Hebrew grammar study Part 1: The naqdanim

The 22 Foundational Glyphs in "Milhamah" depict the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet. Get ready to enter a study of Hebrew grammar.

Today begins a weekly series through a huge tome on A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew by Paul Joüon and Takamitsu Muraoka. While it’s not the best book for learning modern, conversational Hebrew, this book is exhaustive for anyone who wants to master the language.

So from here, I’ll summarize the book’s passages to brush up on my own studies, and I’ll also getting ideas for “Milhamah” characters and plot details. After this book, I hope to move on to study other languages such as Aramaic, Akkadian or Arabic.

So let’s start with Section 1, which is “Hebrew Grammar Defined.” which credits the seventh-century Tiberians, known as naqdanim, for inventing nequdot. Those are vowel symbols under consonants that show words’ pronunciation, syllables and stress.

Other Babylonian, Palestinian and Samaritan groups came up with their own vocalization systems. But this book deems the Tiberians reliable for describing Hebrew’s pronunciation.

The root definitions 

So where might the naqdanim come into play in “Milhamah”? So far this is just in my tentative draft notes, but here it goes…

First of all, the naqdanim and nequdot come from the shoresh root nun-qof-dalet (נקד). According to the Academy of the Hebrew Language’s Ma’agarim Historical Dictionary Project, this root carries a variety of meanings.

The most popular meaning is to mark a dot, and this carries derived meanings of punctuating or vocalizing, which is what the naqdanim do.  (Klein’s dictionary gives “pedant” as another definition of naqdan.) And interestingly, the root’s pointlike connotations tie into neqed, coccus bacteria.

Another root meaning includes shepherding flocks, so shepherds fall into this category. A rarer definition involves stabbing or penetration, which might relate to making a point. There also is a rare definition that seems to be a sunrise or sunshine, but I’ll need to study the context more.

When you permute the root’s letters, you also get dalet-nun-qof (דנק), which seems to be a rare root pertaining to agony. According to the Academy’s more modern Hebrew Terms Database, the root dalet-qof-nun (דקן) is tied to the word for dean.

The worldbuilding approach in ‘Milhamah’

OK, so for “Milhamah,” let’s imagine one of the intersecting paths between Bavel’s gates leads to a place, basically a dot on the map called Nequddah. It’s a sunny pastoral place for sheepherding, so it doesn’t attract many visitors.

The naqdanim are a forgotten group of orators, critics and self-styled linguists. Before Bavel, they might’ve been the traditional guardians of the old order.

But these days, they gather in the fields to pedantically debate the finer points of speech. They basically do nothing while the Bavel Empire threatens and oppresses the world.

While the naqdanim might not be villains, they act more like sheep than the shepherds they believe they are. I’m not sure where the bacteria would play in such a setting, but surely the land carries physical and spiritual sicknesses.

Anyway, that should inspire me to eventually do some art of Nequddah and its inhabitants. It’ll be awhile before we see it in the comic, but maybe they’ll appear in my roguelike soon.