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Becoming triconsonantal, was: 'Arabiiya

From:Vasiliy Chernov <bc_@...>
Date:Tuesday, September 25, 2001, 15:56
On Mon, 24 Sep 2001 20:55:57 EDT, David Peterson <DigitalScream@...>
> But, now I have a question which really has been teasing me for awhile >but which I never voiced. What's the deal with Arabic and Hebrew and all >Semitic languages? If we are to assume that Arabic did NOT descend into >humanity via Allah talking to Muhammad (and that, consequently, Hebrew and >Aramaic and all somehow arose from this), then how did the triconsonantal >system come about? It seems so artificial and unnatural to me that people >naturally speaking language would sort of naturally decide that (a) it was >the consonants that were important as to specific semantic categories, and >(b) vowels moved in and around them in ways that unite semantic >specifications with syntactic and schematic/thematic patterns. It seems
>it's a constructed language.
> How did ordinary human beings naturally develop this >system and, what's more, preserve it? It absolutely mystifies me.
I tried to model the evolution of 'Semitoid' morphology more than once. I can sketch a GMP of one of such projects (suspended at an embryonic stage, like most of my conlangs). The starting point was Latin. Sound evolution goes as follows: 1. Word-initial consonant clusters are simplified yielding new phonemes. Non-initial consonants are modified in various ways depending on the quality of *preceding* vowel, also producing new phonemes. Word-initial vowels are 'covered' by a glottal stop. 2. Synharmonism comes into play: all vowels in a word assimilate in quality with the word's *last* vowel. 3. Stress rules change: accented is the word's first syllable if it's heavy (ending in a clustered consonant or long vowel), otherwise the second syllable. In disyllabic words, the accent falls on the first syllable, whose vowel is lengthened if the syllable wasn't heavy. 4. Non-initial consonants (and clusters), if not adjacent to a stressed vowel, are weakened (partly to zero, partly to glides, and rarely to other types of consonants). 5. Unstressed vowels are mostly reduced to schwa, sometimes to zero. 6. Stress rules change again: the accent is always on the first syllable. When second syllable loses its stress, its vowel in certain environments is reduced to zero, otherwise to schwa. 7. Intervocalic combinations like 'consonant cluster+glide' are broken by inserting a vowel whose quality corresponds to the glide's quality. Clusters of more than two consonants are broken by inserting a schwa. In combinations like 'long (accented) vowel+consonant+glide', certain vowels are split into combinations 'short vowel + glide (whose quality depends on the original vowel) + short vowel (whose quality depends on the original glide, which itself is mostly dropped). 8. Unstressed schwa's contract with adjacent glides, yielding several distinguishable vowel phonemes, long and short. Accented vowels also contract with adjacent glides, producing long vowels that merge with phonemes already existing in this position. * * * I omitted some less important changes (e. g. certain types of intervocalic clusters are simplified in the very beginning), as well as some analogical processes (e. g. levelling in paradigms that included both disyllabic and polysyllabic forms). Note that the last two changes, in certain forms, make the stems with original long vowel in first syllable indistinguishable from stems with first vowel followed by a glide. The analogy then destroys all difference between these two categories. Now, some features of the resulting system: Syllable structure is CV(C). Most stems are triconsonantal; stems seemingly containing only two consonants are morphologically treated as if they contained a contracted glide; stems of four consonants, where the last consonant cannot be identified with a suffix, are rare. V1 (the vowel after the word's first consonant) inherits the quality of the vowel in Latin inflectional ending; cannot be zero. V2 (which CAN be zero) inherits the quality of a consonant in a syllable that used to be unstressed (during stages 3 - 5). Mostly, this vowel reflects a Latin suffix or part of inflection. V3 and all sounds further to the right reflect Latin consonants (suffixes or parts of inflection) that used to follow the consonant reflected by V2. I believe the sound changes involved are enough naturalistic. I don't think, however, that Semitic langs (and Afro-Asiatic in general) have actually emerged due to a similar set of events ;) Basilius


Eric Christopherson <rakko@...>