5

Hebrew and Arabic both mark feminine nouns with a final consonant in writing, which is pronounced /t/ in certain sandhi-conditioned environments (and is otherwise silent). From what little I know of Punic, it was the same: the name written Elišat became Latin Elissa. And even Ancient Egyptian, which may or may not be Semitic (depending on your definition), marked feminine nouns with a glyph that isn't represented in foreign transcriptions.

I'm curious—when did this sound change happen? Was the final consonant silent already in Proto-Semitic? Or did it disappear separately in all of the different daughter languages?

(Possibly relevant: Punic and Egyptian use the normal glyph for /t/ in their writing systems, Arabic uses a mixture of its /t/ and /h/ glyphs, and Hebrew uses the glyph for /h/.)

  • What foreign peoples transcribe on other languages, it is not always faithful to the real pronunciation. For example, Roman and Arabic people always did not and do not transcribe the final consonant /n/ (plural marker) of Berber proper nouns (eg. MSNSN was transcribed MaSiNiSa). So I will not base any dating on foreign transcriptions. – amegnunsen Apr 30 '19 at 7:56
  • @amegnunsen Reasonable, but unfortunately borrowings and transcriptions are the best source for historical pronunciation I know of. – Draconis Apr 30 '19 at 15:20
  • *ah' (brother) vs *ahwat (sister) implies *-wat as the suffix, I thought. – vectory May 3 '19 at 9:29
6

The feminine ending /t/ is retained in all forms in Akkadian, Ugaratic, South Arabian and Ethiopic. In Canaanaic (Hebrew) and Aramaic it is retained in the construct state but lost in the absolute state in the singular. In classical (Qur’anic) Arabic the feminine /t/ is retained in all forms except the pausal form occurring at the end of each verse. It is thus clear that the loss of the /t/ is not common Semitic, but an independent innovation in a few branches of Semitic only, and there only in certain contexts.

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