Semitic Languages: Outline of a Comparative Grammar

Article excerpt

Semitic Languages: Outline of a Comparative Grammar. By Edward Lipinski. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 80. Leuven: Peeters, 1997, 754 pp., 3600 BEF.

Old Testament scholars with a curiosity for the origins and nature of the Hebrew and Aramaic languages will welcome this recent addition to the Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta series. The author, a renowned Semitist, draws on his remarkable breadth and depth of knowledge to answer many of their questions through a comparative study of the Semitic languages. Readers who are familiar with comparable studies (e.g., S. Moscati's An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages [1980]) will be amazed at the detail with which Lipinski pursues his task.

The study proper follows a traditional structure, being divided into the following segments: I. Semitic Languages (pp. 23-94); II. Phonology (pp. 95-200); III. Morphology (pp. 201-480); IV. Syntax (pp. 481-536); V. Lexicon (pp. 543-574). Nonspecialists in the field of linguistics and/or Semitics will welcome an extremely helpful glossary of selected linguistic terms (pp. 575-592), a classified bibliography of studies of Semitic languages in general and the specific languages investigated in this volume (pp. 593-638), and a 70-page index first of subjects, then of words and forms, organized alphabetically by language.

The scope of the study is signaled by the opening chapter in which Lipinski places the Semitic languages in the broad class of Afro-Asiatic languages, alongside Egyptian, Cushitic, Libyco-Berber and Chadic. While many readers of this Journal will find little interest in these languages, it is important for the reader of this volume to wade through the opening chapters because of the frequency with which the author appeals to these other languages to explain a Semitic feature. Lipinski subdivides the Semitic languages into four groups: North Semitic, to which belong the written languages of the third and second millennia BC (Paleosyrian [represented by Ebla], Amorite, Ugaritic); East Semitic (Old Akkadian, Assyro-Babylonian, Late Babylonian); West Semitic, which includes the Canaanite (Old Canaanite represented by the Amarna correspondence, Hebrew, Phoenician, Moabite, etc.), Aramaic, and Arabic languages and dialects; and South Semitic (South Arabian and Ethiopic). In his comparative analysis the author moves back and forth from one language to another with remarkable ease. In fact, many readers who are interested primarily in the Biblical languages will be frustrated by the treatment of Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic like any other Semitic language. But Lipinski should not be faulted for this. This is a study by a Semitist for Semitists and specialists in any of the other languages who are curious about how their chosen linguistic fields fit into the larger pattern.

Despite the "outline" format and the breadth of its treatment, in this volume Hebrew scholars will find clarification of countless specific issues related to the history and nature of this particular language. …