Grammar Part 3: Hebrew history

A screenshot of the Aqademyah's like of my praise for their services, which included a link to this site.
The Aqademyah likes me! They really like me!


After learning about Semitic languages in November, our journey through the Joüon and Muraoka book continues. This time we’re going specifically through the history of ancient Hebrew.

Biblical Hebrew is fairly consistent throughout the centuries. The Bible’s writers, from earliest to latest, differ most in vocabulary. Some of the syntax also evolves, though it’s not that significant. Morphology, or word formation, changed the least due to stable consonants.

However, Joüon and Muraoka point out that the following Mishnaic Hebrew era strays farther from the biblical style conventions. However, they speculate that some Mishnaic-era writers still wanted to write in the Bible’s older style and format.

And they say Mishnaic Hebrew started to form after most of the Tanakh (Old Testament) was finished. The Mishnaic era also covers the period of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Jesus. 

Joüon and Muraoka divide the biblical language into two eras: a “golden age” before the Babylonian exile and an era afterward. The authors acknowledge that some scholars think the entire Bible was basically written after the exile. But Joüon and Muraoka point out linguistic differences, such as the Bible’s later books spelling “Jerusalem” and “David” in a way earlier biblical books didn’t.

Hebrew’s relationship to ‘Milhamah’

The “Milhamah” webcomic doesn’t glean too much from this history. However, the character of ‘Aravah ‘Ivrit, whom I unveiled last week for Hebrew Language Day, embodies the language. Some of the details are in that post.

My art drew quite a few people from Facebook to this website. I even earned a Facebook like from the Academy of the Hebrew Language, which chiefly promotes the holiday in honor of Hebrew revivalist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. Their resources are a great help to my comic research, and I let them know that. 

All in all, it’s not a bad way to end the year!

‘Aravah ‘Ivrit appears on Hebrew Day

Just in time for Hebrew Language Day, “Milhamah” is previewing a new character for 2019. Meet ‘Aravah ‘Ivrit!

‘Aravah’s character is based on the shoresh root ‘ayin-bet-resh (עבר) and its permutations. While it may be awhile till she appears in the webcomic, here are six things to know about her character in “Milhamah: Fighting Words”:

1. ‘Aravah is the embodiment of the Hebrew language who is leading an independence movement against the Bavel Empire. Her goal is to break Bavel’s global dominance by “mixing up the tongues,” or scrambling its communications.

2. She works with the paramilitary Holy Tongue Society but isn’t part of it. She has ties to numerous other anti-Bavel associations, including an alliance with the guardians of the Arabic language. Hebrew and Arabic share similar shoresh roots: עבר and ערב.

3. She set up a headquarters in a western territory called ‘Ever that’s home to expanses of old Wild West desert-like wilderness. This explains why she is dressed as a cowgirl.

4. ‘Aravah is pregnant and way overdue for unknown reasons. As a result, she is often famished and rarely engages in combat. Her baby, however, is known to teleport out of the womb to fight the enemy.

5. Her personality switches between pleasant and hot-tempered. Her opponents underestimate her as a boorish fool — and learn to regret that.

6. ‘Aravah likes it hot. Her main weapon of choice is a flamethrower, and legend has it that she can summon holy fire from heaven.

As we await 2019, look forward to seeing ‘Aravah ‘Ivrit in upcoming episodes of “Milhamah”!

Hebrew grammar study Part 1: The naqdanim

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.