The Alefbet and Semitic Cognates

In this article I try to make myself understand the general relationship between Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and Akkadian (East-Semitic, includes old Assyrian and old Babylonian) by comparing Hebrew letters with the corresponding (in pronunciation) Aramaic and Arabic letters and by comparing all Hebrew sounds with the corresponding (cognate) Aramaic, Arabic and East-Semitic sounds.

A few notes on the usage of the Arabic script in this article:

I use the Arabic script for both Arabic and East-Semitic because it has more glyphs and can thus better represent a larger variety of sounds than the Hebrew script. In the Hebrew script dots signify a different pronunciation, in the Arabic script they signify a different letter. This is not a cosmetic issue. East-Semitic was, of course, actually written in the cuneiform script inherited from the Sumerians but that script wouldn't be helpful here because a) nobody can read it and b) nobody has the script installed on their computer and could even see it.

I use ا for the glottal stop and not for a long "a". I do not use ء or ى or ة, since they are only different forms of existing glyphs introduced later to make up for misuse of existing glyphs. (To be fair, in the case of ة the misuse predates the use of the glyph for the Arabic language and Arab grammarians did well in fixing that issue by marking ه for "Tawness".)

The glyphs ש and ע in Hebrew represent two distinct sounds each. In the first case the two sounds still exist as individual sounds (although one of them has collapsed with ס). In the second case the two sounds still existed as distinct sounds just over 2000 years ago but today only show themselves in the different vowel configurations they used to cause when they still were distinct.

Arabic ج is the equivalent of Hebrew ג but pronounced differently in most dialects ("j" instead of "g"). Arabic ف is the equivalent of Hebrew פ but always pronounced "f" rather than "p".

A few notes explaining the notes:

You can find the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets with pronunciation guide here.

ا is an Alef and originally stood for a glottal stop. In Arabic it is now most often used as a long "a" vowel.

ء is a Hamza and used in Arabic to mark a glottal stop when the Alef fails to do so.

ى is a form of the letter Yud and stands for short "a" vowel.

ة is a form of the letter He and stands for a He that replaced an original Taw. (It is thus a very helpful hint telling us about the history of a word.)

Note how Akkadian lacks several consonants and has no corresponding consonants for those lacking. Those missing consonants just vanished before they even changed. I think it is because many Akkadian speakers were really Sumerians who mispronounced consonants they didn't have and didn't recognise consonants they couldn't even perceive as sounds (like, apparently, glottals and pharyngeals).


Green: Consonant apparently survived unchanged in all daughter languages except possibly East-Semitic
Blue: Ghayin survived in Hebrew and Aramaic for some time but was already written as Ayin and ultimately pronounced so too.


Ancestral Proto-Semitic Language
שמית
Akkadian (East-Semitic)
אכדית
Arabic
ערבית
Aramaic
ארמית
Hebrew
עברית
b
ب
b
ب
b
ب
b
ב
b
ב
p
پ
p
پ
f
ف
p
פ
p
פ
voiced interdental fricative ("this")
ذ
z
ز
voiced interdental fricative ("this")
ذ
d
ד
z
ז
voiceless interdental fricative ("thin")
ث
sibilant ("shire")
ش
voiceless interdental fricative ("thin")
ث
t
ת
sibilant ("shire")
שׁ
emphatic voiceless interdental fricative?
emphatic s
ص
emphatic z
ظ
emphatic t
ט
emphatic s
צ
d
د
d
د
d
د
d
ד
d
ד
t
ت
t
ت
t
ت
t
ת
t
ת
emphatic t
ط
emphatic t
ط
emphatic t
ط
emphatic t
ט
emphatic t
ט
sibilant ("shire")
ش
sibilant ("shire")
ش
s
س
sibilant ("shire")
שׁ
sibilant ("shire")
שׁ
z
ز
z
ز
z
ز
z
ז
z
ז
s
س
s
س
s
س
s
ס
s
ס
emphatic s
ص
emphatic s
ص
emphatic s
ص
emphatic s
צ
emphatic s
צ
l
ل
l
ل
l
ل
l
ל
l
ל
voiceless lateral fricative
שׂ
sibilant ("shire")
ش
sibilant ("shire")
ش
s
ס
voiceless lateral fricative
שׂ
emphatic voiceless lateral fricative?
emphatic s
ص
emphatic d
ض
voiced pharyngeal fricative
ע
emphatic s
צ
g
ج
g
ج
g
ج
g
ג
g
ג
k
ك
k
ك
k
ك
k
כ
k
כ
q
ق
q
ق
q
ق
q
ק
q
ק
voiced velar fricative (Dutch g)
غ

voiced velar fricative (Dutch g)
غ
voiced pharyngeal fricative
ע
voiced pharyngeal fricative
ע
voiceless velar fricative (German ch)
خ
voiceless velar fricative (German ch)
خ
voiceless velar fricative (German ch)
خ
voiceless pharyngeal fricative
ח
voiceless pharyngeal fricative
ח
voiced pharyngeal fricative
ع

voiced pharyngeal fricative
ع
voiced pharyngeal fricative
ע
voiced pharyngeal fricative
ע
voiceless pharyngeal fricative
ح

voiceless pharyngeal fricative
ح
voiceless pharyngeal fricative
ח
voiceless pharyngeal fricative
ח
glottal stop
ا

glottal stop
ا
glottal stop
א
glottal stop
א
h
ه

h
ه
h
ה
h
ה
m
م
m
م
m
م
m
מ
m
מ
n
ن
n
ن
n
ن
n
נ
n
נ
r
ر
t
ر
r
ر
r
ר
r
ר
w
و
w
و
w
و
w
ו
w
ו
y
ي

y
ي
y
י
y
י

Source: Rishon Rishon

Some examples for those correspondences can be found in these blog entries:




 © Andrew Brehm 2016