The biradical origin of semitic roots

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Hecker, Bernice Varjick, 1935-

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Many scholars who have worked on reconstructing Proto-Semitic postulate that the original forms of the Semitic roots consisted of three radicals, with the occurrence of the infrequent biradical and quadriradical roots needing explanation (Bergsträsser, 1983). Other scholars such as Moscati et al. (1964) and Lipinski (1997) assert that Semitic roots had both biradical and triradical forms. My hypothesis consists of two parts: 1) that all the words in the first language spoken by the Semitic peoples consisted of biradicals; 2) that the majority of the postulated biradicals entered the Semitic languages after being expanded by the addition of a third radical, with the resulting triradical having a semantic relation to the original biradical. In support of this hypothesis I develop a lexicon whose content has both to satisfy the assumed communication needs of an early people and to consist of productive biradical forms that generate triradical reflexes with associated meanings in some or all of the following languages: Akkadian, Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Ge’ez, Sabaean, Mandaic, Ugaritic, and Syriac. The following example illustrates how the lexicon items are generated. Preliminary inspection of Semitic roots yields the potential etymon ĦM1 with the basic meaning hot

1 Ħ, ħ denote a voiceless velar fricative. vii (Hebrew xam, Arabic ħamm, Ugaritic xm, Akkadian ememu, and Aramaic xamam). But hot solely in the sense of temperature has too narrow a meaning for the biradical after other reflexes are identified:2 Arabic: ħamas: zeal; ħammam: spa, hot bath; ħamaša: enrage, infuriate; ħummah: fever; ħumr: red, bloody, excited; ħumam: lava, embers; taħammus: fanaticism; ħamaza: burn the tongue while tasting Hebrew: xemed: desire; xamar: become inflamed, agitated; xomas4: be ruthless; yaxem: be hot with anger or desire, conceive; xamas: do violence, injury Mandaic: hamida: hot passion; hamima: feverish, incensed; šxm: be red, blush; šxn: be inflamed by passion Aramaic: xemah: wrath; šaxam: burn to brownness; nxam: show warm feelings Syriac: xm: heated, glowing, fervent, violent; xmt/: anger; xm/: grow faint with heat Ge’ez: xemame: passion, disaster; xemud: burnt to ashes; xamama: have a fever, be afflicted; xamz: rage, venom Ugaritic: xmt: venom; xmxmt: ardor Consequently, the biradical ĦM is redefined as hot, inflamed because of these reflexes. The core of meaning is evident from the reflexes. The following anomalies are discussed and accounted for within the framework of the hypothesis: that there exist biradicals in all these languages having the identical third radical and no others; that apart from the triradicals that are reflexes of the biradicals in the lexicon, there are many other triradical cognates. Parallels in Indo-European are presented to bolster the theoretical basis of the work. The resulting lexicon is compared to Phoenician and Sanskrit attested glossaries, as well as to Eurasiatic and Nostratic word lists. Since the postulated language was spoken much prior to the invention of writing, there is no means by which the hypothesis can be absolutely proven. However, this work will demonstrate that the biradicality hypothesis is both plausible and likely.

2 When known variants between languages were taken into account.




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