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ARAM,7 (1995) 261-282 (1'1'13')



A comparison of the various forms of pre-modem Aramaic shows, not surprisingly, a large number of common features. To be sure, there are a great many details that distinguish, for example, classical Syriac from Galilean Jewish Aramaic, but they also clearly share a basic structure and many details of phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon. Familiar features exhibited by all pre-modem Aramaic dialects include, inter alia, the following: (1) a common, relatively small, set of consonantal phonemes (usually 22 in number), which usually includes a subset of stops that become spirantized after vowels; (2) a relatively simple vowel system, but a marked propensity for reducing or syncopating unstressed vowels in open syllables; (3) a system of triconsonantal roots into which and around which vocalic and other morphemes are affixed to produce verbal and nominal forms: (4) two or three basic verbal inflexions, one with suffixed personal markers for the past, one with both prefixed and suffixed personal markers for the future or for modal expressions, and a participial inflexion; (5) a set of compound tenses involving the verb 'to be'; (6) a noun paradigm consisting of three states, one formally unmarked, one marked as bound to a following noun (the construct), and one marked with a final long -ii; (7) a set, or sets, of pronominal suffixes that are attached to nouns and prepositions to indicate possession and to verbs to indicate objects; (8) a large common vocabulary. Of course, this list could easily be expanded.

Naturally, much of what is common to many varieties of Aramaic is also common more widely in Semitic. After all, groups of common features are

I This paper was originally read at the first Harvard Aram conference, June 1996. Other versions were also read in the Seminar in Ancient Near Eastern Studies and Egyptology, Oriental Institute, University of Oxford, January 1997, and a seminar in Aramaic studies, College de France, Paris, February 1997. On each of these occasions a number of helpful criticisms and suggestions were offered. In particular, I wish to thank Sebastian Brock, Steven W. Cole, Stephanie Dalley, Jo Ann Hackett, Steven A. Kaufman, Sylvie Lackenbacher, M.C.A. Macdonald, Florence Malbran-Labat, Yona Sabar, and Javier Teixidor. Responsibility for the views expressed here and, of course, for any errors is mine.



what allow the recognition of the existence of both Aramaic as the set of all its dialects and Semitic as the larger set of all such related languages. The question I propose to explore here is: What is the set of linguistic features specific to the large group of dialects that we call "Aramaic"? Or, more briefly, What is Aramaic?

Few would argue that Aramaic shares more features with some of the Semitic languages than with others, that is, that it seems to be more closely related to some languages than to others. But the question of how one decides which features are relevant, or significant, in determining the relatedness of languages is a controversial one; are all features equally significant, or only certain types of features? Historical linguists have been grappling with these issues for generations without arriving at a definitive set of criteria. But there is at least a widespread consensus that all features are not equally significant in determining one kind of linguistic relatedness, namely, genetic relatedness, that is, which languages share an intermediate common ancestor that is not shared by other languages of the family.

One looks, therefore, for features that suggest common ancestry within the larger family of languages, in other words, features that are exhibited by a subset of languages but not exhibited by other members of the family. But not all shared features are significant. A simple illustration is the form of the first person singular independent pronoun, 'I': in Aramaic it is * 'ana, which is close to Arabic and Ethiopic 'ana, whereas Hebrew has '(ill I (alongside 'anokf). These facts might lead to the suggestion that Aramaic is more closely related to Arabic and Ethiopic than to Hebrew. But comparative reconstruction clearly shows that the form * 'ana is a form that occurred in the parent Semitic language, Proto-Semitic or Common Semitic. Its presence both in Aramaic and in Arabic and Ethiopic, therefore, is not indicative of an intermediate common ancestor of those languages; they have simply retained a form found in the earlier Semitic stock, whereas Hebrew has altered it. The form * 'ana, therefore, tells us nothing about the relationship of Aramaic to Arabic or Ethiopic. A second example is the first and second person singular suffixes of the "perfect" of the verb.? in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic these forms all have -t-; in Ethiopic and in the Modem South Arabian languages (here exemplified by Mehri), however, they have -k-; but in Akkadian the corresponding forms exhibit -k- in the first person and -t- in the second person.

2 See Hetzron, R., "Two principles of genetic reconstruction", Lingua, 38, (1976), 89- 108.

Aramaic Biblical Classical Classical
(Syriac) Hebrew Arabic Ethiopic Mehri Akkadian
lcs peqdet piiq6dtf faqadtu faqadku faq8dJk paqdaku
2ms pqad: piiq6d.tii faqadta faqadka faq8dJk paqdata
2fs pqadt pdqad: faqadti faqadki fJq8das3 paqdati The n:ixed paradigm of Akkadian is surely the original one; the other languages have Innovated by levelling one of the consonants throughout, and we may therefore conclude that Ethiopic and Modem South Arabian, which levelled -ksh~ed a common intermediate ancestor while Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic: which levelled -t-, shared a different common intermediate ancestor. In other w?r~s, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic may be said to form a genetic subfamily within the larger Semitic family. As this second example shows, the most useful criteria for establishing genetic relatedness are shared features that are innovative with res?ect t? the bundle of features inherited from the common family stock.'

The isolation of a set of shared innovations has allowed Semitists in recent years, led especially by R. Hetzron, to come to some consensus concerning the larger genetic subdivisions of the Semitic language family,' illustrated by the following diagram.

Common Semitic

West Semitic

East Semitic

Central Semitic


South Semitic


Northwest Semitic


South Arabian


3 The -s- in this form results from the palatalization of the earlier k before the high front vowel i, which has since been lost; i.e., "paqadki > "faqadsi > "faqads > fiJq6diJS.

4 One must also try - and this is often difficult - to rule out coincidental innovations, or parallel d.evelopments. Also precarious are phonological innovations, since those can spread ge.o~raphI~ally unrelated languages: an example is the spirantization of stops, which originated m Aramaic and spread to Hebrew long after Aramaic and Hebrew had both separated from their immediate common ancestor.

5 See, e.g., Christian, V., "Akkader und Sudaraber als altere Semitenschichte", Anthropos 14-15 (1919-20),729-39; Hetzron, R., "La division des langues sernitiques", in Caquot, A. and Cohen, D. (eds.), Actes du premier Congres international de llnguistique semitique et chamito-semitique, Paris 16-/9 juillet 1969, (The Hague/Paris, 1974), 181-94; Voigt, R. M .. "The Classification of Central Semitic", Journal of Semitic Studies, 32, (1987). 1-21.



The most fundamental division is into an eastern and a western branch. The great innovation that separated West Semitic from the more conservative East Semitic (Akkadian and Eblaite) was the development of the Common Semitic and Akkadian predicative verbal adjective, as in *qatila 'he is/being killed', into an active, perfective verb, *qatala 'he killed', replacing the earlier Semitic perfective form, *yaqtul 'he killed'. Within West Semitic, another great innovation occurred, in which the early Semitic imperfective form *yaqattal 'he will kill' (as in Akkadian iqattal, Ethiopic yoqattel, Mehri YCJq6tCJI) was replaced by a new form, *yaqtulu (pI. *yaqtuWlla). The subset or branch of West Semitic that underwent this innovation is called Central Semitic; the conservative part that retained the older *yaqattal is called South Semitic.

The Central Semitic languages are Arabic, Ugaritic, the Canaanite dialects (including Hebrew), Aramaic, and the dialects of a few other inscriptions of the first millennium, the classification of which is disputed (see further below). Within Central Semitic we may point to another innovation that indicates an ancestor common to Ugaritic, Canaanite, and Aramaic. As is well known, Aramaic nouns form their plurals by the addition of a set of endings, as in {ci!2 'good', plural {ii!2in; this is true of U garitic and Canaanite nouns as well, as in Hebrew {o!2, plural {o!2fm (and of some or all nouns in the other Semitic languages, as well). There is, however, a large group of substantives in Aramaic, Canaanite, and Ugaritic, viz., nouns of the shape qVtl (where V is any short vowel), in which the plural is formed not only with the addition of an ending but also with the insertion of an a-vowel between the second and third radicals: thus, e.g., Hebrew melek; 'king', which developed from earlier *l11alk (as in Aramaic malkdi, has plural mCJliikfm, from earlier *malakll11. There is evidence of the same phenomenon in Ugaritic, as well." In Aramaic, too, there is vestigial evidence, although the distinctive inserted vowel has normally been lost by regular vowel reduction; nevertheless the spirantization of bgdkpt as the third radical in certain plural forms is due to the earlier presence of the inserted a-vowel, as in Syriac 'alpa 'thousand', plural 'alac < * 'alap-ayya '.7

6 See Gordon, C. H., Ugaritic Textbook, (Rome, 1965),54, §8.7 (and note also, e.g., singular rbt = /ribbatu/ 'myriad', plural rbbt = /ribabatu/, cited ibid., 482. § 19.2299): further. Huehnergard, J., Ugaritic Vocabulary ill Syllabic Transcription. (Harvard Semitic Studies, 32; Atlanta, 1987),304-5.

7 This alternation between stop in the sg. and spirant in the pI. has often been obliterated by the subsequent harmonization of plural bases with singular bases, as in Syriac malki: 'kings' for expected **maIM (on the analogy, of course, of many other nouns. such as qalii 'voice', pI. qdle; ba'la 'lord', pI. ba'le); see Noldeke, Th., Kurzgefasste syrische Grammatik,



This regular, obligatory insertion of a in all such nouns is not a feature of other languages and clearly indicates that the languages that do exhibit it must have shared a common ancestor." This subbranch of Central Semitic consisting of Aramaic, Canaanite, and Ugaritic, is still usually called by its traditional name, Northwest Semitic,

Out of this common Northwest Semitic subbranch, both Ugaritic and Canaanite separated themselves quite early. Ugaritic, which exhibits a number of distinctive innovations in its phonology and morphology vis-a-vis the parent Northwest Semitic, is attested in texts from at least the thirteenth century. Canaanite is also marked by several innovative features, such as the ending -ti for the first singular of the perfect, as in kiita!2tf (as well as the final -i on the independent forms of the first singular pronoun, 'iinokf and 'allf); the generalization of the ending -nii for all forms of the first plural pronoun; and the change of the vowel melodies of the D and C stem perfects from a-i to i-i, i.e., from "pa"]! (Aramaic pael) to pi':el and from *hap'il (Aramaic (htaphet; eventually to hip'il" These changes are attested in Hebrew, Phoenician, and even in the substrate dialect(s) of some of the Akkadian el-Amarnaletters. Because of the latter, we can date the separation of the Canaanite branch from common Northwest Semitic to at least the fourteenth century."

Thus it is possible to point to a bundle of innovative features in Ugaritic that distinguished it from common Northwest Semitic, and to another bundle of innovative features common to Canaanite that likewise separated it from the Northwest Semitic matrix. Can we also point to a set of innovative features that set Aramaic apart from the parent Northwest Semitic? Or is Aramaic instead to be defined negatively, as it often seems to have been, as what is left of Northwest Semitic after Ugaritic and Canaanite have left the fold?

(Leipzig, 1880), 58. §93. The phenomenon is still to be found in certain modern Aramaic dialects, however, as Y. Sabar has kindly reminded me: cf. kalba 'dog', pI. kalwi ( *kalf2_e ( "kal ahavva', in Sara. S. 1., A Description of Modern Chaldean, (Janua Linguarum, Series Practica, 213; The Hague/Paris, 1974).55, §2.121(d).

x See Ginsberg, H. L., "The Northwest Semitic Languages", in Mazar, B. (ed.), The World History of the Jewish People, vol. 2: Patriarchs, (Rutgers, 1970), 102-24,270; Huehnergard, J., "Remarks on the Classificationofthe Northwest Semitic Languages". in Hoftijzer. J. and van der Kooij. G. (eds.), The Balaam Text from Tell Deir 'Alia Re-evaluated. (Leiden, 1991).282- 93.

9 See Huehnergard, J., "Historical Phonology and the Hebrew Piel", in Bodine. W. R. (ed.).

Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew, (Winona Lake, IN, 1992),209-29.

10 These dates for Ugaritic and for Canaanite are, of course, termini ante quem; the actual periods in which these various divisions or separations occurred, or in which, e.g., protoCanaanite or Ugaritic appeared, are naturally very difficult to determine.



A comparison of some of the classical Aramaic dialects, such as Biblical Aramaic, Targumic (Onqelos), Babylonian Talmudic, and Syriac, indicates a significant number of common innovative developments from the parent Northwest Semitic matrix.

(1) The classical Aramaic dialects share a repertoire of consonantal phonemes that reflect a common set of mergers of formerly distinct Proto-Semitic and Proto-Northwest Semitic consonants: PS *d, *0 > d; PS *~l, *1.; > 1;; PS *{, *~ > {; PS *', *g, *~ > '; PS *t, *B > t.

(2) The classical dialects also exhibit the post-vocalic spirantization of non-doubled, non-emphatic stops, i.e., the six bgdkpt consonants, as in Targumic [beav] < *katab 'he wrote' - [yixtov] < *yiktub 'he will write'. This feature eventually spreads into Hebrew as well.

(3) The words for 'son'/'daughter' and for 'two' have r rather than n; cf. Targumic bsrdlbsrattd and tsren, vs. Hebrew ben and sndyim, Ugaritic bn and Bn, Arabic ibn and iBnani (and similarly in other Semitic languages).'!

(4) The form of the numeral 'one' is ~zad., in which the ProtoSemitic ancestor * 'al;ad-12 has undergone aphaeresis.

(5) Unstressed short vowels in open syllables undergo reduction or syncope, a process that results in widespread allomorphism in verb and noun paradigms, as in Syriac [kflav] < *katab 'he wrote' but [ka9veh] < *katab-ih 'he wrote it'; and "absolute" [dhav] < *oahab vs. "emphatic" [dahva] < *oahab-a' for 'gold'.

(6) Final consonant clusters are broken up by an anaptyctic i vowel; this also produces widespread allomorphism, as in Syriac [malka] and [mlex] 'king'.

(7) The suffix marking the first person plural is uniformly -tui in dialects in which the vowel is preserved, as in Targumic 'sndhna 'we', 'we wrote', malkdnii 'our king', hezdnii 'he saw us'; as noted earlier, Canaanite, in contrast, has -nu throughout for the first plural.

(8) The suffix of the third masculine singular on plural nouns has the form *-awh't, or a form derived from *-awhl.

(9) The noun occurs in three so-called "states": absolute, construct, and emphatic. The "emphatic" is originally the noun with a postpositive

II See Testen, D., "The Significance of Aramaic r < *11", Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 44 (1985), 143-46.

12 Cf. Arabic 'ahad and G;)';)Z 'ahadu. Hebrew forms in the singular curiously exhibit a different pattern, qattal (m. sg. 'e~Iii(j_, construct 'a~lad.; f. sg. * 'ahhadt ) * 'ahhatt ) 'ahat, pausal 'e~uil), although the plural ' retains the Common Semitic qatal pattern.



definite article -ti, and remains definite in Western Aramaic dialects, but becomes the lexical, semantically unmarked form in Syriac and Eastern dialects.

(10) The feminine. plural of the imperfect is marked by the ending -dn, as in Syriac nektf2.iin (3fp), tektf2.iin (2fp), versus Hebrew -nd in; similarly the absolute form of the feminine plural noun exhibits the ending -dn: taban. These endings are unique on feminine plurals in Semitic.

(11) The infinitive of the basic (pa 'at) conjugation of the verb has a prefixed m-, as in Targumic miktal2., Syriac mektal2..

(12) The imperfect of some verbs I-y, such as (Targumic) yad.a' 'to know' and ),alel2. 'to sit', exhibits a doubled middle radical, as in yidda', yitteb.

(13) The fientic forms of the verb form their passives by a series of conjugations with a prefixed -t-: tG "hitpa'il, tD "hitpa'ial, tC "hittap'al; fientic passives formed by ablaut (vowel change), as in the Hebrew piell pual and hiphillhophal contrasts, are not attested after a certain period; 13 and there is no conjugation with a prefixed n corresponding to the Hebrew niphal:":

IJ They are vestigial in Biblical Aramaic and elsewhere in Official Aramaic, occurring only in suffix-conjugation and participial forms; see Bauer, H. and Leander, P., Grammatik des Biblisch-Aramaischen (Halle, 1927; reprinted Hildesheim, 1962),93, §28n-t; Kaufman, S. A., The Akkadian Influences all Aramaic (Assyriological Studies 16; Chicago, 1974), 129-30; Hug, V. Altaramiiisclze Grammatik der Texte des 7. und 6. Jh.s v.Chr., (Heidelberger Studicn zum Alten Orient 4; Heidelberg, 1993),83, §9.2.6.

14 Two of the preceding features (4 and 12) are also among a list of (seven) common Aramaic features listed in H. L. Ginsberg's excellent article of some twenty-five years ago, "Northwest Semitic" (his numbers 1 and 5, below). Ginsberg's other features (numbers 2, 3, 4, 6, 7), however, are of dubious value for classification.

(I) The loss of initial' in the word for 'one'.

(2) The development of the Proto-Semitic emphatic lateral consonant 1(*{), Arabic d, into " after a stage in which it was written with <Q>. [On the ambiguity of this feature see further below.]

(3) The use of *{)i (i.e., di or d(iJ)) for relative and genitive constructions. [Similar developments, involving reflexes of the same Common Semitic pronoun, also occurred in Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Ga'oz.]

(4) The vowel melody a-i in the perfects pael and aphel. [These are retentions from the common Northwest Semitic ancestor, however; see my "Historical Phonology".]

(5) The doubling of the medial radical in the imperfects of verbs I-y, as in yidda' and yitteb. (6) The construct in -1/ of the common biconsonantal nouns 'father', 'brother', 'father-in-law', i.e., 'abu-, 'ahu-, hamu-, [This is phenomenon is also attested in some early forms of Akkadian, in G;)';)Z, and in various modem Arabic dialects.]

(7) Various lexical items. [See below, n. 40.]



Now what is both surprising and interesting is how few of these apparently diagnostic features can be ascribed to the earliest stage(s) of Aramaic and thus to Proto-Aramaic. In fact, when the earliest texts, the Old Aramaic inscriptions, are investigated, one is forced to conclude that a majority of those features had not yet developed in that early period. What follows is a review of the evidence for the features attested in Old Aramaic texts; by "Old Aramaic" is meant here, broadly speaking and for the sake of convenience, pre-Achaemenid Aramaic; 15 the texts from Zincirli and from Tell Deir 'AHa are not considered here, for reasons to be considered at the end of this paper.

(1) In Old Aramaic orthography many of the Proto-Semitic consonants that were lost in classical Aramaic are written with different letters than we find later:

Proto-Semitic "Classical" Aramaic

Old Aramaic <Z>

<S> «S> in Fakhariya) <~b



*0 d


*§ s



The only viable explanation of these data is that the early Semitic consonants were still distinct at this early period, and were written with the letters that were closest in pronunciation. Thus, the characteristic set of Aramaic consonant mergers had not yet occurred.

(2) As S. Kaufman and others have pointed out, if early Aramaic still had the Proto-Semitic consonants *0 and e as distinct phonemes, as we have just indicated, then, to quote Kaufman, "Although sporadic spirantization may well have occurred earlier, as a systematic phenomenon, ... , it cannot be separated from the merging of the Proto-Semitic stops d, t, and { with their spirantized counterparts d. l, and $ (z), a merger which is clearly to be dated sometime between the end of the Old Aramaic and early Elephantine Aramaic." 16

15 See the list of texts in Fitzrnyer, J. A. and Kaufman, S. A., All Aramaic Bibliography, Part I: Old, Official, and Biblical Aramaic, (Baltimore, 1992).

. 16 Kaufman, Akkadian Influences, 117 and n. 6 there. Recently-published Nco-Babylonian texts from Nippur dating to the rnid-Sth century exhibit a few forms showing spirantization, such as bel pabas for bel pihati 'governor', including one instance in an Aramaic loanword, man-de-isi' for (gen.) mandeti 'knowledge"; see Cole, S. W., Nippur IV. The Early NeoBabylonian Governor's Archive from Nippur, (Oriental Institute Publications, 114; Chicago,



(3) Proto-Semitic *n appears as I' in br 'son' in Old Aramaic texts. (4) The numeral 'one' appears as bd.17

(5) With regard to the characteristic reduction of short vowels, evidence of transcriptions in cuneiform and of loanwords, as well as internal reconstruction, indicates that, again to quote Kaufman in another study, "Quantitative reduction of short vowels in open, unstressed syllables began in the Achaemenid period." 18 In other words, it is likely that (non-final) short vowels were still essentially preserved in the Old Aramaic period.'?

(6) Evidence for the pronunciation of final consonant clusters is not readily available in our unvocalized early texts. It does seem likely that final short vowels had been lost, because the absolute form of feminine singular nouns is written with <H>, indicating loss of the original -t marker, a loss that would not have occurred had the -t been followed by a case-vowel. It is the loss of final short vowels that results in final consonant clusters, as in "malku > "rnalk; but whether forms like *malk underwent anaptyxis, to *malik, immediately or at some later period is difficult to determine.

1996),12,159,247-48. It is not clear whether these sporadic instances ofspirantization are features of the local dialect of Babylonian or of the local form of Aramaic; even if they are features of Aramaic, however, their rarity suggests, as Kaufman notes, that the phenomenon was not yet a regular phonological change.

17 See Degen, R., Altaramdische Grammatik; (Wiesbaden, 1969), 60, §43.

18 Kaufman, S. A., "On Vowel Reduction in Aramaic," Journal of the American Oriental Society, 104, (1984), 87-95, esp. 94b.

19 It might be suggested that the change in the shape of the numeral 'one' from * 'ahad to "~/(/d. attested already in several Old Aramaic inscriptions, was preceded by reduction of the original first a-vowel (i.e., * 'aliad ) * 'shad ) * 'had ) *~zad). Similar developments of #\'(1\' > #~I\' occurred later, e.g., in Syriac: *'allat-a' > *'d~lala ) *'~liila ) ~lala 'sister'; *'abarat-a' > "'d~lardla ) (')~lGr£a 'end'; see Brockelrnann, C; Syrische Grammatik, 12th ed. (Leipzig, 1976), 22-23, §34. Since, however, the ' remains, e.g., in 'sister' in texts of the Official Aramaic period and in other pre-Syriac dialects, the loss of 'already in early instances of 'one' is probably to be seen as an ad hoc change, as is not infrequently encountered in common words in regular (but marked) morphosyntactic constructions. See Hock, H. H., Principles of Historical Linguistics, (Berlin, 1986), 87, on clitics, which may well have been the status of 'one' in these dialects (see Garr, Dialect Geography, 51); Hock, 94, also notes that aphaeresis "usually is irregular ... a process outside the usual domain of sound change." J. Tropper, "Sarri'alisch mt 'wahrlich' und das Phanornen der Apharese im Semitischen", Orientalia, 61, (1992),448-53, rightly notes that examples of aphaeresis in Northwest Semitic are in general confined to forms that are not, or are no longer, associated with verbal roots, and which are therefore more likely to undergo sound changes, which are often blocked by "starke paradigmatische Koharenz."



(7) The few examples of first person plural suffixes are written simply with final <-N>; whether this indicates a pronounced final -11 or -nv (i.e., -n plus a vowel) is unclear. The earliest examples written with final <-N'> are from the latter part of the 5th century."

(8) The suffix of the third masculine singular on plural nouns is written <~WH>, which suggests a form like the later -awhl, although we cannot be certain about the quality or even the presence of the final vowel; it is conceivabl~ that [-awhu] or [-awh] is sometimes intended.

(9) Noun States: With the loss of the final -t in absolute forms, feminine nouns show distinct absolute and construct forms. With regard to the so-called "emphatic" form, a number of features of the definite article are noteworthy. First, it is written with <-'>, as expected, but in these early inscriptions, final <-'> still represents a consonant, not a final vowel; thus, the form of the article is not -d, but rather -a ', Second, the occurrence of the article is to a large extent syntactically determined, rather than semantically. As noted originally by T.O. Lambdin," it generally occurs before demonstrative pronouns and the relative pronoun, but only seldom otherwise. Lambdin rightly suggests that the definite article of Aramaic, Arabic, and Hebrew had a common origin in precisely such a restricted morphosyntactic environment, and that the very different appearance of the articles in these languages is largely a matter of individual phonological developments. Given the limited distribution of the article in the earliest Aramaic inscriptions, one may extrapolate backwards and suggest that this seemingly most characteristic of all Aramaic features was, in Proto-Aramaic, merely a marginally distinctive phonological reflex of a common Central Semitic phenomenon.F

20 Note that -n and -n' alternate in early Official Aramaic texts, about which M. L.

Folmer, The Aramaic Language ill the Achaemenid Period: A Study in Linguistic Variation, (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, 68; Leuven, 1995), 154, §2.9, notes: "In conclusion, 'n~1I1 and 'nhn' do not represent different forms, but are two different spellings of the same form. This can be corroborated by the spelling of the pron. sf. pI. Ic. in Aramaic texts from the Achaemenid period."

21 Lambdin, T. 0., "The Junctural Origin of the West Semitic Definite Article", in Goedicke, H. (ed.), Near Eastern Studies ill HOllar of William Foxwell Albright, (Baltimore, 1971),315-33.

22 Viz., Proto-Central Semitic *malkum-oll 'this king' ~ malkaool (with assimilation of mimation in close juncture, neutralization of case endings); the latter was resolved in Hebrew as *malk hazze and in Aramaic as *malka' 01.



(10) The distinctive feminine plural ending -dn is an Aramaic innovation that is probably present in the earliest texts, although unfortunately certainty is not possible. There are feminine plural verbs that end in <-N>, to be sure; on jussive forms, however, that writing almost certainly represents an earlier Central Semitic ending *-l1a, as in Hebrew ti/s.t6i211a and Arabic yaktubna." When it appears on non-jussive forms, the final written <-N> probably represents the innovative -dn, by the following reasoning: The ending -dn of feminine plural nouns (in the absolute state), like {ai2all, undoubtedly arose by analogy with the new form on the verb. Thus, if feminine plural nouns in -dn are attested in our Old Aramaic texts we may conclude that the <-N> on the non-jussive verb forms also represents the ending -all rather than the earlier -nd. There are a few probable examples of such feminine plural nouns, but none is absolutely compelling.I" Yet my sense is that the analogies that resulted in this distinctive ending on both nouns and verbs took place rather early in the history of Aramaic, perhaps even at the Proto-Aramaic stage.

(11) The pe'al infinitive with prefixed m is already attested in the earliest long Aramaic inscription, from Tell Fakhariya." Other Old Aramaic inscriptions, however, continue to use the old Semitic form qatal (as in Akkadian and Hebrew)," although Sfire may also attest one form with m.27 Although the use of the pattern miqtal is unique to Aramaic, G stem infinitives with prefixed m are also found in Arabic, where a number of patterns with prefixed ma- (but not mi-) are used, along with many other patterns without prefixes. Further, among the modern Ethiopian Semitic languages, Tigrinya has msqtal < *miqtal, Tigre also has msqtal < *miqtal (alongside qdtil as in classical Ethiopic, and several other patterns), and Amharic has nuiqtdl < *maqtal. These data suggest that m-preformative

23 See Huehnergard, J., "The Feminine Plural Jussive in Old Aramaic", Zeitschrift del' Deutschen Morgenldndischen GesellsclzaJt, 137, (1987), 266-77.

24 The forms are S'll 'ewes' (Sfire A 23), which is usually taken to represent 18v'an/, but the corresponding Fakhariya form is written s'wn, which may denote a formally fern. pI. /8v'awanj or masc. pI. 18v'fin/; and [mhy]nqn 'wet-nurses' (Sfire A 21), in which the restoration is very likely, but of course not entirely certain.

25 See Abou-Assaf, A., Bordreuil, P., and Millard, A. R., La Statue de Tell Fekherye et son inscription bilingue assyro-arameenne, (Paris, 1982),50.

26 See Degen, Grammatik, 65, §52.

27 Viz., mslh in Sfire I B 34; others, however (e.g., Degen, Grammatik, 15), read ysl/;.



verbal nouns are to be reconstructed as a feature of Common Semitic. Thus, the appearance of miqtal in Aramaic is not innovative per se, although the specialization of that pattern to the exclusion of all others in the Fakhariya inscription, in Official Aramaic, and in later dialects may well indicate a common ancestor of those forms of Aramaic."

(12) The I-y imperfect forms yidda', yitteb reflect analogies with verbs I-n, analogies made possible by the similarity of the imperatives of these two verb types (viz., saq: yissaq:: da': X = yidda'i. In the absence of any examples of I-n imperatives in our early texts, we cannot know whether this analogy was available in them.

(13) There are a number of Old Aramaic verb forms that are best interpreted as internal passives." Thus, early Aramaic had not yet lost these forms. There is no evidence of a niphal conjugation, however.

Thus, most of our earliest Aramaic texts exhibit only a few of the features that are usually considered to be characteristic of Aramaic in later periods: there is no merger of consonants, no regular spirantization, no vowel reduction, restricted use of the article, some use of internal passives, and some use of qatiil rather than miqtal for the G infinitive. We should also note that the Old Aramaic inscriptions exhibit a certain amount of linguistic diversity; there are clearly a number of distinct early dialects.

There is, then, a large set of features common to later, classical dialects of Aramaic that are not found in the earliest dialects. Since so many of those features are not part of the earliest attested phases of the language, the question naturally arises as 'to their source. Two possibilities present themselves. One possibility we might term parallel development: perhaps these features were inherent in the earlier dialects and manifested themselves independently in each of the later forms of Aramaic; obviously this is quite improbable. It is much more likely that we are to posit a common intermediate source for these features, an early, but post-Old Aramaic, dialect in which most of these features arose and from which the features were passed on to later dialects. Such a dialect need not necessarily be the direct ancestor of all later Aramaic; but it would have to be a dialect that was both widespread and prestigious, so as to have a significant influence on later dialects. It seems entirely plausible

28 See Tropper, J., Die Inschriften von Zincirli, (Abhandlungen zur Literatur Ali-SyrienPalastinas, 6; Munster, 1993),309,311.

29 Fitzrnyer, J. A., The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire, (Rome, 1967). xxx: Degen. Grammatik,66.



that Official Aramaic, the Aramaic of the Persian Empire, is that dialect. 30 When Official Aramaic appears on the scene, the dialectal diversity of the Old Aramaic period essentially disappearst " this is not to say that there is no variation in Official Aramaic.P but there was now certainly a standard dialect which was more or less successfully reproduced. Further, it is during the Official Aramaic period that several important changes take place: the various consonant mergers; spirantization of the bgdkpt stops as a regular phonetic process; and the beginnings of vowel reduction" It is interesting to speculate that the widespread nature of Official Aramaic may in itself account for some of these changes: both the consonant mergers and the vowel reductions may on some level be considered phonological simplifications. Similiarly the eventual loss of the internal passives results in a simplification of verbal morphology. In this way, Official Aramaic as a lingua franca parallels both Akkadian and Arabic, which likewise underwent simplifications and reductions of allomorphism when they spread beyond their original speech areas."

To return to the earliest texts that we label "Aramaic": it was shown above that they exhibit only a few of the features characteristic of Aramaic in

3(1 The importance of Official Aramaic as a watershed period in the history of the language has of course not gone unnoticed; see, e.g., Kaufman, Akkadian Influences, 159-60; Rosenthal, F.. "Aramaic Studies During the Past Thirty Years", Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 37. (1978). 81-91. esp. 85: "If. as I continue to believe, all the later Aramaic dialects can be shown to go back basically to Official Aramaic, this would have been the result of a process by which the written language was adopted as a sort of upper-class standard, thereby succeeding in suppressing existing major dialectal variations for a long period of time"; in contrast with Rosenthal. however. we need not, I think, assume that Official Aramaic began solely as a written language.

3J See. e.g., Rosenthal, "Aramaic Studies", 85; Fitzmyer, 1. A., "The Phases of the Aramaic Language", in idem. A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays. (Missoula, 1979). 57-84. esp. 61.

32 Note, e.g., that M. L. Folmer's recent monograph on Achaernenid Aramaic (see above, n. 20), is subtitled "A Study in Linguistic Variation".

33 Cf. the comments of S. Kaufman on spirantization and on the early reduction of short vowels: "Spirantization could not have been operative in Old Aramaic, whereas the appearance of at least traces of it in all of the later Aramaic diale~ts indicates that it must have been a feature of Imperial Aramaic" (Akkadian Influences, 117); "This manner of pronunciation spread throughout all the dialects, almost certainly as a characteristic feature of Official (Imperial) Aramaic, the lingua franca of the age, and served as the common denominator and ultimate cause of all subsequent, dialectally independent reductions" C'Vowel Reduction", 94b).

3-1 One also wonders what effects the Assyrian deportation policies had on the language; the resultant mixing of dialects may well have contributed to the emergence of a standard dialect.



later periods. We are thus led to ask whether, in fact, they exhibit in common any features that justify ourlabelling them Aramaic and labelling other early Northwest Semitic texts non-Aramaic. In other words, do they share any features that imply their origin in a common Proto-Aramaic ancestor that split off from Proto-Northwest Semitic? To begin with, the linguistic diversity of the early inscriptions, in contrast to the relative linguistic standardization of Official Aramaic, must be emphasized. For if all, or nearly all, Aramaic dialects after Official Aramaic are either descended from it or at least heavily influenced by it, then Official Aramaic essentially wipes the preceding Aramaic slate clean. Moreover, none of the" attested early dialects is the direct ancestor of Official Aramaic; the latter represents a dialect strain that, so far, remains unattested in the Old Aramaic period.P What all this means, I would suggest, is that the appearance of an innovation in Official Aramaic and all subsequent dialects does not entitle us to assume its presence in any earlier dialect unless there is hard evidence for the innovation in that dialect. As examples I would cite two features that, in an earlier paper on the classification of Northwest Semitic," I listed as features of Proto-Aramaic, viz., the generalization of -rui for first person plural forms and the development of a new t-form passive of the causative conjugation, the ettaphal (*Izittap'al). But in fact neither of these features can be documented with certainty before the Official Aramaic period, and so their presence should not be assumed for any early dialect or postulated for Proto-Aramaic.

To recapitulate: if Official Aramaic is the source, directly or indirectly, of many of the features we find in later dialects, then we do not really know what kind of variety might have existed in earlier Aramaic with regard to the diagnostic features we have been considering. Therefore, diagnostic features that distinguish Aramaic from common Northwest Semitic must be traceable in the earliest Aramaic, too, a conclusion that forces us to leave out of consideration features such as those based on vocalization, like the first plural ending -rui in contrast to Canaanite -nay

35 Tropper, Inschriften von Zincirli, indicates that Official Aramaic descends from Northeast Syrian/Mesopotamian Old Aramaic as exemplified by the Fakhariya inscription (e.g., p. 311; see the reproduction of his family-tree diagram below). This is likely, in general, but the dialect of the Fakhariya text cannot itself be the ancestor of Official Aramaic, exhibiting as it does the infixed Gt form rather than the inherited, common Aramaic prefixed tG form, which is also found in Official and later forms of Aramaic (see further below, n. 56).

36 "Remarks on the Classification", 289.

37 We may compare the effect of classical Arabic: before the appearance of the latter, a diverse plethora of North Arabian dialects is attested (see, e.g., MUller, W. W., "Das



The pre-Official Aramaic inscriptions do, indeed, attest a number of shared features that are both distinctive and innovative, a bundle of features that, in my view, sets early Aramaic apart as a linguistic speech form distinct from the ancestral stock of Common Northwest Semitic. I must admit, however, that some of these features are of uncertain origin and may be of limited diagnostic value; see below for further discussion.

(1) The change of Proto-Semitic * ~l to r in the words for 'son', 'daughter', and 'two'. This is a phonological feature and therefore perhaps of limited weight; note that the same shift of PS *~ > r occurred, presumably independently, in Modern South Arabian languages-"

(2) The reduced form of 'one', ~ld.39

(3) The phonological representation of definiteness in certain syntactic environments by a final <-'>. The significance of the shape of the article is not certain; as noted earlier, what is distinctive is probably" simply the result of a phonological development.

(4) The form -awlz(ii) for the 3ms suffix on plurals.

(5) The development of the feminine plural verbal and nominal ending -dn; as noted above, probably, but not certainly, attested in our texts.

(6) The loss of the N stem. In itself this feature may not be terribly meaningful: the import of the loss of a feature for linguistic classification is much debated by historical linguists; but the loss of the N did result in, or contribute significantly to, the rearrangement of stems typical of Aramaic dialects."

To this point I have refrained from discussing the classification of two long sets of inscriptions from the Old Aramaic period, the languages of both

Fruhnordarabisch" and "Das Altarabische der Inschriften aus vorislamischer Zeit", in Fischer, W. [ed.], Grundriss der arabischen Philo logie, vol. I. Spracliwissenschaft, [Wiesbaden, 1982], 17-36). Thereafter, however, all dialects either descend directly or indirectly from the fusha, or are heavily influenced by it. And all dialects (except those in "exclaves," as my colleague W. Heinrichs points out) correct themselves toward thefil:f~lG. Thus one can not make any "common Arabic" claims for earlier dialects unless they are actually attested in those dialects.

38 See Testen, "Significance of Aramaic r",

39 Note that a Persian period Phoenician inscription attests lhdy 'I alone' (Starky, J., "Une inscription phenicienne de Byblos", I\-IUSJ, 45, [1969], 257-73; line 1), while ~zad. occurs once in Biblical Hebrew, in Ezekiel 33 :30; both reflecting Aramaic influence?

40 S. A. Kaufman, in "The Classification of the North West Semitic Dialects of the Biblical Period and Some Implications Thereof', in Bar-Asher, M., (ed.), Proceedings oj the Ninth World Congress oj Jewish Studies. Jerusalem. August 4-12. 1985; Panel Sessions: Hebrew and Aramaic (Jerusalem. 1988) 41-57, has argued that lexicon should not be omitted from considerations of dialect classification (see also Ginsberg, "Northwest Semitic"). It is very



of which have been classified as varieties of Aramaic by some scholars, namely, that of Tell Deir 'Alla and those of Zincirli. The roster of common Aramaic features listed immediately above may be useful in considering the dialectology of these, to which we now tum.

The eighth-century inscription found at Tell Deir "Alla in Jordan, concerning the Biblical prophet Balaam, was discovered in 1967. The editors of the original publication of the text labelled the dialect in which it was written a form of Aramaic, although they noted several apparent Canaanite features." A number of subsequent scholars followed this judgment, while others were inclined to see a Canaanite dialect, perhaps with a sprinkling of Aramaisms.f And I myself have suggested, in an article referred to earlier," that the inscription provides us with no evidence of any of the significant linguistic innovations that distinguish either Canaanite or Aramaic from their common Northwest Semitic ancestor, and that the Deir 'AlIa dialect is, therefore, neither Canaanite nor Aramaic.?" Nevertheless I must admit that three of the features

difficult, however, to assess the diagnostic value of individual lexical items for classification. It is particularly difticult to evaluate the significance of the presence of a root or word in one dialect when that root or word is missing in a possibly related dialect, since its presence in the former is usually an inherited characteristic, and inherited features are not generally useful in establishing genetic relatedness. For example, the verb r 'h 'to see' appears in the Tell Deir 'Alia inscription (on which see below) and in Canaanite dialects, but not in Aramaic; but "ra'a ...... a must be assigned to the lexicon of Common West Semitic, at least, and the fact of its loss in "Aramaic" generally does not mean in and of itself that Deir 'Alia is not a form of Aramaic. since Deir 'Alla might have retained the root as an inherited relic item. What one would need to find arc shared lexical innovations that could be attributed to a common ancestor: such innovations might take the form of new roots or words or, more often, of new semantic values. An example might be the verb 'bd with the meaning 'to do' throughout Aramaic; presumably this root originally meant 'to serve' (as in Hebrew; cf. the noun *'ahd- 'servant') and then 'to work' and finally 'to do', a semantic shift that presumably took place in a common Aramaic ancestor (but not, e.g., in Sam'alian [see below], where the verb still means 'to work (land)'). Yet there arc not many such words that can be cited with any confidence about their semantic history.

41 Hoftijzer, J. and van der Kooij, G., The Aramaic Texts from Deir 'Alia, (Leiden, 1976). 42 See the survey of opinions in McCarter, P. K., "The Dialect of the Deir 'Alia Texts", in Hoftijzer, J. and van der Kooij, G. (eds.), The Balaam Text from Tell Deir 'Alia Re-evaluated, (Leiden, 1991),87-99.

43 "Remarks on the Classification".

44 Note also Miiller, H.-P., "Die Sprache der Texte von Tell Deir 'Alia im Kontext der nordwestsemitischen Sprachen mit einigen Erwagungen zum Zusammenhang der schwachen Verbklassen", Zeitschrift fiir Althebrdistik, 4, [1991], 1-31, esp. 3, who suggests that the Deir 'AHa dialect represents the "Restzustand des noch ungetrennten Kanaandisch-Aramaischen": this proposal must, I believe, be rejected since the text is half a millennium later than the separation of Canaanite and Aramaic.



noted above for common Aramaic are also attested in the Deir 'Alia text, viz., the forms br 'son', hd 'one', and -wh 'his' on plurals; we will return to consider these further below,

At the site of Zincirli in modem Turkey, just over a century ago, a set of royal inscriptions came to light in a variety of Northwest Semitic dialects. The dialect of two of these inscriptions (eighth-century), sometimes referred to as "Ya'udic," but better called "Sam'alian," differs significantly from all other Northwest Semitic dialects, and has also generated a good deal of scholarly controversy, including two fine full-length monographs, one by P.-E. Dion in 1974 and the other by J. Tropper in 1993.45 Tropper's recent monograph is a model of linguistic investigation and concludes with a penetrating and thoughtful review of the classification of the Sam'alian dialect, the Deir 'AlIa dialect, and the dialects of the normative Old Aramaic inscriptions. Tropper's family tree summarizing his conclusions and classification (p. 311) is reproduced here:






sildwestsyr, Altararnaisch (Deir 'Alia)

nordwestsyr. Altaramaisch (Sfire u.a.)

nordostsyr./mesop. Altararnaisch (Tell Fecherije)



(Zincirli, Nerab, Ahiqarsprtiche u.a.)

R . hi ... h

ere saramaisc

45 Dion, P.-E .• La langue de Ya'udi, (Waterloo, 1974): Tropper, lnschriftcn von Zincirli.



Thus, Tropper's "Uraramaisch" still has a number of traditionally "un-Aramaic" features, such as the N stem (attested in Deir 'Alia and possibly in Sarn'alian) and the long form of the first person singular pronoun, 'nk. Tropper lists eight "innovative Merkmale" that he believes characterize his proposed "Urararnaisch" (pp. 308-9); all but one of these, however, is open to criticism as a diagnostic feature, as the following review shows:

1) Phonetic realization of PS * ~ "ahnlich wie / q/." The difficulties in assuming a uniform pronunciation of the reflex of this PS phoneme across the texts in which it is graphically represented by <Q> have been clearly presented by a number of scholars and need not be repeated here." It should be noted, however, that even if <Q> always represents the same phonetic realization (which is quite unlikely), there is no way to prove that the pronunciation characterizes a particular subgroup of Northwest Semitic. The pronunciation represented by <Q> might well have become normative very early, or it might even represent something close to the assumed Proto-Semitic pronunciation (or at least one allomorph thereof). All that can be said is that the reflex of *$ had not merged with *.J in the texts in which it is written with <Q>; in other words, no change can be said with certainty to have occurred, unlike the situation in U garitic and in Canaanite, where such a merger did take place. In any case, the writing of the reflex of *$ with <Q> cannot be posited as a diagnostic feature of an ancestor of the dialects under consideration here.

2) The appearance of r in the words for 'son', 'daughter', and 'two'. There is no doubt that this is a noteworthy development, and one that does seem to characterize all of the dialects here. Note, however, that neither 'daughter' (in the singular) nor 'two' occurs in the Sam'alian and Deir 'Alia texts, and that all occurrences of 'son' in those texts are before names (i.e., 'son of PN'), a fact that renders its occurrence as a freestanding lexeme in these dialects considerably less certain. Note, for example, that br PN also appears thrice in the Kilamuwa inscription from Zincirli, which is a Phoenician text.

3) Change of final m to fl, "etwa in der Konditionalpartikel hin < *him." The forms of the conditional particle and its development in the various Semitic languages present a complicated picture."? Suffice it to

46 See especially Hackett, 1. A., The Balaam Text from Deir 'Alld, (Harvard Semitic Monographs, 31; Chico, 1984), 111-12.

47 R. M. Voigt has recently made a noble, if not entirely successful, attempt to trace the attested forms to a common Semitic ancestor * s~ in "Akkadisch summa' wenn' und die Konditionalpartikeln des Westsemitischen", in Dietrich, M. and Loretz, O. (eds.), Vom Alten



say that *hin 'if' is also attested in Hebrew alongside the more common "im, and that Arabic too shows final -12 in 'ill 'if' (note also Mehri hell), so that this feature cannot be used to group only a subset of the dialects that exhibit it.48

4) The change of ,~ to h "aulier in Wurzeln." Again this sound change, insightfully propounded by R. Voigt,"? does not characterize only the dialects under consideration here, but rather nearly all of West Semitic. 5) The form qatil as "regulates passives Partizip des Grundstammes" (vs. Canaanite qatiilr. While qatil as the paradigmatic G passive participle does characterize post-Old Aramaic dialects, there is no evidence for the vocalization of the feature in Old Aramaic texts. Nor is there any evidence for the vocalization of the form in Deir 'Alla. A single example written with a vowel letter is attested in Sam'alian, viz., qtylt /qatnat! 'killed (women)'. Since *qatU and *qatiil must be posited as free variant forms of the passive partici-· pie for Proto-Northwest Semitic/" and since, e.g., Hebrew also shows many examples of passive *qatfl (such as 'asir 'captive'), the single Sam'alian form cannot be claimed as a diagnostic feature with any confidence.

6) and 7) D perfect qattil( a) and C perfect haqtil( a) in contrast to the alleged early Canaanite forms *quttil and *huqtil. It is unlikely that the early Canaanite forms had II in the first syllable;" the Amarna forms on which this hypothesis is based are probably to be seen as hybrid scribal creations. Indeed, it is likely that the Aramaic *qattil and *Izaqtil patterns simply reflect the inherited Proto-Northwest Semitic forms (cf. the Ugaritic D /qattila/).52 In any case, the point is moot here, since there is

Orient Zuni Alten Testament. Festschrift fiir Wolfram Freiherrn VOIl Soden zum 85. Geburtstag alii 19. Juni 1993, (Alter Orient und Altes Testament, 240; Kevelaer/Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1995), 517-28. Voigt's discussion of the alternation m - Il in word-final position is unfortunately cavalier; an "Auslautregel ml_# ) II" seems improbable. It is likely that we have to do with a second particle *hill, in West Semitic, probably related, inter alia, to the Hebrew presentation particle hinne.

~8 See Garr, W. R., Dialect Geography oj Syria-Palestine. 1000-586 B.CE., (Philadelphia, 1985).116-17.

49 Voigt, R. M .. "Personalpronomina der 3. Personen im Semitischen", Welt des Orients, 18, (1987),49-63; see also idem, "Der Lautwandel Sl ) Iz in wurzellosen Morphemen des Altund Neusudarabischen" in Goldenberg, G. and Raz, S. (eds.), Semitic and Cushitic Studies, (Wiesbaden, 1994), 19-i8, and the article cited in note 47.

50 See Garr, Dialect Geography, 130-31.

51 Pace Izre'el, S., "The Gezer Letters of the el-Amarna Archive-Linguistic Analysis", Israel Oriental Studies, 8, (1978), 13-90, esp. 74-78.

52 Huehnergard, "Historical Phonology".



simply no evidence for the vocalization of these forms In any of the dialects under consideration.

8) Probable loss of the volitive yaqtula, which is retained in Canaanite and in Arabic. While it is true that early Canaanite (Amama) attests a volitive yaqtula, the form has become moribund by the first millennium; there is no evidence of it in Phoenician, and in Hebrew it has been relegated to first-person forms. It is entirely possible that the ancestors of the dialects under discussion here preserved volitive forms for some centuries as well; note that neither Sam'alian nor Deir 'Alla presents any clauses in which a Hebrew-style cohortative form would be expected to appear. Such negative evidence cannot be used to classify those dialects together with Aramaic.

We are thus left with but one of Tropper's innovative features that may unite these dialects - Sarri'alian, Deir 'Alla, and (Old) "Aramaic" - namely. the word br 'son'. Besides this, the dialects attest another lexical/phonological item in common, the word hd 'one'. But are these two items enough for us to conclude that those dialects shared a common ancestor, especially given that br occurs in Sam 'alian and in Deir 'Alla only before narnes+' and that /I:Iad/ < * 'ahad-, while apparently the result of an ad hoc change, is a devlopment that may well have occurred more than once?54 It is also conceivable that one or both of these items may have originated in one dialect and spread, through linguistic contact, to the others. And even if we wish to agree that br and ljd do indicate a common ancestor, should that possible common ancestor be labelled "Proto-Aramaic", when there are more, and more significant, shared innovations that characterize what is tradtionally considered "Aramaic" and that are not attested in Sam 'alian and Deir 'Alla, namely, the definite article *-a', the loss of the N stern," and, probably, the feminine plural ending -dn

53 The relevance of this restriction in the occurrence of br in Deir • Allii and Sam 'alian has been vigorously challenged by D. Pardee, in "The Linguistic Classification of the Deir 'Alla Text Written on Plaster", in Hoftijzer, J. and van der Kooij, G. (eds.). The Balaam Text front Tell Deir 'Alia Re-evaluated, (Leiden, 1991), 100-5. Nevertheless. one would have more confidence in the diagnostic value of this form if it happened to be attested in a free context. or with a suffix ('his son', etc.), in these texts.

54 See above, nn. 19 and 39. Cf. perhaps the form ~ld(/'s ( 'ahad- 'asar in some modem Arabic dialects.

55 In a review of Tropper, Zincirli, A. Gianto (Orientalia, 64, [1995], 143) suggests that the presence of the N stem in Sarn'alian and Deir 'Allii "can be better explained as resulting from contacts with Canaanite." The (re-)borrowing of a derived verbal stem is possible. of course (cf. the S stem in later Aramaic dialects), but in this case it seems much more likely that the two dialects simply never lost it in the first place.



(although Deir 'Alla provides no evidence for the last of these)? These features, along with several others.t" are characterized by Tropper (p. 309) as "nachuraramaische" or "nach-fruharamaische Innovationen"; I would maintain, however, that it is precisely these that should be considered the beginning of Aramaic. I would also suggest that, if - and it is a very big "if" - the earlier developments (the appearance of br and ~ld) do indeed reflect innovations in a common ancestor, then the latter should be given a new label, such as "Proto-Syrian". The same considerations apply to the feature that may suggest a common intermediate ancestor of Deir 'Alla and traditional" Aramaic", the development of the 3ms suffix -wh (for which Sam 'alian exhibits an inherited form, -yh); once again, the diagnostic value of this feature for classification is unclear, since its pronunciation at Deir 'Alla is unknown (I-awhu/ or /-awhi/ or even /-awh/), and the process that led to it in Deir 'Alla may not have been the same as in "Aramaic" .57 And again the putative common an-' cestor should not yet be labelled "Proto-Aramaic" but something else, perhaps "Proto-Ararnoid't."

If all of these features - br, lid, and -wh - are, for the sake of argument, granted the status of shared innovations in the dialects in which they occur, we might construct a family tree for Northwest Semitic along the following lines, which are essentially those of Tropper, but with new labels in view of

56 Viz., the 3ms suffix -wh, on which see further below; the loss of the long form of the first singular pronoun 'Ilk (for which we have no evidence one way or the other in Deir 'Alla); the appearance of a prefixed tG stern rather than an infixed Gt stem (the former is probably the Common Semitic form. however. and thus a retained linguistic feature, while the infixed Gt attested in the Fakhariya text. as well as in Akkadian. Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Arabic, is the result of metathesis, as was shown by S. Lieberman in "The Afroasiatic Background of the Semitic N-Stem". Bibliotheca Orientalis 43 [1986],577-628, esp. 610-(9); and the G infinitive miqtal, which as Tropper points out is not attested at Deir 'AlIa or in most Old Aramaic texts. but rather only at Fakhariya and then in later Aramaic.

57 Conversely it may have been the same process occurring independently in the two; note that Garr, Dialect Geography, 1O'~7, proposes essentially the same initial development for the Byblian Phoenician form of the suffix as for the Aramaic, viz., *-ayldi ) *-awlul (regressive assimilation), the latter then becoming *-awhl in Aramaic (dissimilation) but *-all'll'u ) /-aw(w)/ in Byblian. The lack of vocalization in the Deir 'Alla and Old Aramaic texts prohibits us from knowing whether the posited intermediate *-awlzti had developed further in either of those; and the principle enunciated above, according to which we may not take a feature back farther than Official Aramaic without direct evidence, prohibits us from assuming any such further development.

5R I am not happy with this rather unfortunate term. which is formed on the pattern of various proto-languages proposed for Cushitic, such as Kefoid, Dizoid, Aroid; but a more felicitous designation has eluded me.



the arguments put forth above. In the following, "Proto-Syrian" would exhibit br and hd, while "Proto-Aramoid" would also exhibit -wh.

Proto-Northwest Semitic

Proto-Syrian Proto-Canaanite


Sam'alian Proto-Aramoid


Deir 'AHa Proto-Aramaic

.r >:


Northwest Old Aramaic (Sfire etc.)

Northeast(Mesopotamian Old Aramaic

(Tell Fakhariya)

It must be stressed again, however, that the features that lead to the positing of "Proto-Syrian" and "Proto-Aramoid" are extremely weak, and that it is just as likely, if not indeed more likely, that there is no genetic connection between Sam'alian, Deir 'Alla, and Proto-Aramaic beyond the Proto-Northwest Semitic level, viz.,

Proto-Northwest Semitic


Deir 'All a




In either of these classification schemes, Aramaic in my view is thus considered to begin with the presence of the following three features: a definite article represented by final - '; ana the loss of the N stem; and feminine pI. forms in -iin; it is these features that may be said to characterize Proto-Aramaic.