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consonant script

Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


Also called ‘defective alphabets’, consonant scripts operate on the level of segments but do not indicate vowels. They came into existence in the context of Semitic languages, reflecting one of their most conspicuous structural characteristics, the consonant roots . In the languages of this family, vowels serve mainly to indicate grammatical or derivational changes - parts of speech, voice, mood, tense - while lexical content is carried by consonant roots. This feature clearly favoured the creation of consonant scripts. The Canaanite, Aramaic, Phoenician and Hebrew alphabets came into existence during the second half of the second millennium bce and all belong to this type, as do many other writings derived from any of them at a later time, such as Punic, Syriac, Nabataean and Arabic. The origin of consonant scripts is a matter of considerable controversy, as the known developmental stages of west Semitic writing in Syria and Palestine leave the exact circumstances of the invention of alphabetic writing in the dark. The other Semitic tradition of writing, that of cuneiform writing in Mesopotamia, never led to a consonant script, with the sole exception of the ugaritic alphabet , which is thought to be an adaptation of the extant west Semitic alphabet to writing on clay, whence the cuneiform letter shapes. The origin of the Semitic consonant scripts has also been sought in ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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