Archive for July 2008

Dion, Paul-E., “The language Spoken in Ancient Sam’al,” JNES 37/2, Colloquium on Aramaic Studies (April 1978): 115-118

July 31, 2008

This short essay is a summary of Dion’s longer French monograph on the language of Sam’al (La langue de Ya’udi: description et classement de l’ancien parler de Zincirli dans la cadre des langues sémitiques du nord-ouest). Sam’alian was a local Aramaic dialect spoken in the kingdom of Sam’al during the 8th century. It is represented in two long inscriptions dedicated to Hadad (KAI 214, also called just Hadad) and King Panamuwa II (KAI 215, also called Panamuwa or Panamu). The dialect seems archaic and some scholars, such as Moscati and Friedrich, have considered it typologically earlier than the division of Northwest Semitic into Aramaic and Canaanite. However, the Aramaic Sefire inscription shares some features with this dialect that supports the traditional view of Ginsberg and J.C.L. Gibson that it is indeed Aramaic. 

Orthographically, both inscriptions (KAI 214 and 215) use the Aramaic system of vowel letters, w and y for final /û/ and /î/, and h for feminine singular ending /â/. Further, w and y were also sometimes used to mark internal vowels, and both aleph and yod seem to have been used to mark final /ê/. In contrast to the Aramaic system is the defective writing of some final long vowels, like את for /attâ/. 

Phonology and morphology seem to be the most productive categories for analyzing dialectal variation. Several features are common to Aramaic and Sam’alian which do not follow the development of the other Canaanite dialects. For instance, in Aramaic and Sam’alian emphatic /ð/ does not merge with /ṣ/. There are also several shared developments between Aramaic and Sam’alian such as the development of the emphatic particle *hin to a conditional particle, hēn in Aramaic and *hinnu (הנו) in Sam’alian. 

However, there are also features shared by Sam’alian and Canaanite, such as the retention of the feminine plural ending -ât where Aramaic uses -ân. Dion suggests that these are mostly negative, that is they demonstrate places where Sam’alian did not follow Aramaic innovation. The only significant example where Sam’alian seems to follow a Canaanite innovation is the syncopation of the causative prefix *ha- in the imperfect. However, this later reached Aramaic as well.

The only significant innovation peculiar to Sam’alian is the dropping of the final *-m or *-n in the masculine plural ending. All other peculiarities (such as the lack of a definite article and the retention of case distinctions in the masculine plural) can be described as archaisms.

In conclusion, Dion suggests that Sam’alian is a branch of Aramaic that began to develop independently around 1000 BCE. This suggests that some of the archaic features of Sam’alian may have been present in second millenium Aramaic, such as the use of precative *lu, the strict adherence to verb-subject word order, and the previously mentioned retention of case distinction in the masculine plural.


More on the Zincirli inscription

July 31, 2008

The blogosphere is simmering about the new inscription. There are several very exciting things to note. First, as Jim Davila points out, the inscription was actually found in a controlled archaeological dig. Imagine that! No antiquities dealers involved, and no concerns about forgery, etc. Second, the stele was actually found intact and the press release describes the thirteen line inscription as “preserved in almost pristine condition.” This must be the reason why Dr. Pardee is already set to present the inscription at SBL despite the fact that it was only found a few days ago. HH Hardy at DailyHebrew (Sorry, I realized I don’t know your first name) promises exciting findings for both philology and archaeology.

New inscription!!!

July 31, 2008

From Agade – the UChicago team at Zincirli has found a new inscription in the native language of Samalian. Pardee will present the inscription at SBL. I will write a bit more later, but this is very exciting (I’m such a nerd now).

Lost time

July 30, 2008

There is nothing I hate more than losing time. I am not sure if it is the engineer in me, or if it is something more basic in my personality, but the thing I value most in life is probably efficiency. Car problems are usually the biggest obstacle to efficiency in my life (I’m not going to count my kids, they are a welcome source of inefficiency). Yesterday on the way to work the window in my wife’s car fell into the door. Some bracket broke, and bam – no window. Not good when you are down in the city. So we switched cars and I spent yesterday and today pulling apart the door, pulling out the window, and modifying a new bracket to work better, then putting everything back together again before the thunderstorms came. 2 lost days. Of course, on the bright side I think I saved us about $300 by doing it myself. Maybe I’ll spend some of that on a nice bottle of wine tonight….

Garr, W. Randall. Dialect Geography of Syria-Palestine: 1000-586 B.C.E. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2004.

July 26, 2008

In this study, Garr attempts to isolate and catalog all dialectally significant linguistic features for the given geographic range and time period in order to classify the first-millenium NWS dialects. Garr analyzes all the available texts including Phoenician, Aramaic, Samalian, Ammonite, Deir Alla, Moabite, Edomite, and Hebrew. Sub-dialects are also differentiated where possible.

Relationships between dialects reflect social, political, and geographic relationships between people groups. The greater the amount of similar features, the greater the mutual intelligibility of the two dialects. However, following the wave model of linguistic change, influence is measured not by all similar features, but only by shared innovations. This is because not all identical linguistic features are evidence of dialect contact. For instance, some features may be retentions from the parent language. Other identical features may have resulted from independent, parallel development, while others are the result of analogical change resulting from the structure of the language. Some may also be independent borrowing from a third dialect. Therefore, only shared innovations are reliable measures of true contact. The greater number of innovations, the greater the likelihood of common development among two or more dialects.

The features analyzed are divided into phonology, morphology, and syntax. Phonological features include mergers and splits of phonemes and conditioned sound changes. For instance, proto-Semitic emphatic *ð (interdental voiced fricative emphatic, which is usually d with underscore and a dot, but apparently that combination is not in Unicode) merges with /ṣ/ in all dialects, except that it is realized as /q/ in Aramaic, Samalian, and Deir Alla. For example, Hebrew ארץ but Aramaic ארק(א).

An example of a morphological feature is the ending of a feminine singular absolute noun. Byblian and Standard Phoenician end with ־ת [ōt]. Samalian and Deir Alla end in ־ה [ā]. Ammonite and Moabite end in ־ת [at]. Aramaic ends in ־ה [ā] (< *at), but also sometimes in ־ת [at] (<*ât). Hebrew ends in both ־ה [ā] and ־ת [t] with the latter being more typical of the northern dialect and the former of the southern.

An example of a syntactic feature is the use of a narrative tense for the historical past. Standard Phoenician uses the infinitive as the narrative tense while Aramaic and Samalian use the perfect for historical past. There are three exceptions in Aramaic from Zkr where the so-called consecutive imperfect is used. It is also used in Deir Alla, Moabite, and of course Hebrew, though it seems to be falling out of use during the course of the sixth century.

After analyzing all the features, Garr suggests that the NWS dialects should be thought of as a continuum. Phoenician and Aramaic represent the two poles, while the other dialects fall in-between. Ammonite, Edomite, Hebrew, and Moabite are closer to Phoenician (in that order), whle Deir Alla stands between Moabite and Aramaic. Old Byblian is a dialect island on the Phoenician side, while Samalian is the same on the Aramaic side. This seems to agree with the biblical evidence that suggests Old Aramaic and and Hebrew were not mutually intelligible (II Kg 18:26 = Is 36:11), while Phoenician, Ammonite, Moabite, and Hebrew were (Jer 27:3).

Book versus Database?

July 22, 2008

I have been quite busy lately with comps and preparing a sermon (I preach once a summer when all the pastors are away on vacation, I figure I better keep up a little bit of my homiletics in case I find a job at a seminary), so I haven’t been able to post. However, a couple of posts by fellow bloggers converged into an idea I have been thinking about lately so I thought I would share while I wait for my Dewey’s pizza from last night to warm up in the oven.

First, Tyler Williams is giving away his second copy of Barry Bandstra’s new handbook on Genesis 1-11. All you have to do is share a good anecdote about teaching or learning biblical Hebrew. Nothing interesting ever happened when I took biblical Hebrew so I guess I don’t have a shot. 

I pulled Bandstra’s book off of the “new books” shelf at our library this Spring, and I was going to write up a little review of it, but I just couldn’t do it. The idea of these handbooks is to take a linguistic approach to the text and mark up everything. I mean everything. Now, for a book like Jonah or Amos (the first two in the series) that you can read through in a short period, that’s a fine idea. But, for Genesis 1-11 it takes over 600 pages. Bandstra introduces readers to the concept of Functional Grammar in about 30 pages, which is probably the most useful part of the book. Then you get hundreds of pages of tables and comments analyzing each verse from the perspective of Functional Grammar. I made it about 100 pages. What I would really like would be a longer book about Functional Grammar with some biblical examples showing me how it helps better understand the Hebrew. 

This brings me to the second post, Charles at Awilum musing over free scholarship. Charles wonders whether the new trend toward open access is going to cost us somewhere else (there’s no such thing as a free lunch). He also wonders what will happen to publishers. Mike Heiser from Logos left a comment basically suggesting that publishing is going to have to adapt. In an electronic format, publishers don’t add value through the editing and printing process, but the mark-up process. Providing dynamic content rather than the static page. 

Now this would be perfect for the Baylor series. If what they want is to mark-up linguistic features of the text, then they should be producing databases, not books. Bandstra has put in tons of good work analyzing the text, but it is basically useless to me since it is one dimensional. If I am interested in his analysis of a verse, I can find it. If I want to know what types of things can be the patient of a certain verb, I can’t.  This is similar to my slight frustration over the electronic CAD. There is so much great data there, but it is flat and lifeless (though also free and still very useful). Oh well, my pizza is done, then back to Hammurapi…

Free language courses

July 1, 2008

A few days ago Mark at the Theological German blog posted a link to a page containing language courses put together by the Foreign Service Institute. They are a little dated, but they contain .pdf manuals and audio lessons in .mp3 format. Mark was obviously interested in German, but what jumped out at me was the Amharic at the top of the page. That could be handy for my Comparative Semitics comp.