IE & Semitic roots. Was: Script on excavated terracotta seals from Harappa deciphered????

Luis Gonzalez-Reimann reimann at UCLINK.BERKELEY.EDU
Mon Nov 10 04:42:07 EST 1997

At 05:47 AM 11/8/97 +0100 Jacob Baltuch wrote:

>I think you are using "IE" for Sanskrit. As far as I know IE roots
>do not have an intrinsic vowel which then undergoes two degrees of
>lengthening, guNa and vRddhi, but are roots with no intrinsic vowel
>in which the vocalization can take two quantitative degrees (long/short)
>combined with two qualitative degrees (e/o) or of course the reduced
>degree with no vowel, for a total of 5 shapes the root can come in.

OK. I was using Sanskrit as an illustration, so I mentioned guNa and vRddhi.
I was not implying that Proto-IE followed the same pattern.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by IE roots not having an intrinsic
vowel.  When you state an IE root, it has a vowel.  Say, for instance, *paa
(Skt. paal); *men (Skt. man); *deik (Skt. dRz); *do (Skt. daa); *dus (Skt.
duS).  There are also IE roots that consist solely of vowels; such as *ai,
*ei, *o.  These can then have different grades.  (I am using Calvert
Watkins' simplified notation).

On the other hand, when you state a Semitic root there are no vowels, one
has to provide them. Yes, there are fixed patterns for applying the vowels,
they are necessary for vocalizing, but they are not part of the root.  In
fact, vowels are not part of Semitic alphabets, whereas IE alphabets (as far
as I know) all include the vowels.  When Semitic alphabets are used for IE
languages, the alpha and the ayin become vowels.  Another illustration of
this is the use of gematria, that is calculating the numerical value of
words.  In Semitic alphabets vowels don't count, in IE alphabets they do.

>I'd say the main difference between Semitic and IE roots is that the
>great majority of Semitic roots have three consonants where the great
>majority of IE roots have only 2 consonants (observing however that
>the "consonants" of IE can sometimes be clusters e.g. a root can start
>with cluster /sw-/ whereas in Semitic they are always single consonants.

Good point.


Luis Gonzalez-Reimann
University of California, Berkeley

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list