Semitic Noun Patterns

Semitic Noun Patterns, Harvard Semitic Studies – HSS 52,
Harvard Semitic Museum / Eisenbrauns, 2003.

Available at Eisenbrauns and online

See also: Articles in philology


Contact me at info <AT> for comments or errata to share with other readers at this page.


Dennis Pardee, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 67/2 (2008), p. 125-130. Full review here.

“If there were a Nobel Prize in Comparative Semitics, this work would put the author in the running for an award in the near future. The nature of the research here is not, however, that of a single find or series of finds that constitute a breakthrough. The work consists,rather, of an erudite appraisal of a whole area of Semitic grammar based on a growing body of primary data and secondary studies and typified by careful formulations and good judgment tempered by common sense. It is not easy reading and will be avoided by most scholars who do not at least dabble in Comparative Semitics, but it is fascinating reading for anyone aware of the issues in the historical/comparative approach to one or more of the Semitic languages. It harks back to that classic of Comparative-Semitic research, J. Barth’s Die Nominalbildung in den semitischen Sprachen (Leipzig, 1889-90) but completely supersedes it both positively (many data, including entirely new languages such as Ugaritic, have come to light since Barth’s time) and negatively (Fox rejects most of Barth’s attempts to establish specific links between verbal forms and nominal patterns–with the obvious exception of verbal nouns and adjectives)….

Holger Gzella, Bibliotheca Orientalis, 63/3-4 (May-Aug. 2006), pp. 396-406. Full review here.

“The complex system of patterns by which abstract roots materialize into concrete words with specific meanings, be it nouns or verbs, is generally thought to be a distinctive feature of the Semitic language type. It received much attention at the end of the 19th century, culminating in Jacob Barth’s Die Nominalbildung in den semitischen Sprachen (Leipzig 1894) and its reviews, but was soon overshadowed by other issues, most notably the discussion of the verbal system. Since Barth (B.), however, much progress has been made, both in the description of languages previously unknown, or largely ignored, and in the development of linguistic method. In the course of time, it has become clear that the extent to which words are formed on the basis of patterns varies considerably between, say Arabic on the one hand and formerly less prominent members of the Semitic family on the other, such as Neo-Aramaic or moder Ethio-Semitic languages, Hence, a new comprehensive treatment was long overdue. Joshua Fox (F.) in his fine Harvard dissertation from 1996, vetted by John Huehnergard, has now faced part of the task by analyzing afresh from a historical-comparative perspective the “internal” patterns of triradical roots (also called “derivatory ablaut”), i.e., those without further inseparable morphological elements pre- or affixed to them. He thus discusses patterns like *qvt(t)(v)l, but not e.g., augmented forms like *maqtal, *taqtul(t), *qat(a)lanor reduplicated ones such as *qulqul, *qatlal etc. In Barth, this material merely corresponds to an “Erster Haupttheil” (B. 1-208: “Nomina ohne aüssere Vermehrung”), and F. never defends his decision to limit himself to one particular sub-group (he has rightly chosen the most obvious one: F. 40f), although this is understandable; vita brevis, ars longa ….

W.G.E. Watson, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 28.5 (2004), p. 226. (PDF version here.)

“The first ten chapters deal with introductory topics such as previous studies (beginning with J. Barth’s pioneering work in 1889), terminology, the definition of pattern, reconstruction, statistics, isolated nouns, internal inflection systems and rearrangements of the patterns. Then come 28 chapters on the various internal noun patterns for Akkadian, Arabic, Ge’ez, Mehri, Hebrew and Syriac (where applicable). Ugaritic is only mentioned in passing, and for the nominal patterns it is necessary to consult J. Tropper’s Ugaritische Grammatik(Müenster, 2000), pp. 247-77. After a chapter on patterns that cannot be reconstructed (notably Heb. ????) come the conclusions and summary, and finally a bibliography and indexes for words in the various languages and for topics are provided. There is no comparable modern work on such a scale.”

Alan S. Kaye, Journal of the American Oriental Society 123.4 (2003), p. 885(3). Full review here.

“This book, originally the author’s Ph.D. dissertation, deals with noun patterns in the Semitic languages, such as qatl, qitl, and qutl, etc. (chapters 11-38 are listings of the various patterns, with copious examples). After three pages of discussion on the transliteration systems in vogue for the various Semitic languages (pp. xvii-xix), chapter 1 presents an introduction and summary of the work. Chapter 2 discusses the published literature in this domain, especially Jacob Barth’s classic Die Nominalbildung in den semitischen Sprachen (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1889-90); however, the author uses many other sources as well ….

See also: Articles in philology