs.

    (The wikipedia article is a good place to start)


  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Cambridge, UK
    Native language
    French (France)
    Posts
    3,243

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    This is a very dubious statement. Arabic does retain a lot of (apparently) archaic features that are lost in many other Semitic languages, but the same can be said of Akkadian, which has a good number of (apparently) archaic features lost in Arabic and all other languages (e.g. multiple present classes in the derived stems). But since proto-Semitic is in any case a hypothetical reconstruction from the attested Semitic languages, the question of which features of the daughter languages are retentions and which are innovations is to a large extent a petitio principii. The situation is totally different from that in (say) Romance or Indo-Aryan, where the mother language (Latin, Old Indian) is actually attested, rather than reconstructed.

    To stay with phonology: Ancient South Arabian (curiously missing from the table in the Wikipedia article), Modern South Arabian, and (Masoretic pointed) Hebrew retain three voiceless non-emphatic sibilants (s1, s2, s3), while Arabic merges s1 and s3 as س and has ش for s2.
    Last edited by fdb; 2nd December 2012 at 1:29 AM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Paris, France
    Native language
    Arabic (Hijazi Arabic)
    Age
    31
    Posts
    1,982

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    This is a very dubious statement. Arabic does retain a lot of (apparently) archaic features that are lost in many other Semitic languages, but the same can be said of Akkadian, which has a good number of (apparently) archaic features lost in Arabic and all other languages (e.g. multiple present classes in the derived stems). But since proto-Semitic is in any case a hypothetical reconstruction from the attested Semitic languages, the question of which features of the daughter languages are retentions and which are innovations is to a large extent a petitio principii. The situation is totally different from that in (say) Romance or Indo-Aryan, where the mother language (Latin, Old Indian) is actually attested, rather than reconstructed.

    To stay with phonology: Ancient South Arabian (curiously missing from the table in the Wikipedia article), Modern South Arabian, and (Masoretic pointed) Hebrew retain three voiceless non-emphatic sibilants (s1, s2, s3), while Arabic merges s1 and s3 as س and has ش for s2.
    It's true that if you take just one aspect, some languages are more conservative than Arabic, as in the phonology of South Arabian. However, if you do compare Arabic with other languages in the group, Arabic ends up being more conservative.
    Akkadian for example, preserves the older verbal system of PS, but when it comes to phonology, it shows the most phonemic loss from PS. Hebrew also merges nearly 6 others, while still guarding the distinction (in writing) of the sibilants.

    Proto-Semitic is a hypothetical reconstruction, true. However, Comparative Semitists can have a clear idea whether a feature is a retention or an innovation (I have once linked to an article by Huehnergard). Let's look for example at the identical case endings, would you say it was an innovation on the part of Classical Arabic, Akkadian and Ugaritic? 3 languages from different sub-families, diachronically remote from each other!
    Unlikely...thus it can be safely assumed to be a retention from PS.


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Native language
    Israel - Hebrew
    Posts
    702

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    The distinction between the different phonemes has been almost completely preserved in Arabic (except the the equivalent of the Hebrew sin) but their phonetic value is quite different in many cases. For example, it is assumed the the original realization of the emphatic consonants was ejective, as in the southern Semitic languages, rather than pharyngealized.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Cambridge, UK
    Native language
    French (France)
    Posts
    3,243

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Quote Originally Posted by tFighterPilot View Post
    For example, it is assumed the the original realization of the emphatic consonants was ejective, as in the southern Semitic languages, rather than pharyngealized.
    This is actually an excellent example of the pitfalls of extrapolating a proto-language from an arbitrary selection of daughter languages. According to the most recent experimental-phonetic research (Janet Watson) the emphatic consonants in Modern South Arabian (Mehri etc.) are not ejectives but pharyngealised (very much as in Arabic). Consonants (emphatic and non-emphatic) are realised as ejectives in pausal position only.

    This leaves us with (phonologically) ejective emphatics only in Ethiopic (for the moment at least).

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Cambridge, UK
    Native language
    French (France)
    Posts
    3,243

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Quote Originally Posted by tFighterPilot View Post
    The distinction between the different phonemes has been almost completely preserved in Arabic (except the the equivalent of the Hebrew sin)
    As I mentioned before, Arabic DOES preserve the reflex of s2 (=Heb. śin) as ش. . But s1 (=Heb. šin) and s3 (=Heb. samek) merge as س .

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Native language
    Australian English
    Posts
    1,559

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    A few other features Arabic has preserved that most other Semitic languages have lost are:


    • Retention of noon when it has no vowel, which is lost in other Central Semtiic languages and in Old South Arabian and probably others.
    • Retention of distinctiveness of 28 out of 29 of the original PS phonemes (not clearly mentioned above)
    • Retention of broken plurals (this is debated, but there's evidence that it existed in different sub-families, indicating it was probably an original feature)
    • Retention of a massive amount of vocabulary lost or unrecorded in other Semitic languages. Arabic has by far the largest repertoire of primitive 3-radical roots.
    • Retention of waw in w-initial roots, all other Central Semitic languages shifted these to become y-initial.


    As well as these features which are pretty much distinctly preserved in Arabic, there are many other features, as mentioned above, preserved in Arabic and a few other languages.

    Also in regards to the merger of s1/s3, some dialects of Old North Arabian still retained this distinction, and around the same time Old South Arabian had also begun undergoing the same merger, so both lanaguages retained all 29 PS phonemes for roughly the same time.

    Also what is distinct about Arabic's retentions is that they've survived right up until the present day, when most of these features were lost thousands of years ago in all other languages.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Cambridge, UK
    Native language
    French (France)
    Posts
    3,243

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    I think we agree about most of this. Just let me make a few remarks on your five bulleted points:


    1. I think you are referring to the non-assimilation of n to the following consonant. Yes, Arabic does not have this innovation, but neither do many other languages (including the Mesopotamian dialects of Aramaic such as Mandaic).
    2. You mean 29 CONSONANT phonemes, I think. If so, I agree. But don't forget about Ugaritic. (I think Old Akkadian probably also had the full battery of Semitic consonants, but could not write them in the Sumerian-based script. Similarly the oldest stage of Aramaic.)
    3. Broken plurals are only in Arabic, South Arabian and Ethiopic. Are they an innovation or a retention? How are we to know?
    4. “Massive vocabulary”. Yes, but bear this in mind: Arabic has by far the largest text corpus of any Semitic language, and also a very rich lexicographical tradition.
    5. The shift of initial w to y is restricted to Aramaic and Canaanaic.


    May I add that the subdivision of Semitic into “Central”, “Southern” etc. etc. is a matter of intense disagreement among Semitists. I personally think that the arguments for grouping Arabic together with Aramaic and Canaanaic in a “Central Semitic” group are extremely weak.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Native language
    Israel - Hebrew
    Posts
    702

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Broken plurals are most likely a retention since there are traces of it in Hebrew as well. In Akkadian, however, there are no traces of it at all, so it might be a west Semitic innovation.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Native language
    Australian English
    Posts
    1,559

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    I think you are referring to the non-assimilation of n to the following consonant. Yes, Arabic does not have this innovation, but neither do many other languages (including the Mesopotamian dialects of Aramaic such as Mandaic).
    Yes, sorry my description was not quite right. The noon is geminated to the next consonant, but in languages like Hebrew that gemination then disappeared altogether.

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    You mean 29 CONSONANT phonemes, I think. If so, I agree. But don't forget about Ugaritic. (I think Old Akkadian probably also had the full battery of Semitic consonants, but could not write them in the Sumerian-based script. Similarly the oldest stage of Aramaic.)
    Ugaritic retained 27 of them (3200+ years ago).

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    Broken plurals are only in Arabic, South Arabian and Ethiopic. Are they an innovation or a retention? How are we to know?
    As tFighter mentioned some other languages have vestiges of them.

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    “Massive vocabulary”. Yes, but bear this in mind: Arabic has by far the largest text corpus of any Semitic language, and also a very rich lexicographical tradition.
    True. But Aramaic had a similar tradition during its time as the Lingua Franca of the Middle East, yet its arsenal of roots is nowhere near as broad as Arabic's.

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    The shift of initial w to y is restricted to Aramaic and Canaanaic.
    And Ugaritic... ie. pretty much all Central Semitic languages except Arabic.

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    May I add that the subdivision of Semitic into “Central”, “Southern” etc. etc. is a matter of intense disagreement among Semitists. I personally think that the arguments for grouping Arabic together with Aramaic and Canaanaic in a “Central Semitic” group are extremely weak.
    Well some of the most recognised scholars in the field group them this way. What alternative nomenclature do you suggest?

  13. #13
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Cambridge, UK
    Native language
    French (France)
    Posts
    3,243

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Quote Originally Posted by Abu Rashid View Post

    Well some of the most recognised scholars in the field group them this way.
    The number of living “recognised” scholars of comparative Semitic can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. I think you will have trouble finding two who share the same view on the subgrouping of Semitic.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Native language
    Israel - Hebrew
    Posts
    702

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    The number of living “recognised” scholars of comparative Semitic can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. I think you will have trouble finding two who share the same view on the subgrouping of Semitic.
    That is true, but most do agree on the division between east and west Semitic. The disagreements are on smaller things. For example, my professor for Semitic linguistics (Shlomo Yizre'el) said that the old south Arabian languages were central Semitic rather than south Semitic.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Native language
    Hebrew
    Posts
    2,781

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Quote Originally Posted by Abu Rashid View Post
    Yes, sorry my description was not quite right. The noon is geminated to the next consonant, but in languages like Hebrew that gemination then disappeared altogether.
    The gemination is lost in Modern Hebrew but there are other traces of the noon: b-g-d-k-p-t are pronounced in such situation as if they were geminated. At least b-k-p.
    Ugaritic retained 27 of them (3200+ years ago).
    Hebrew of that time seems to have retained 25 (the 22 letters plus heth, ghain, sin). Some say 26, adding the ancient th based on the Shiboleth incident for example.
    As tFighter mentioned some other languages have vestiges of them.
    Traces of broken plural in Hebrew? I am not sure there's such reliable phenomenon.
    And Ugaritic... ie. pretty much all Central Semitic languages except Arabic.
    The shift of w -> y in Hebrew is only partial. Many conjugations preserve the "w", either as "w" or "o".

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Native language
    Israel - Hebrew
    Posts
    702

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Shiboleth indicated the difference between Shin and Samekh which still exists today.

    The traces of broken plurals I speak of are that the difference between singular and plural in Hebrew is not only the added suffix but also a change in form. For example, nouns of the form KeTeL are changed in plural to KTaLim.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Native language
    Hebrew
    Posts
    2,781

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Quote Originally Posted by tFighterPilot View Post
    Shiboleth indicated the difference between Shin and Samekh which still exists today.
    Not agreed by everyone. I saw the other hypothesis in an article by Prof. Haim Rabin (as far as I remember).
    The traces of broken plurals I speak of are that the difference between singular and plural in Hebrew is not only the added suffix but also a change in form. For example, nouns of the form KeTeL are changed in plural to KTaLim.
    This is a different thing, not broken plural. Maybe traces of a secondary change during/after the shift from proto-Semitic qatl to Hebrew qetel.
    Last edited by origumi; 5th December 2012 at 12:06 PM. Reason: spelling

  18. #18
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Cambridge, UK
    Native language
    French (France)
    Posts
    3,243

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    The expansion of *qatl (Heb. qεtεl) to *qatal in the plural occurs also in Aramaic, e.g. in ʾalp-ā ‘thousand’ (Syr. alpā, with hard p), pl. abs. ʾalap-īn (Syr. alpīn, with soft p). But I do not really think this can be called a remnant of broken plurals. The system of broken plurals in Arabic, South Arabian and Ethiopic is much more complicated than this.
    Last edited by fdb; 5th December 2012 at 12:11 PM.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Geneva
    Native language
    German (Germany)
    Age
    55
    Posts
    20,100

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Quote Originally Posted by tFighterPilot View Post
    Shiboleth indicated the difference between Shin and Samekh which still exists today.
    Not really. The spellings with Samaekh and Shin you find in the Tanach is just an approximation in the attempt to represent a phonetic difference that cannot be expressed with the Phoenician 22-letter Abjad.

    EDIT: Crossed with #17

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    Norway
    Native language
    Polish
    Age
    63
    Posts
    4,105

    Re: Arabic is the best-preserved model of the Semitic languages

    Quote Originally Posted by rayloom View Post
    Akkadian for example, preserves the older verbal system of PS, but when it comes to phonology, it shows the most phonemic loss from PS. Hebrew also merges nearly 6 others, while still guarding the distinction (in writing) of the sibilants.
    I thought that Akkadian was extinct about 2000 years ago.

Page 1 of 4 123 ... LastLast

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •