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Questions de linguistique semitique: racine et lexeme: histoire de la recherche 1940-2000.

Questions de linguistique semitique: racine et lexeme: histoire de la recherche 1940-2000. By GREGORIO DEL OLMO LETE. Paris: JEAN MAISONNEUVE, 2003. Pp. 226.

This book, based on a bibliographically rich course given by the author at the College de France in May-June 2001, deals with some of the thorniest problems in Semitic and Afroasiatic linguistics: the nature of the Semitic root (biliteralism vs. triliteralism), the Proto-Semitic consonant system, and the genetic classification of the Semitic languages.

Let me begin by taking up what is innovative in this monograph, viz., the new classification of Semitic languages proposed in chapter five. According to Olmo Lete's theory (p. 196), Proto-Semitic split into Proto-South Arabian (which developed into the six Modern South Arabian languages), and a tripartite division into (1) [Proto-]Palaeo-Syrian (yielding Eblaite, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Hebrew, etc.), (2) Proto-Amorite (yielding Aramaic, which in turn develops into the Arabic sub-branch, including Safaitic, Lihyanic, Thamudian, and Classical and modern Arabic dialects) and [Proto-] South Semitic (developing into the Old South Arabian languages, such as Sabaean, Minean, and Qatabanian, in addition to Ethiopic), and (3) Akkadian.

I am pleased to see that the author does not consider Ugaritic a Canaanite language, since I have long favored this perspective, believing that Ugaritic shares more features with Arabic than many classifications would have us believe (the author seems unaware of my "Does Ugaritic Go with Arabic in Semitic Genealogical Sub-Classification?" Folia Orientalia 28 [1987]: 115-28). However, I am dismayed to read that he considers Eblaite very far removed from Akkadian. Most Semitists, I believe, would accept the views of Manfred Krebernik ("Linguistic Classification of Eblaite: Methods, Problems, and Results," in The Study of the Ancient Near East in the Twenty-First Century, ed. J. S. Cooper and G. M. Schwartz [Winona Lake, Ind., 1996], 233-49): "This language [Eblaite] is so closely related to Akkadian that it may be classified as an early Akkadian dialect" (249). I believe Olmo Lete is correct, however, in his view that the Modern South Arabian languages are not a direct continuation of the Old South Arabian languages. However, most Semitists would be reluctant to derive the latter from Proto-Amorite.

Turning to the Semitic root, chapter one is an assessment of numerous studies on it from 1940 to 2000 (pp. 17-31). Chapter two is a continuation of chapter 1, but focuses more on vocalism problems (pp. 33-55). Let me take up the primary nouns in Semitic: ?ab 'father,' ?ax 'brother,' etc. My own opinion is in agreement with A. Gai's argument ("Several Points of Semitic and Akkadian Grammar," Le Museon 114 [2001]: 1-13) against Giorgio Buccellati, who maintains that most of the primary nouns in Akkadian are not derived from any root (p. 49, n. 34, quoting Buccellati's A Structural Grammar of Babylonian [Wiesbaden, 1996]). I see nothing wrong in deriving both of the aforementioned from the Proto-Semitic biconsonantal roots *?b and *?x respectively.

Chapter three examines publications dealing with Proto-Semitic consonants. The author adopts the standard view that the Proto-Semitic emphatics were glottalized (p. 89), although there is still a lack of unanimity on this hypothesis. Furthermore, he accepts the widely held opinion that Proto-Semitic had three lateralized phonemes: */[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]/, *[s], and *[s] (ibid.). Since the author's bibliography is quite thorough, let me add reference to my "Remarks on Proto-Semitic Phonology," Language Sciences 8.1 (1986): 37-48, not listed in his bibliography.

Chapter four is a careful exploration of the theory of root determinatives, including modern work by J. Macdonald ("New Thoughts on a Biliteral Origin for the Semitic Verb," Annual of the Leeds University Oriental Society 5 [1963-1965]: 63-85) and Christopher Ehret ("The Origins of the Third Consonants in Semitic Roots," Journal of Afroasiatic Languages 1 [1989]: 109-202). As has been pointed out by Andrzej Zaborski with whom I am in firm agreement: "Many of Ehret's comparisons are unacceptable since his semantic method is quite uncritical in many cases" ("Biconsonantal Roots and Triconsonantal Root Variation in Semitic: Solutions and Prospects," in Semitic Studies in Honor of Wolf Leslau on the Occasion of his Eighty-Fifth Birthday, ed. Alan S. Kaye, vol. II [Wiesbaden, 1991], 1678).

Let me conclude with corrections of some bibliographical citations. There are a number of misprints and errors to report: the acute accent is left off the name of the Czech Arabist P. Zemanek (p. 197); "K." Brockelmann's initial should be C(arl) (p. 200); Christopher Ehret's Reconstructing Proto Afroasiatic (Proto-Afrasian): Vowels, Tone, Consonants, and Vocabulary (Berkeley, 1995) is listed twice (p. 204); M. Golomb is David M. Golomb (in several places; e.g., p. 63, n. 12; p. 208); an article by Joseph J. Pia should be corrected to read "Multiple-tiered Vocalic Inventories: An Afroasiatic Trait" (p. 217); R. M. Rammuny is correct for Rammany (ibid.); the volume edited by William S-Y. Wang has a mistake in his name and two in the title: The Lexicon in Phonological Change (p. 221). Elsewhere: the correct spelling of Leslau's first name is Wolf (p. 17); Steinglass should be Steingass (p. 120).

Finally, in the list of Abbreviations, one should delete what is in square brackets: JNES = Journal of [The] Near Eastern Studies; UCPL = University of California Publications [on] in Linguistics.


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Author:Kaye, Alan S.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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