Consonantal Roots

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Macnerd
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Consonantal Roots

Postby Macnerd » 2017-08-24, 16:16

I know that consonantal roots are unique to the Semitic languages. It's intriguing. By adding vowels as prefixes, infixes & suffixes, the meaning of the word is changed.

My main question is: how does one pronounce a word that is all consonants? It would seem unpronounceable to me. It seems to me that a word must have vowels in order to be pronounceable. In the Hebrew part of a Hebrew-English dictionary, are all of the words shown as consonants only?

For example, the consonantal root "k-t-b" ( I found it on wikipedia), has to do with writing. Is "k-t-b" found in the Hebrew part of a Hebrew-English dictionary as "k-t-b" ? How would one, who is learning Hebrew, pronounce "k-t-b" ?

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Re: Consonantal Roots

Postby Jannet » 2017-08-24, 16:35


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Re: Consonantal Roots

Postby Ser » 2017-08-24, 17:01

Macnerd wrote:I know that consonantal roots are unique to the Semitic languages.

You start mentioning Semitic languages, so even though I know nothing about Hebrew I think I could contribute with my experience with Arabic.

Macnerd wrote:It's intriguing. By adding vowels as prefixes, infixes & suffixes, the meaning of the word is changed.

There's also prefixes/infixes/suffixes involving consonants though, such as Arabic istaCCaCa (used in derived verbs), iCtaCaCa (used in other derived verbs) and -uuna (used in many masculine plurals).

My main question is: how does one pronounce a word that is all consonants? It would seem unpronounceable to me. It seems to me that a word must have vowels in order to be pronounceable.

Arabic speakers simply get used to dealing with a writing system that's very ambiguous for what the vowels are like. Do you remember what texting in English on flipphones was like in the 2000s? Back then people used to write things like "gt" (get, got), "wh" (what) or "whr" (where) all the time. So Arabic is something like that (and Hebrew too).

That said, there's various languages in the world that do have a lot of words without vowels, such as Nuxalk (an indigenous language from Canada), where you can find words such as [st͡sʼqʰ] 'animal fat' (it does sound the way it looks like), or [tʰt͡sʰ] 'little boy'.

In the Hebrew part of a Hebrew-English dictionary, are all of the words shown as consonants only?

For example, the consonantal root "k-t-b" ( I found it on wikipedia), has to do with writing. Is "k-t-b" found in the Hebrew part of a Hebrew-English dictionary as "k-t-b" ? How would one, who is learning Hebrew, pronounce "k-t-b" ?

Practice among dictionaries varies. In Arabic-English dictionaries it's common to either show just the consonants along with a romanization of the word (like this: لعاب lu`aab n. saliva), or to use the optional small marks that specify vowels (like this: لُعَاب n. saliva). The optional vowel marks are called Harakaat in Arabic, and niqqud in Hebrew.

The organization of words also varies among dictionaries. Some Arabic-English dictionaries organize everything by the root, so you'd find a section for k-t-b that inside would contain kataba 'to write', kitaab 'book', kaatib 'writer', maktab 'desk', etc. following a certain order. Some Arabic-English dictionaries that use romanization prefer to just do it by pronunciation, so that all words starting with the sound m- would be found under the letter M, regardless if the m- is a prefix (like the m- in maktab, root k-t-b) or a part of a root m-C-C (like the m in maHaara 'oyster', root m-H-r).
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Re: Consonantal Roots

Postby Drink » 2017-08-24, 17:31

Macnerd wrote:I know that consonantal roots are unique to the Semitic languages. It's intriguing. By adding vowels as prefixes, infixes & suffixes, the meaning of the word is changed.

My main question is: how does one pronounce a word that is all consonants? It would seem unpronounceable to me. It seems to me that a word must have vowels in order to be pronounceable. In the Hebrew part of a Hebrew-English dictionary, are all of the words shown as consonants only?

For example, the consonantal root "k-t-b" ( I found it on wikipedia), has to do with writing. Is "k-t-b" found in the Hebrew part of a Hebrew-English dictionary as "k-t-b" ? How would one, who is learning Hebrew, pronounce "k-t-b" ?


Firstly, there is a misconception here that I should clear up: Roots are not words. The root k-t-b (in Hebrew letters כ-ת-ב) creates words that have to do with writing, but it is not a word in itself and so is never pronounced (if you want to refer to a root, you can read out the letters by their names, in this case "kaf-tav-bet"). In order to make a word, you need to mold the root to a pattern. The pattern consists of vowels and usually also some more consonants, and together with the root, forms a complete word. For example, "katav" (כָּתַב) means "he wrote", "michtav" (מִכְתָּב) means "letter" (i.e. the kind you send).

Now regarding reading, since words are written without vowels, you have to know what the vowels are of a particular word in order to pronounce it (you don't pronounce it without vowels). This becomes relatively easy once your knowledge of grammar and vocabulary reaches a decent level. There is also a system for writing vowels (which Jannet linked to above) that is used mainly in dictionaries, children's books, material for language-learns, and religious books.

As for dictionaries, in most Hebrew dictionaries, verbs are listed by root (because verbs go through many more changes throughout their conjugations than other parts of speech), while other words are listed by their full spelling.
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Re: Consonantal Roots

Postby Macnerd » 2017-08-24, 18:55

Firstly, there is a misconception here that I should clear up: Roots are not words. The root k-t-b (in Hebrew letters כ-ת-ב) creates words that have to do with writing, but it is not a word in itself and so is never pronounced (if you want to refer to a root, you can read out the letters by their names, in this case "kaf-tav-bet"). In order to make a word, you need to mold the root to a pattern. The pattern consists of vowels and usually also some more consonants, and together with the root, forms a complete word. For example, "katav" (כָּתַב) means "he wrote", "michtav" (מִכְתָּב) means "letter" (i.e. the kind you send).

Now regarding reading, since words are written without vowels, you have to know what the vowels are of a particular word in order to pronounce it (you don't pronounce it without vowels). This becomes relatively easy once your knowledge of grammar and vocabulary reaches a decent level. There is also a system for writing vowels (which Jannet linked to above) that is used mainly in dictionaries, children's books, material for language-learns, and religious books.

Excellent explanation!

I watched YouTube videos about Hebrew & Arabic pronunciation but none of them explained that the roots are not pronounced. You did. Thank you.

The reason why I'm asking is because I'd love to create a conlang. I've spent hours on YouTube & Wikipedia & Google learning about grammar & syntax. Creating the grammar & syntax are simple. The hard part is coming up with words!

So, I can have an agglutinating language or an inflectional language or a language with roots.

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Re: Consonantal Roots

Postby Macnerd » 2018-03-08, 17:12

I think that all roots in Hebrew are infinitives, but I could be wrong. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

It's intriguing that words can be derived from roots. English does it some, i.e. "mouse" > "mice".

Other words can be derived from verbs like gerunds, participles, nouns, adjectives & adverbs.

In Hebrew are the pronouns, prepositions & conjunctions derived from consonantal roots as well?

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Re: Consonantal Roots

Postby linguoboy » 2018-03-08, 18:27

Macnerd wrote:I think that all roots in Hebrew are infinitives, but I could be wrong. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

Semitic languages typically have both verbal and nominal roots. For instance, the Hebrew root ל־ב־ב "heart" is purely nominal. (At least, if there is a verb derived from this root, I've never come across it.)

Macnerd wrote:It's intriguing that words can be derived from roots. English does it some, i.e. "mouse" > "mice".

You using "root" here more narrowly than it's used in linguistics. For instance, "root" is also a root and words like "rootsy" or "rooting" are also derived from this root, just not via vowel change.

Macnerd wrote:Other words can be derived from verbs like gerunds, participles, nouns, adjectives & adverbs.

Verbs, adjectives, and adverbs can all be derived from nouns (and nouns, verbs, and adverbs can all be derived from adjectives, etc).
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Re: Consonantal Roots

Postby Drink » 2018-03-08, 18:57

Macnerd wrote:I think that all roots in Hebrew are infinitives, but I could be wrong. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

No, that's wrong. Again, roots are not words, they are just an abstraction represented by three or more consonants. Infinitives, however, are actual words with vowels and everything and can be pronounced. Some infinitives happen to be spelled with the three root letters (if you ignore the preposition ל), for example (לָ)רוּץ has the root ר-ו-ץ, and (לְ)דַבֵּר has the root ד-ב-ר; however, other infinitives have differing spellings, for example (לָ)רֶדֶת has root י-ר-ד (a.k.a. ו-ר-ד), and (לָ)תֵת has root נ-ת-ן, and (לְ)הִצְטוֹפֵף has root צ-ו-ף.

Macnerd wrote:It's intriguing that words can be derived from roots. English does it some, i.e. "mouse" > "mice".

English also has roots, but they work very differently, and you need to know a lot of the history. Your example is an example of an internal vowel change, but the root of the word cannot be described as "m-s". In English the root of the word actually includes the vowel, even if this vowel goes through some changes in different forms of the word. If you want to know more about how roots work in Indo-European languages like English you can try to read this Wikipedia article, but it might be complicated if you're new to the subject.

Macnerd wrote:Other words can be derived from verbs like gerunds, participles, nouns, adjectives & adverbs.

All languages have processes for word derivations. The idea of a root is related to derivations, but they are still different concepts. Words can be derived from roots, but they can also be derived from other words.

Macnerd wrote:In Hebrew are the pronouns, prepositions & conjunctions derived from consonantal roots as well?

Most of the basic pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions do not have identifiable roots, although a few of the basic prepositions do, such as עַל ("on") has root ע-ל-ה (a.k.a. ע-ל-י) and is related to the verb עָלָה ("to go up, ascend"), and אַחַר/אַחֲרֵי ("after") has the root א-ח-ר and is related to the adjective אַחֵר ("other") and the verb אִחֵר ("to be late"). Beyond the "basic" pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions, there are many that are derived from nouns/adjectives/verbs, and thus have roots, such as the preposition תּוֹךְ ("within, inside"), derived from the construct state of the noun תָּוֶךְ ("center, inside, interior") with root ת-ו-ך.
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