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Hebrew triliteral roots whose final consonant is y have an anomalous conjugation in most templates. Why is this?

Specifically:

  • It is only in the passive participle template CaCuC, as far as I can see, that the y actually appears as predicted: e.g. from the root t-l-y "hang", taluy "hung".
  • In some templates the y disappears completely: e.g. past 3sg. m. CaCaC, tala "he hung"; past 3pl. m. CaCCu, talu "they hung".
  • In other templates an expected ay or oy turns into e: e.g. fut. 3sg. m. yiCCaC/yiCCoC, yitle "he will hang".
  • Strangest of all, in some templates a t appears instead of the y: e.g. inf. liCCoC, litlot "to hang"; past 3sg. f. CaCCa, talta "she hung".

The first two changes (loss of y and change to e) seem phonetically understandable, though still apparently irregular. But the appearance of t has no plausible phonetic basis that I can see. What are the reasons for these anomalies?

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  • I think it's not just a t that appears in the infinitive, but rather ot. Evidence comes from other conjugations, such as Pi'el, or Hif'il that have completely different infinitive patterns. If the third radical is He, or Yod, whichever way you prefer to see it, then you get ot. Cf Pi'el levAkOT 'to hope' but ledAbEr 'to talk', and Hif'il lehakOT 'to hit' but lehasbIr 'to explain'. I have used capitals to emphasize the vowel patterns. – Thomas Gross Jun 15 '14 at 15:16
  • @ThomasGross Yes, good point: it hadn't occurred to me that the O appears in other templates where it isn't expected. I suppose those forms could be analogies based on ones like litlot where the O is part of the template. – TKR Jun 15 '14 at 15:56
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Van de Merwe, Naudé and Kroeze, A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar, says (S 18.5):

The term III he refers specifically to verbs in the Qal perfect 3 masculine singular that end in a ה vowel indicator, for example שָתָה 'to drink', etc. At an early stage of the language these verbs ended in a yod or waw. In other words they were originally III yod and III waw verbs.

The verb they tabulate to illustrate is גלה 'reveal', which displays exactly the same patterns as you mention with תלה.

They go on to say that

[forms in which a suffix beginning with a vowel is added:] ... the 3 feminine singular form of the perfect is formed by replacing the final ה with an older feminine ת ending and then adding the suffix ה-.

They do not specifically discuss the pa'ul (passive participle), but the form גֶלוּי (galuy) appears in the table, and they do mention that the "original י replaces the ה" in other contexts (specifically, before a suffix beginning with a consonant).

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    Thanks for your answer! This is mostly descriptive, though; what I'm wondering is why these changes happened, and only in these particular forms. – TKR Jun 18 '14 at 23:54
  • The section I quoted from is one of a whole series of sections about so-called "weak roots", which in the context of Hebrew means a root which contains one or more of the sounds which tend to disappear or get replaced: there are lots of details depending on which sound and where in the root. In these particular examples, nearly everything is explained in the passages I excerpted. – Colin Fine Jun 19 '14 at 17:29
  • To clarify, what I'm after is an explanation of why these changes occurred in these particular forms and not others, given that e.g. y-loss or ay > 0 or ay> e aren't regular sound changes in Hebrew (AFAIK). I'm also still wondering about those t's: if in forms like talta it's an older feminine ending (but why used in that form and not others?), that still leaves a mysterious final t in the infinitive. – TKR Jun 20 '14 at 1:18
  • The final -t in both the feminine and the infinitive is found in other cases as well. -et is regular for the feminine of the normal po'el participle; and occurs for instance in the infinitives of הלך, לקח and נתנ, which are לחת, קחת, and תת – Colin Fine Jul 9 '14 at 12:40

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