Author Topic: What are the differences between Hebrew and Arabic morphology  (Read 279 times)

Offline Thomas the Ring-Bearer

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What are the differences between Hebrew and Arabic morphology
« on: February 20, 2017, 12:25:48 PM »
I know about how the Semitic languages use three-consonant roots (Islam and Muslim) that you insert into "templates" consisting of vowels and some consonants, to form certain types of related words, but are there any differences in the kinds of words that you can form in Hebrew and Arabic? I find this kind of morphology fascinating and I am hoping to use in in a constructed language, but I couldn't find any easy guides on the Internet, so could anyone here offer some help?
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Online Daniel

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Re: What are the differences between Hebrew and Arabic morphology
« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2017, 05:32:39 PM »
I'm not as familiar with Hebrew as I am with Arabic, and it's hard to come up with any sort of general summary about how they differ. The triliteral root system is found throughout Semitic and something similar is also found in other Afro-Asiatic languages.
It may be just my biased opinion from having learned Arabic and studying these forms in detail but I got the impression that Arabic, especially Classical Arabic (and still, Modern Standard Arabic based on it), used triliteral derivations more extensively than the other modern languages. The most common changes seem to be substituting different vowels in the "root and pattern" or "templatic" sense, but there are also at least in Arabic (and to some degree in the other languages) other templates like doubling a consonant (as a geminate) or adding additional consonants in the middle of a root. Arabic also has a lot of prefixes and suffixes, and it is my impression that in the modern dialects there are no new innovations in terms of the triliteral root system (except I would assume some innovated vowel changes and  some additional words inflected similarly by analogy) but there are some new prefixes and suffixes. Even when studying MSA I got the impression that the triliteral root system was not always productive and sometimes had only frozen forms.

But that's just my impression as an Arabic student (I'm not fluent), and very generally having looked at other Semitic and Afro-Asiatic languages. So I might be wrong or misleading with some of that, and overall I think your question is interesting and worth studying in more detail.

In order to give a better answer all that I know of would be to study the systems of each language and compare them. I'd suggest looking at not just the modern Arabic dialects as well as Modern Hebrew, but also Classical Arabic and Biblical Hebrew. (My impression is that Modern Hebrew uses the triliteral root system less, but I'm not sure!) And then you could also compare Amharic and Akkadian to get a broader sense of variation. Finally, you might also look at a Berber language, Ancient Egyptian, maybe Hausa, and something from the other Afro-Asiatic groups to get a sense for how this developed.

One name to look for if you want to read a technical book about this would be Jonathan Owens who has done research on the development of Semitic morphology from a comparative/historical perspective.

I've often wondered exactly how this system developed and although there is some speculation (for example, research by Owens and others) it's hard to be sure because we don't have any examples as far as I know of languages developing this kind of system in recorded history, so we can at best compare the modern languages and try to figure out how they developed.

More broadly, templatic (or non-concatenative) morphology is found in some other languages around the world, but not too many, and certainly most famously in Semitic. One equivalent is vowel harmony and umlaut/ablaut as found in Germanic. Basically vowels change based on the first or last vowel in the word (all high vowels, all front vowels, all round vowels, or something like that). This could lead to some templatic morphology. The book I would recommend that talks more about templatic morphology around the world (only in a brief section, though) is Introducing Morphology by Rochelle Lieber, a good textbook to check out in general for morphology if you're interested. There's a 3 page section that discusses templatic morphology a bit with some useful examples from languages outside the Semitic family, specifically Cupeño and Sierra Miwok, both indigenous languages from California.

Regarding Arabic and Hebrew at least you should be able to find a lot of information on Wikipedia. You could compare their basic paradigms (e.g., past and present tense) and see if they seem similar to you. There are also some more technical articles you could try to find to read about "templatic morphology" or Semitic triliteral roots.
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