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Perhaps eventually all languages will evolve so that they include some clicks among their consonants – Peter Ladefoged

Jahai: /kpotkpɛt/ ‘the feeling of waking up to the sound of munching’


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I have a question about triconsonantal root systems that's been bugging me for some time. Let's say that there are two roots, K-R-S and R-S-T. Now let's posit the word karasata, and assume that ka- and -ta are valid affixes.

Are there any comparable ambiguities in real-life triconsonantal root languages? I suppose that context would make it clear, but what about in isolation?

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2005 3:34 pm 
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I think other Afro-Asiatic languages have biconsonental root systems, don't they?


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 13, 2005 11:22 am 
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 05, 2005 2:55 pm 
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Y'know what, I feel like reviving this thread.


First of all, one little interesting note: Modern Hebrew is currently in the process of rapidly expanding its quadraconsonantal roots. It's forming new ones. How?

Through a process much like one English underwent, actually. Consider the following cycle, where a verb gave rise to a noun, that in turn gave rise to a new verb:

profess > profession > professional > professionalize

As well as many other verbs, like "condensate" (from condensation, instead of condense) or "obligate" (from obligation, instead of oblige).


Well, remember how I said earlier how Hebrew extracted the consonants from many foreign loan words to make new verbs, like how the loan טלפון telefon gave the root T-L-P-N, which in turn gave the new verb מטלפנת metalpenet "I/You/She is telephoning..." and all of its forms?

One of the nominalization patterns Hebrew uses is the "tool" pattern, whose shalem pattern is maCCeC. Ex: מחשב machshev "computer" from the root ח-ש-ב (CH-SH-B 'to think'). Hey, wait a minute! מחשב has four consonants, despite being derived from a triconsonantal root through a regular pattern. Well, if it has four consonants, what's to keep me from doing with it the same thing that happened to telefon?

And so the new root M-CH-SH-B was born, meaning "to computerize".

היא ממחשבת את הרשומות עיסקיות שלחם
hi' memachshevet 'et harshumot ha'isqiyot shelachem
"She's computerizing your business records"



Also, I recently got a book that includes several chapters about how exactly the triconsonantal system came into existance from what was originally a very Indo-Europeanesque Proto-Afro-Asiatic grammar. Is anyone interested in a summary?

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I wonder if I can work some of this stuff into a IE-style language family...

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Perhaps eventually all languages will evolve so that they include some clicks among their consonants – Peter Ladefoged

Jahai: /kpotkpɛt/ ‘the feeling of waking up to the sound of munching’


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Perhaps eventually all languages will evolve so that they include some clicks among their consonants – Peter Ladefoged

Jahai: /kpotkpɛt/ ‘the feeling of waking up to the sound of munching’


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2005 3:08 pm 
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Alright, part one of the origin of Semitic triconsonantal roots...



The ancestor of the Semitic languages (pre-Proto-Semitic, we could say) had perfectly pronounceable roots, much like IE languages. The three my book uses as examples are *ktum 'cover', *ptil 'twist', and *mūt 'die'.

Let's use work in the first person. The first person singular past was formed by adding a- to the root:

aktum "I covered"
aptil "I twisted"
amūt "I died""

(Why are we working in the past? Well, Proto-Semitic didn't have a present tense - it worked within an imperfective/perfective system. The Hebrew present tense derives from earlier participles, which is why the present tense verbs act more like adjectives than the other verbs).

The future tense was formed by adding some ending to the above past forms. This ending is long gone, so let's just call it -ā. So the future tense would be:

aktumā "I will cover"
aptilā "I will twist"
amūtā "I will die"

From here, PSS took the route of the Germanic languages. The ending -ā caused the vowel immediately preceding it (ie, the vowel of the root) to lower to /a/, while preserving the original length:

aktamā "I will cover"
aptalā "I will twist"
amātā "I will die"

The future tense ending then dropped. We now have ablaut distinguishing the past tense from the future tense:

aktum > aktam
aptil > aptal
mūt > amāt

(Now, it's possible that the assimilation didn't occur for all roots, but analogy would have spread the ablaut alteration)

Now we've got the very beginnings of the consonantal root beginning to appear. Vowel alterations are now important, but this is still nothing special - the Germanic languages do more than this.

We've got a few verbs here with three consonants, but like English, they're still connected to each other. Just like you can say "spin", "span", and "spun" by changing the vowel, the "sp" are still stuck together. The same is true with the "kt" or "pt" in the roots above: the "kt" and "m" in "aktVm" are seperate, but the k and t are stuck. We need to seperate these consonants first.

Now for a short diversion that actually is relevant, despite how it may seem at first:

PSS at this point had many roots that contained both three consonants (like ktum and ptil) and only two consonants (like mūt). Modern Semitic languages are majority triconsonantal. So how did all of these biconsonantal roots become triconsonantal?

Affixes. Affixes that fused to the root. For example, let's have a verb *pil, meaning "lie" (as in lie down). To turn this into an adjective, the PSS speakers added some sort of prefix. Here they could add *?a-, meaning "low", to form the adjective *?apil "low-lying". PSS also had a case system for adjectives, so let's add the ending -um (it doesn't matter what it means in this example), to get the affixed *?apilum.

Remember how I mentioned earlier the cycle of verb to [some other part of speech] to verb again, such as "compute" > "computer" > "computerize"? Well, the same process could turn the adjective *?apil back into a verb: *a?apil "I became low" (and, of course, its future form *a?apal by analogy).


Now, back the formation of purely consonantal roots.

We've got a simple ablaut system going, but what happens when you introduce a powerful syncope? One occured in PSS, which eliminated every penult vowel in words with three or more syllables. So, how does this affect our verbs?

*aktum, *aptil, and *amūt are unaffected, being only two syllables. But what about our adjective *?apilum and our verb *a?apil? They would be shortened:

?apilum > ?aplum
a?apil > a?pil

The verb now looks a lot more like the older verbs.

But wait a minute! Let's look at the structure of these two words. The adjective is CaCCum. The verb is aCCiC. The consonants have all been split apart! In the adjective, we've got ? and pl paired, while in the verb we have ?p and l.

Analogy then kicks in:

The verb *a?pil "I became low" yielded the adjective *?aplum "low" by rearranging the consonants and vowel from aCCiC to CaCCum. The verb *aptil "I twisted" has the same structure as *a?pil. So, what would its adjective form be? *patlum "twisted", of course!


And so all three consonants were liberated from each other. In the speakers' minds, the vowels were no longer an important part of the stems, and so we now have purely consonantal roots. From here, we just need to develop new vowel patterns...




That'll be for next time.





(Information/Theories are from "The Unfolding of Language" by Guy Deutscher).

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 09, 2005 8:54 pm 
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First of all, I called the cause of the original tense ablaut the prefix -ā. Of course, that's only one theory. Another common one is the Laryngeal Theory (fun, Semitic gets one too)

In the modern Semitic languages, it is clear laryngeals like to mess up vowels a bit. They tend to drag vowels closer to /a/, because /a/ is the closest vowel shape-of-tongue-wise to most laryngeal consonants. For example, look at the Hebrew noun תפוח, originally tapuch, but the final /X/ caused the vowel to break, yielding modern tapúach. Note that this only happens at the end of a word: the plural is still regular, תפוחים tapuchim.

So, let's say instead that the past tense was formed by adding an ending (any one, it doesn't matter) to the present/future form. Let's just stick with -ā. So we've got (when adding in a new laryngeal-final root, *şīħ 'laugh')

Root - Past - Future
ptil - aptilā - aptil
mūt - amūtā - amūt
şīħ - aşīħā - aşīħ

Now, let's have a change like in Hebrew: the word-final laryngeal causes the preceding vowel to break and introduce an /a/. So, the last one becomes: şīħ - aşīħā - aşīaħ.

Now, we've got speakers who begin to analagize this introduced /a/ to all verbs, thinking that it's an integral part of the future tense. This vowel then overtakes the former vowel, leaving:

Root - Past - Future
ptil - aptilā - aptal
mūt - amūtā - amāt
şīħ - aşīħā - aşāħ

And then the final -ā marking the past tense drops through regular sound change, giving us our new ablaut system once again:

Root - Past - Future
ptil - aptil - aptal
mūt - amūt - amāt
şīħ - aşīħ - aşāħ



Anyways...

Alright, so we've got tenses and an adjective. But what about that mess of binyanim, where a verb can take a slightly diffeent vowel pattern to acquire a new meaning? How did those form? Let's look at a few specific patterns...

The Reflexive: Doing Something to Oneself

The Hebrew Reflexive Pattern: hitCaCeC (Third Person Singular Masculine Past Tense Reflexive)
The Arabic Reflexive Pattern: iCtaCiC (Imperative Reflexive)

The reflexive in most Semitic languages is made by inserting a "t" in between the first and second consonants, or, in the case of Hebrew, before the first. This likely came from an ancient reflexive pronoun, something like ta, which eventually prefixed itself to the verb. In most Semitic languages, it metathesized with the first consonant of the root, yielding their modern patterns.

In Hebrew, the metathesis wasn't as overarching as in Arabic. The hit- prefix remains in front of the root. However, if the first consonant of the root is /s/, /z/, /ts/, or /S/, the metathesis does occur: *S-K-L "look at, watch" becomes הסתכל histakel, instead of the usual *hitsakel.

The Intensive - Doing Something Intensely

Hebrew Intensive Pattern: CiCCeC (Third Person Masculine Singular Past Tense Intensive)
Akkadian Intensive Pattern: uCaCCaC (First Person Singular Future Tense Intensive).

As you can see, the intensive is usually formed by geminating the second consonant. In Modern Hebrew, however, the geminate has collapsed, making the vowels more important.

This was likely originally formed by reduplication, as many languages reduplicate a word to make it more intense.

(Conversely, modern Hebrew does the same to make an adjective less intense: ירוק yaroq "green", ירוקרוק yeroqroq "greenish". This is a form of diminutive.)

You don't have to reduplicate the whole word: just one syllable is fine. So, if I may use the root *D-B-R "talk" (which is now limited to the intensive pattern due to blurring of meaning)...

An older *daber could have been made intensive by reduplicating to *debdaber. Assimilation then changed this to *debbeber. Then syncope and assimilation again reduces this to *dibber.

The Causative - To Make Someone Do Something

Hebrew Causative Pattern: hiCCiC (Third Person Masculine Singular Past Tense Causative)
Akkadian Causative Pattern: ushaCCiC (ditto; the u- is a pronomial)

This is formed by adding sha-, or a reduced form ha-, to the root. There are two possible origins:

Like the Reflexive, this could have been its own word at one point, likely meaning something like "make" or "cause". The same thing happened in English, although it didn't expand that far: in Proto-Germanic, the verb "ian" (make) attached to the other of other verbs to make causatives: "fallian" (to cause to fall), "drankian" (to cause to drink) (Don't shoot me - I don't know Proto-Germanic, so I made up some of the forms... this change did actually happen, though).

This suffix caused the vowels to change, and then the suffix dropped. As a result, English is left with a few causative pairs, such as:

to fall ~ to fell
to drink ~ to drench
to sit ~ to set
to rise ~ to raise

Etc.



However, this likely didn't happen in Semitic. Remember, I mentioned the sha- prefix earlier - it turned verbs into adjectives. So, we could have a cycle like:

*pil "lie" > *sha-pil "low-lying" > *shapil "to make low-lying" (ie, "to cause to lie down").

Hey, look! If we ignore the adjective in the middle, since speakers aren't going to remember the order of events generations after they happen, we have a causative: "lie" became "to cause to lie". So sha- could be reananlyzed as a causative.


The Passive - To Be Done

The passive originated from a prefixed n-, likely deriving from a verb meaning "to be" or "to become" followed by an adjective. In Hebrew, the basic passive pattern is niCCaC.

However, there is more than passive possible. I'm not exactly sure how these others formed... Posit your own hypotheses! :P

For example, Hebrew has two passive binyanim: A passive intensive and a passive causative:

Active | Passive

Intensive: CiCCeC, CuCCaC
Causative: hiCCiC, huCCaC

As you can see, the passive was formed by taking the active pattern and changing the vowels to u-a. How n- caused this, I'm not sure... Mabye the prefix was more complex at first?


Binyan Formation in Action - Or How Politics Affects Language

Well, that's fine 'n dandy. We've got several hypothetical examples. But can we actually trace any of them?

Yes, actually. Modern Hebrew colloquially has developed an eighth binyan, called hitpu'al, which is the passive of reflexive: "to be made to do something to oneself". It was created in the 1940s :P

This sounds a bit ridiculous at first, but it does have a use. For example, the root *P-T-R "set free" in the regular reflexive means "set oneself free", or by extension, "to resign". Now, it's perfectly likely to talk about someone being made to resign themselves...

Plus how about "to be made to wash oneself"? Or "to be made to volunteer oneself"? Those are relatively useful.

Anyway, it's origins. In 1948, an Israeli politician was forced to resign (you know how it goes...). Being very frustrated, he coined a new binyan in a speech expressing what happened, by analogy. Let's look at this:

Active | Passive
Intensive: piter "he set free (ie, he fired somebody)", putar "he was set free (ie, he was fired)"

Causative: hiftir "he caused somebody to be set free (ie, he caused somebody to be fired), huftar "he was cause... you get the point)

So, piter > putar, hiftir > huftar...

Now we have hitpater "he set himself free/resigned". Well, both of those passives are formed by using the vowel pattern u-a, so...

Hitputar! "He was made to set himself free"/"He was resigned"

Of course, this is nonstandard, but shows the powerful force of analogy.





And if you were curious, here's the root *P-T-R in each of the binyanim (all 3 Sg Masc Past), for meaning comparison:

Pa'al (Default): פטר patar "he dismissed, he exempted"
Nif'al (Simple Passive): נפטר niftar "he was dismissed, he was released, he passed away"

Pi'el (Intensive): פיטר piter "he fired, he discharged"
Pu'al (Passive of Intensive): פוטר putar "he was fired, he was discharged"

Hif'il (Causative): הפטיר hiftir "he caused smby to be fired"
Huf'al (Passive of Causative): הופטר huftar "he was caused to be fired by somebody"

Hitpa'el (Reflexive): התפטר hitpater "he resigned, he got rid of somebody"
*Hitpu'al (Passive of Reflexive): התפוטר hitputar "he was made to resign, he was gotten rid of"



Okay, that's it for now. From here it should be easy to see how this system can be expanded to include all sorts of concepts.

_________________
http://www.veche.net/
http://www.veche.net/novegradian - Grammar of Novegradian
http://www.veche.net/alashian - Grammar of Alashian


Last edited by Mecislau on Wed Aug 22, 2007 7:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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