Highlights 01



In comparing English and other Indo-European languages with Hebrew one may hardly expect to find more than a very few really similar words. But there is a considerable number of similar roots. The gap has been caused by the different structures both sides have applied to build words on the basis of the roots.


It is therefore fundamental to study the development of Hebrew roots.


    The usual basic statement is that the Hebrew alèphbet consists of 22 consonants and has no vowels. But the terms "consonant" and "vowel" are in practice justified only by their functions in writing. Of the 22 letter-signs, only 18 indicate sounds that can be compared with consonants as used in Indo-European. Of the other four, two called "Waw", and "Yod" are better considered as "semi-vowels": They express sounds out of two groups (of sounds) that are originally a mixture of vowels and consonants : "W;U;O;V" and " Y; I".
    A third one, the so-called vowel stop Aleph, though grammatically it is often considered as functioning the way consonants do, in reality just indicates that at its place in a word a vowel has to be pronounced. This is seen at the beginning of a syllable. The Aleph has no own sound and thus is not a "con-sonant". The reader is then supposed to know which vowel to pronounce. Number four, the Ayin, is very important, but as an accentuated vowel stop its functions are very much like those of an Aleph. In many cases it has indeed developed out of an earlier Aleph. Upon comparing Hebrew with Indo-European languages, one notes that Aleph and Ayin often are prefixes in origin, a phenomenon similar to the use of initial vowels, especially "Alpha" in Greek.


    There is a wide-spread opinion that Hebrew roots basically consist of three consonants.


    So in Hebrew most roots that are used are seen as consisting of three "consonants", which often is visibly true, but there are some important amendments to be made. First of all, there has been a vast development from older two consonant roots towards three consonant roots . This has taken place in a number of different ways.


    Secondly the spoken Hebrew language did not use only vowels and consonants, but also two extremely important so-called semivowels, as just mentioned.


    These two semivowels have originated and find their cause in their own character of spoken sounds. Of the semi-vowels, letters used in writing, one deals with the group of sounds that comprises "V; W; U; O". These sounds tend to shift among each other or from one to the other, vowel or consonant, both in Semitic and in Indo-European languages. The other semi-vowel deals with a smaller group , "Y, I". Important is that in language development, again in both Semitic and Indo-European , sounds often swift from the first group to the second. "Thus " W " may become " Y " and " O " may become " I ".


    One always has to remind that writing has come later than speaking and that the letters that are the expression of writing are just indications of existing sounds of speech and do not have an independent life of their own, though in linguistic discussion one sometimes tends to look at them that way.


    Two consonant roots had to be pronounced in words and vowels were necessary for that. When alphabetic spelling began, the choice was to write only "consonants", without vowels.


    Perhaps not all idea's regarding the two symbols " W " and " Y ", in Hebrew "Waw" and " Yod ", representing semi-vowels were identical. Important is that they more or less gradually came to be used also as vowel-signs. These are called "mater lectionis", under influence of the existing idea that these symbols were "consonants". In fact this way they just expressed one of their realities, as vowels.


    Seen the fact that Hebrew three consonant roots basically have developed out of two consonant roots, be it already in Proto-Semitic, when comparing we must take the older ones in consideration and in many cases these will have to be hypothesized on the basis of the newer three consonant ones.



Created: Tuesday 6 November 2007 at 22.30.54 Updated: Tuesday 9 April 2013 at 16.53.02