The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Iraq: the Tokharistan of the Semites

Classification is fun, and classification of languages is especially fun. Today I want to talk about East Semitic within the "AfroAsiatic" family. Carsten Peust offered a tree with Egyptian one way, and all the other AfroAsiatic languages the other. Within that cluster: "Se" branched one way, and proto-Berber/-Chadic/-Omotic/-Cushitic the other. We're here to discuss "Se".

As with Indo-European, Semitic was defined by the early 1800s based on languages known up to that point. As "Indo-European" did not (could not) include Tocharian or Anatolian, the first-known Semitic languages did not include the lost northeast: Eblaite and the various Akkadians.

What many scholars note about East Semitic, especially Akkadian, is that it has been warped toward a Sumerian syntax and, often, vocabulary. I don't think anyone believes that any East Semitic tongue is a pure representative of proto-Semitic, nor even a good one. East Semitic does preserve some grammatical forms not found in Sumerian or Hurrian etc, so it does remain helpful. The same phenomenon is visible in Tocharian, which lived out on the fringe near various migratory Aryans for thousands of years. In particular the "Kucheans", "Agneans" et al. dealt with Soghdians in the market and with Buddhists at the temple.

I prefer not to include Anatolian as an Indo-European language; it is just too variant. However I do count Tocharian given its classically I.E. horse-vocabulary. For me this is a matter of preference. Likewise, I would forgive Semiticists if they plant an asterisk upon East Semitic. But East Semitic does retain enough Semiticity (if that is a word) that I am fine with retaining that for its own classically-agreed-upon language-family, as well.


posted by Zimri on 11:09 | link | 0 comments

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