What is the protosemitic root for asher(אשר) in:

ehyeh asher ehyeh

אהיה אשר אהיה

from Exodus 3:14

Note: I'm not sure but I'm guessing it's probably either ʔṯr, ʔšr, or ʔśr.

  • You can find a thorough treatment in Huehnergard (2006), 'On the Etymology of the Hebrew Relative šƐ-', in Steven E. Fassberg and Avi Hurvitz (eds.), Biblical Hebrew in Its Northwest Semitic Setting: Typological and Historial Perspectives, pp. 103–125. You are invited to write a summary as an answer to your own question. – Keelan Apr 30 at 20:40
  • not all Semitic vocabulary derives from roots, especially function words and concrete nouns. Absent a pretty convincing argument (I've yet to read the paper Keelan raises), the most likely explanation would seem to be a relation to various other particles with š e.g. še "that" and 'iš "there is" – Tristan May 1 at 9:08
  • if it does derive from a root, ʔśr would be unlikely as ś usually becomes sin in Hebrew whereas אשר has a shin (the two are not distinguished in unpointed writing, but in writing with niqqud they are, and the two are pronounced differently, sin merging with samekh as /s/ and shin of course being /ʃ/) – Tristan May 1 at 9:10
  • @Tristan Isn't that not always the case (with the niqqud), although it does have a somewhat biased pattern, I think it is not safe to generalize it that way. Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't ś become š (shin) in Hebrew, and it became s (sin) in Arabic (ie. with the word for sun in Semitic languages)? – Chao Somnium May 1 at 19:56
  • You are correct. Pointing is used on ש to distinguish śin /s/ from šin /ʃ/ in Hebrew, but this is not the only thing for which pointing is used. The two points mentioned by @Tristan (difference in pointing and difference in pronunciation) is really only one, since the former is based on the latter. In Arabic, *š merged with *s, and *ś eventually became /ʃ/. See the table on en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semitic_languages#Consonants. – Keelan May 2 at 5:52

According to the article mentioned in the above comment by Keelan, "On the Etymology of the Hebrew Relative šƐ-," the possible roots and the connection between šƐ- and ašer indicates that ašer probably derived from aṯeru (ʔṯru), meaning "place," to eventually becoming a relative pronoun in certain Semitic languages.

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