The Diacritical Point and the Accents in Syriac 9781463209551

The only detailed study of the diacritical and vocalization system of Syriac. Segal examines the history and usage of th

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J. B. SEGAL Lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies


M G o r g i a s PRESS 2004

First Gorgias Press Edition, 2003. Second Gorgias Press Edition, 2004. The special contents of this edition are copyright €> 2004 by Gorgias Press LLC. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States of America by Gorgias Press LLC, New Jersey. This edition is a facsimile reprint of the original edition published by Oxford University Press, in 1953, with permission from the author.

ISBN 1-59333-125-8


46 Orris Ave., Piscataway, NJ 08854 USA

Printed and bound in the United States of America.




PREFACE seventy years have passed since the appearance of the last general analysis of the points in Syriac, Merx's monumental Historia artis grammaticae apud Syros. During that time a new approach and new methods have transformed the study of Semitic languages. The labours of native Syrian grammarians have acquired added importance. Syrian writers were early occupied with the translation or transmission of non-Semitic thought to Semitic peoples; and the grammarians among them had a twofold task, to express in Syriac script the foreign words and phrases that were current among their countrymen and to clarify the enunciation of their own language as taught in their academies. An account of the development of this aspect of their work may be not inopportune. Syriac was not, like Hebrew, subject to a rigid Massoretic authority, nor was a single canonical text prescribed, as in Arabic, to the exclusion of others. Various systems of punctuation and accentuation were in use at different periods of time and in different localities. Fortunately a large number of manuscripts has survived to the present day, and in them can be traced the gradual evolution of linguistic usages. In the course of the preparation of this book I have examined over two hundred dated manuscripts in London, Rome, and Paris, apart from manuscripts in facsimile in Hatch's invaluable Album of dated Syriac Manuscripts. The dated manuscripts cited in the text below have, however, been limited to forty in the single collection of the British Museum, in order to facilitate reference by the student. It is to the student, and especially to the beginner, that the present work is directed. If it may in some measure enable him to regard the points in Syriac not as tiresome impedimenta but as signs that guide to correct pronunciation and a broader understanding of the language, its purpose will have been fulfilled. Its scope is confined to a study of developments within Syriac itself; to have discussed possible points of contact with Hebrew manuscripts or with Arabic would have disrupted the continuity of the story. The present work would not have appeared but for the constant encouragement and the wise counsel of Professor Sidney Smith. NEARLY



I gladly express to him my sincere gratitude. The School of Oriental and African Studies have most generously defrayed the cost of publication; and I appreciate keenly the inclusion of this book in the London Oriental Series which they have recently inaugurated. I am grateful to the Keeper of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts of the British Museum and to his staff for the unfailing courtesy which they extend to all scholars. To the Oxford University Press I wish to offer not only my thanks but also my admiration of the skill and accuracy with which this book, with its innumerable pitfalls for the printer, has been set up. J. B. S. LONDON





























58 CEN-











119 TO





















Add. = British Museum Additional Manuscript. JA = Journal asiatique. JAOS = Journal of the American Oriental Society. Pet. 9, fol. 17a = Codex Petermann MS. 9, edited Historia artis grammaticae apud Syros, 194. Pet. 9, fol. 20a = Codex Petermann MS. 9, edited Historia artis grammaticae apud Syros, 197. Pet. 9, fol. 22a = Codex Petermann MS. 9, edited Historia artis grammaticae apud Syros, 189. Pet. 9, fol. 2286 = Codex Petermann MS. 9, edited Historia artis grammaticae apud Syros, 183. ZDMG = Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen schaft.

Merx, Merx, Merx, Merx, Gesell-

T R A N S L I T E R A T I O N OF SYRIAC CHARACTERS The pronunciation of Syriac adopted here is that of the East Syrians as outlined by Bar Hebraeus in his K'idBa d'Semhe, Book IV. The method of transliteration is based on that of Brockelmann, Syrische Grammatik (1951); z'qapa (East Syrian a, West Syrian 6) is shown, however, by a. The letters are shown: r a b; spirant b ^g-, spirant g » d\ spirant d a h 0 w (Brock, u) 1 z - h i f « y (Brock, i) 0 k; spirant k

^ I 10 m 1 n so S

V ' a p; spirant p 1? a q » r ^


I i; spirant i

An initial ' is usually omitted in the case of conventional technical terms in Syriac, e.g. ap'el. It is normally omitted at the end of a word, e.g. nurd. Gemination of letters is represented by doubling, e.g. quttaya. The vowels are shown: h}hasa 'arrika i. h'hasa karya (East Syrian *assaqa) i; i where it is to be distinguished from i. r'Sasa karya (East Syrian z'ldmd qasya) £. r'basa 'arrika (East Syrian z'ldmd p'iiqa) e\ £ where it is to be distinguished from e. p'taha a; & where it is to be distinguished from a. z'qapa a (Brock, a), "sasa karya (East Syrian r'waha) 6. ''sasa 'arrika (East Syrian 'alasa) u. Early Syrian grammarians do not distinguish between Pwa quiescens and Pwa mobile; and the has no distinctive symbol in Syriac. There are indications, however, that Syrians were conscious of a /'ata with a vowelless letter at the beginning of a word, and this is shown in the text by a vertical stroke, e.g. s[mina. The s'wa, whether quiescens



or mobile, in the middle of a word is omitted, e.g. tahtâyâ, m'paggdânâ ; illogical exceptions, introduced for reasons of convenience, are the words maqr]yânê, marhHànâ, masl'mânûtâ, maïw^hànà, tn'sand'lànâ. Syriac words or letters transcribed into Latin characters are shown in italics.





THE reader of the average Syriac manuscript or book is confronted with a bewildering profusion of points. They are large, of medium size and small, arranged singly or in twos and threes, placed above the word, below it, or upon the line. It was not without reason that Joseph bar Malkon in the twelfth to thirteenth century entitled his rhymed treatise on this subject ' T h e Net of Points'. 1 As the written language became more extensively used so these orthographic signs had become more frequent and varied. Bar Malkon enumerates eight species of points marking phenomena as heterogeneous as the plural number, modification in the pronunciation of the plosives (bgdkpt), or the feminine ending of certain verbal forms. In the course of time the original character and function of these points had been largely forgotten and the methods by which they were applied sometimes misunderstood. They were often treated as calligraphic debris, preserved out of respect for their antiquity. Nor was such an attitude confined to western students and nonSyrians. 2 Syrians themselves no longer appreciated the significance of the points. Bar Hebraeus (d. 1286) can find no simple logical system in the use of the diacritical point and refers his readers, somewhat querulously, to the work of his great predecessor Jacob of Edessa. 3 T h e thirteenth-century scholar, furthermore, admits complete ignorance of one of the accents. 4 T h e study of the accents in general had fallen into decay. Bar Hebraeus alleges that teachers before him did not understand their purpose and, to conceal their ignorance, had declared these symbols to have been inspired by the Holy Ghost and to be beyond human comprehension. Mortals, they held, could do no more than transmit the traditions which they themselves had received. 5 But even six centuries before Bar Hebraeus, when Syriac was still a spoken language in every day use, the confusion can scarcely have been less. Jacob of Edessa (d. 708), Below, p. 34. On the results of such misunderstanding see Martin, ' L a Massore chez les Syriens', J A, 1875, 93 ff., 143. 1



4 5

Kia'ha d'$emh£, iv. 5, § 3. M'happkana; below, p. 141. Op. cit. iv. 6, § 2.

B 229«





in his well-known letter to George of Sarug, rebukes the copyists of his time for their ignorance and carelessness: With respect to the position of the points also every man takes authority to himself to place them as he pleases. . . . It is nothing but deformity, odiousness and ugliness that a natural and living body should be deprived of those members which have been given to it by nature. . . . Moreover there is something absurd and ugly when the face or the head of a man is found to have three ears or three eyes or any redundant (member). . . . T h i s is the beauty of nature that there is in it neither superfluity nor defect. Each individual member should be made fit for the place which has been prepared for it and made convenient for it by nature. . . . Similarly with respect to the placing of the points which distinguish and mark the meaning of various things and are inserted in this Mesopotamian or Edessene or, to be more precise, Syrian language, one should see that they are not inserted in abundance or superfluity. It is not right that points should be inserted where there is no need to distinguish a word from another that resembles it in spelling. T h e points should not be thick like hands and feet with six digits. A t the same time they should not be d e f i c i e n t . . . since just as superfluity has been stated to be unbecoming so also is deficiency. It is right also that points should be inserted in their proper place and not simply where there is sufficient room (in the text), whether that is a suitable place or not. 1

Elsewhere the same author remarks: And, as I have already said, one cannot read anything accurately without those three things which have already been mentioned a b o v e — either, I repeat, by guess-work because of appropriateness (to the passage) and the sense required by the reading of the context in which it occurs; or from tradition handed down by others who were wellacquainted in the past with that context and its variant readings and could pronounce its sounds accurately and have handed down (this ability) to others—not on account of accuracy in reading the letters, for the letters have no quality of accuracy, but because they themselves have received the tradition from others; or by dint of great labour as one passes swiftly 2 and, as it were, flies in reciting these passages, with the various marks of the points assisting and indicating the various meanings, so that those who receive the traditional (method of reading) do not understand the passage from the letters but from the enunciation of the sounds by the lips of the person transmitting the tradition. 3 1 Trans, after Phillips, Letter by Mar Jacob . . . on Syriac Orthography, &c. 2 Lit. running. (1869), 8 ff.; Syriac text, op. cit., p. ^ 3 Syriac text in Wright, Fragments of the . . . Syriac Grammar of Jacob of Edessa (1871), p. o .




Nevertheless, these points, whose use appeared arbitrary and unpredictable to the contemporaries of Jacob of Edessa and Bar Hebraeus, arose originally through a process of logical reasoning. Today we are in a more favourable position to examine their origins and assess the systems which governed them than were those distinguished Syrian scholars. Western libraries1 offer us probably a greater variety of manuscripts than had any Syrian monastery. We have catalogues and indexes. We have the observations of the native Syrian grammarians themselves. And, finally, the cognate languages and the science of language in general may be of assistance in the arrangement of data and in reaching conclusions. They enable us to set these linguistic phenomena in a broad framework. Modern scholars have, since the brilliant pioneer work of Ewald 2 and the articles of Martin, 3 recognized the role of the points in Syriac. They embody a corpus of Massoretic observations—less precise, doubtless, than the Hebrew Massorah but, like it, extending from phonetics and grammar to exegesis. T h e Syriac Massorah was securely established and, in some respects at least, already complex at the beginning of the fifth century A.D., as we know from a manuscript of that time. 4 By means of a judicious study of dated manuscripts we can trace with tolerable certainty its subsequent progress in the two great sections of the Christian Syriacspeaking world, the Edessene and the Nisibene schools, and the course of its development in each. T h e general outline of Syriac literature falls roughly into three periods. T h e first may be said to end with the great schism between Nestorians and Monophysites, the most momentous turning-point in the early religious and social history of the Syrian Christians. The Nestorian heresy was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. In 489, according to tradition, the Imperial edict was issued closing the 'Persian' school at the university of Edessa. Shortly after their expulsion from Edessa the Nestorians opened the East Syrian university of Nisibis that was soon to rival Edessa in the fame of its scholars. T h e religious cleavage, which had been accentuated 1 Especially that of the British M u s e u m . T h e importance of this collection may be judged from the very large proportion of British M u s e u m manuscripts cited in Hatch, Album of Dated Syriac MSS. (1946). 1 Notably in Abhandlungen zur orientalischen und biblischen Literatur (1832), 103 ff. 3 In JA between 1869 and 1875. Most important is his ' L a Massore chez les Syriens', JA, 1875. * B . M . A d d . 12150, dated 4 1 1 .




by the political rivalry between Byzantium and Persia, was thus carried into the field of letters. In this second period the Eastern and Western schools developed separately and along independent lines. Points of difference between the two dialects grew until they well-nigh became separate languages. T h e third period opened towards the eleventh century. It is one of fusion and synthesis of the two Syrian dialects and cultures. In this Silver Age of Syriac Bar Hebraeus stands pre-eminent. But Syriac had now already declined as a living tongue and the discussions of the schools were little more than an academic exercise. T h e points, which reflect the linguistic habits of Syriac-speaking peoples, not unnaturally reflect also this historical stratification. Their study has been well termed by Martin 1 'linguistic geology'. Our manuscripts show, however, that the final breach between East and West in this branch of science did not come before the end of the sixth century ;2 thenceforward the two groups were set decisively each upon its own course. T h e cause of the estrangement is unlikely, then, to have been the theological rift of the fifth century. It may lie in the unsettled political and economic conditions and bad communications at a time when devotion to Syriac scholarship was at its lowest.3 T h e two areas were isolated. How deep became the phonological differences may be gauged from Bar Hebraeus's statement that West and East Syrians could not understand each other's speech without the aid of an interpreter. 4 It is true that written texts were interchanged between East and West. We are told, for example, that a Persian king of the seventh century brought Syriac manuscripts from West Syria whose copyists were famous. 5 And an eighth-century manuscript in the British Museum 6 was written, the colophon informs us, at Edessa by a Nisibene scribe. Yet it is significant—so distinctive is the characteristic punctuation of each dialect—that even a superficial examination of this manuscript enables us to identify it immediately as East Syrian. T h e third period, the period of synthesis, owes 1 1

'Les Deux principaux dialectes araméens', JA, 1872, 315. Add. 14460, dated 600, has features peculiar to East Syria and foreign to

West Syria. 3 Cf. Martin, 'La Massore chez les Syriens', J A, 1875, 126 f., 163. 4 In his smaller (rhymed) grammar; Martin, Oeuvresgrammaticales d'Abou'lfaradj dit Bar Hebréus (1872), ii, p. o». 5 Martin, 'Les Deux principaux dialectes araméens, JA, 1872, 327. 6 Add. 17170, dated 775.




much to the labours of the East Syrian Elias of Tirhan (d. 1049). At that time instruction in Syriac grammar included the comparative study of Arabic and Syriac. Such a discipline was not unfamiliar to the Syrians. Their greatest writers had successfully translated into Syriac the literary and philosophical masterpieces of Greek and Hebrew, and they were well trained in the observation of the phenomena of language. Elias, however, not only did much to explain the subtleties of Syriac grammar to his Arabic-speaking contemporaries. He also introduced a West Syrian treatise on accents (which he wrongly ascribed to Jacob of Edessa) to his fellow East Syrians. 1 This comparative study of the orthographic systems of East and West found its last and greatest exponent in Bar Hebraeus. The points used in our oldest extant manuscripts of the first period, that is, before 600, fall into four well-defined categories: the point which distinguishes the letter r (») from the letter d (•), the sign of the plural ("), the diacritical point in its various forms, and, finally, the accents.2 It is likely from epigraphic evidence that the first category was the earliest to appear; even at a very late time this point has absolute pride of place over all others. The sign of the plural was perhaps next to emerge. It defers to the first category, and a plural sign over a word containing the letter»is usually attached to that letter in the form ». On the other hand, the plural sign takes precedence over the diacritical point and the accents. Both the point distinguishing r from d and the plural sign are easily recognizable. The case is very different with the diacritical point and the accents, to which the present work is devoted. These two categories offer difficulty to students of the language, as they did to the contemporaries of Jacob of Edessa in the seventh century. In the following pages we shall endeavour to examine their origins, their early history, and their gradual course of development during eight centuries. It has already been remarked that the points in Syriac perform 1 Below, p. 145. Martin, op.cit. 309 ff., attributes too much importance to the so-called 'mixed school' of Monophysites living in East Syria. He regards them as the prime agents in the fusion of East and West Syria grammar. But their greatest representative, Severus bar Sakko, lived two centuries after Elias of Tirhan. 2 See Plate I. Other signs—notably the points marking rukkaka and quHdya, and the lines nagSda and m1 tappyand, mark'tana and m'haggyana—arose later. I hope to treat of them in a further study.




several duties and that they fall into widely different categories. But they have certain features in common. They are always functional. Their raison d'être is the clarification of the text in which they are inserted. The accents, for example, as we shall see, show the traditional method of recitation of the Bible. But they are not, like some musical signs in the Hebrew Massoretic text, reduced to the status of mere formal embellishments. This is equally true of the diacritical point. It serves always a severely practical purpose, and is not normally employed unless its absence would cause ambiguity. The method of application of each category of points follows a well-defined system varying from period to period. They are not inserted arbitrarily at the whim of individual copyists. They are, indeed, so uniform that the trained eye can quickly perceive the errors of careless copyists. On the whole, in spite of the reproaches of Jacob of Edessa,1 Syrian scribes display remarkable dexterity in the use of these primitive tools of their trade. With the passage of time the points tend to grow more and more complex. This emerges clearly from a comparison of dated manuscripts of, say, the sixth and ninth centuries. The more ancient a text the more sparing its use of points. The occurrence of more than one point with a single word is the exception in early manuscripts ; later it becomes the rule. New symbols appear, moreover, of not one but two or even three points, particularly in the East Syrian system. The East Syrians also distinguish the various categories of points by means of size. Bar Malkon states2 that accent points are large while all other points are small.3 Bar Hebraeus's classification of the points into large (accent points), small (vowel points), and medium (all other categories)4 corresponds more nearly to the practice of our dated East Syrian manuscripts. From an early time5 they have large points for accents and small points for vowels, while the points of the remaining categories might be of whatever size the copyist wished.6 West Syrian manuscripts, however, continue, on the whole, to give all points the same size7 until, at a very late date, they came under the influence of the East Syrian system. 1

Above, p. i foot. Add. 25876 fol. 276b. Extracts are given in Merx, Historia artis grammaticae 3 apud Syros, 1889, ch. viii. Followed by Bar Zu'bi; Add. 25876, fol. 1556. 2

" K'idbâ d'Çemhê, iv. 4, § 1. 5

Add. 14471, dated 615, already displays this with remarkable clarity. See Plates III and V . On the size of the points see Martin, ' L a Massore 7 chez les Syriens', jfA, 1875, 154 f., 158 ff. See Plate IV. 6







THE word in Syriac is normally constructed by the addition of one or more of a limited number of formatives to a base of three radical letters. That would in itself have led inevitably to a multiplicity of homographs, which—for the purpose of the present work—we may define as two or more words identical in their written form but dissimilar in meaning. Another factor, however, greatly increased this tendency. The Syrian system of writing was far from adequate for the exact reproduction of the subtleties of the spoken tongue. A Syriac letter, as soon as it forms part of a written word, does not, in the majority of cases, represent a consonant but a consonantal followed by a vowel sound,1 that is, a simple syllabic unit.2 The consonantal quality is the dominant partner in the letter, and it alone was normally expressed in writing.3 The vowels were regarded by the Syrians as movements between consonantal sounds,4 and were therefore called or Jlcui-iifcie. 5 Their precise character was not usually shown; it was left to be inferred by the reader. The main class of the vowel sound was, in general, obvious enough from the sense of the context. Not infrequently the exact shade of vowel sound was further determined by the consonantal value of 1 T h e main exception to the c+v formation occurs at the end of a word where the last letter invariably has no vowel. So Elias of Tirhan appears to regard even a final alap as a vowelless consonant, not a mater lectionis; Baethgen, Syrische Grammatik des Mar Elias von Tirhan, 1880, ch. 27. In later times even final letters (including alap) were held to have a i'wa in place of a vowel; below, p. 34. 2 Jacob of Edessa uses the following terms in his grammar: simple syllable

lift».), compound syllable ( J ^ i J O Hf>».), double syllable ()a.>av Jla».); Wright, op. cit. ex. These terms indicate c+v, c + c+v, c+c+c+v respectively; the final alap is treated as mater lectionis. See Moberg, Buck der Strahlen . . . des Bar Hebraus, 1 9 1 3 , App. Z u r Terminologie, s.v. M-O* , against Merx, op. cit. 5 6 - 5 9 . 3 On the greatly restricted use of matres lectionis in Syriac see below, p. 20. 4 Perhaps movement of breath. So David bar Paul (eighth century) wrote: 'They possess vowels as the result (lit. fruit) of breathing and with the help of the throat, by means of the rustlings of inhaled air.' Gottheil, J AOS, 1 5 , cxii. 5

Moberg, op. cit., App. Z u r Termin., s.v. ^.i.

Another name for vowel is

J ^ o l or simply This is used by the West Syrian grammarian David bar Paul and the East Syrian Monophysite Severus bar Sakko.








an adjacent Nevertheless, there were a large number of homographs distinguished from each other only by their vowel values. Since, as we have pointed out, these were not normally represented in writing, the reader might on occasions be in doubt as to the exact pronunciation of a word. This defect was most irksome to scholars acquainted with other languages. Jacob of Edessa, for example, who was impelled to invent special vowel letters2 writes: It is not the language of the Syrians, therefore—I mean this Edessene speech—that does not allow them (to reproduce foreign sounds) but this system of writing of theirs on account of its imperfection and its lack of vowels.3 And Bar Hebraeus declares of Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic that: Their imperfection lies either in vowel letters or in consonantal letters. The Syriac alphabet is imperfect in both—in vowel letters since the single sign of alap may be vocalized with any one of the different vowels z'qapa, p'iaha, r'Basd, and so on, and in consonantal letters since the letter kap and the other letters that may receive rukkaka may be pronounced sometimes with qussaya, sometimes with rukkaka. . . . But it is otherwise with those who have perfect alphabets (whose tongue is, for example, Greek, Latin, Coptic, or Armenian). Without the labour of artificial devices and (simply by looking at) their letters they can fly unburdened over passages they have never known (before), that are not marked by symbols, and that they never (previously) heard.4 But the inadequacy of the Syrian system was even more serious. For it also could not reproduce the exact consonantal quality of some letters other than the bgdkpt letters. T h e long tradition of spoken Syriac had evolved modifications in the pronunciation of certain sounds; not infrequently these modifications had considerable bearing on the meaning. T h e letters alap and hi, in particular, were on occasion enunciated fully, on other occasions they had little or no sound. From time to time efforts appear to have been made to check a growing laxity in the pronunciation of these letters and to insist on the traditional practice.5 T h e defects of the script were most grave when allied to that natural tendency of Syriac towards homographs on which we have already remarked. This inability to render exactly in writing some 1 3

See below, p. 20 foot. Syriac text in Wright, op. cit. p. o .

* K'ldBa d'$emh£, iv. 1, § 1.



Below, pp. 40 ff.

See below, p. 25.



consonants and most vowels presented writers with an exacting problem. Syrian authors and copyists were preoccupied, almost obsessed, with the fear of ambiguity in their works. Lists of homographs were compiled as early as the sixth century, and were not beneath the dignity of distinguished scholars from Joseph Huzaya to John bar Zu'bi and Bar Hebraeus.1 At schools and colleges much time was spent on learning to read correctly. A class of teachers called maqr'yane arose whose function it was to teach the proper enunciation of variant readings (q'rdyata).z At the same time a simple device was adopted to bridge the gulf between the written and the spoken word—the diacritical point. This is called in Syriac L-ots.

The character and evolution of the diacritical point was first analysed independently in modern times by Ewald after a close study of Syriac manuscripts.3 He had not at his disposal the oldest dated Syriac manuscripts. He was not acquainted with the works of native Syrian grammarians, and not sufficiently aware of the line of demarcation between the diacritical point and the accents.4 Moreover, his statements are often inadequately documented. Nevertheless, the study of native Syrian sources by later scholars triumphantly confirmed some of his main conclusions. Ewald pointed out that the diacritical point shows the vowel quality of the letter to which it is attached. A point above the line indicates the sound a, a point below the line indicates the sound ¿ o r e ; if it is necessary to distinguish homographs of which one has the distinctive sound a and the other the sound e, the former receives a point above the line, the latter a point below the line. Verbal stems, particularly Pa" el opposed to P"al and Etpa'al opposed to Etp'el, are distinguished in this way. 5 The same method is applied to nominal forms; 'simple' nouns, like Us), have a point below the line as being associated with the P"al stem; homographs 1 Unfortunately no reliable early list is extant today. A list of the seventh century with additions by later hands was edited by Hoffmann in Opuscula Sestoriana, 1886. * Wright, Catalogue of the Syriac MSS. in the British Museum (1870-2) S3; cf. also Hoffmann, op. cit. vi f. 1 Abhandlungen zur orientalischen und biblischen Literatur, 1832, 59 ff. 4 He confuses, for example, paqSda with the diacritical point; op. cit. 100 f. 5 Ewald points out that Pa"el (but not its homograph, m. s. act. part. P''al) liter received two points, to indicate more exactly its vowel values; so also, by analogy, when the second vowel is a or 1, e.g. ... 1 •• • .







with a or e are, like the verbs, marked by the point in the appropriate position. Where not two but three words of the same written form exist, as in the verbal form Q T L T , the third receives two points, one above, the other below the line A different use of the diacritical point distinguishes the consonantal pronunciation of âlap (point above the line) from its employment merely as a mater lectionis (point below the line) ; the diacritical point is applied to the letter he in the same way. Ewald noted also the gradual development and the growing complexity of the point in the course of time. Martin 1 enlarged on this analysis. The diacritical point is not, he pointed out, confined to marking vowel quality ; the occurrence of such forms as )oo» Joê» (hâwê h'wâ) cannot be explained in this way. The primary consideration in applying the point is, he maintained, whether one word is liable to be confused with another of the same spelling. In that case it is allotted a diacritical point which takes into account the characteristic vowel.2 Verbal forms are distinguished in this way by their phonetic values. The position of the diacritical point is, however, fixed principally by tradition.3 The exact vowel shade is not uniform but depends on the incidence of homographs and their pronunciation.4 Finally, Duval 5 agreed with his predecessors on the vowel significance of the diacritical point. He declared, with regard to nominal forms, that nouns with formatives receive the point that is suited to their root; e.g. from "bed, from jpiw h'lem. More important is Duval's further conclusion that a diacritical point below the line indicates a s'wâ mobile as contrasted with the full vowel of another word of the same written form. 6 Much of the analysis of these three scholars is undoubtedly sound. The role of the diacritical point may, however, be stated more simply. A letter in Syriac represents, as we have already observed, a syllable, the fusion, that is, of a consonant with a vowel. Modification of this full syllabic character in either of the two component parts is marked, where ambiguity might otherwise arise, by a diacritical point. Where the consonant is not fully pro1

' L a Massore chez les Syriens', J A, 1 8 7 5 . 3 4 Op. cit. 103. Op. cit. 107. Op. cit. 1 4 1 . 5 Traité de grammaire syriaque, 1881, 6i ff. 6 Merx, op. cit., has nothing of importance on the diacritical point. T h e brief discussion by Nôldeke, Compendious Syriac Grammar, tr. Crichton (1904), 6 ff., does not make any original contribution to the subject. 2




nounced this fact is noted by a point below the line ; where, on the other hand, it is necessary to indicate that a consonant is fully pronounced, a diacritical point appears above the line. So also with the vowel aspect of the letter. Absence of stress sometimes leads to the 'weakening' of a vowel to a s'wá mobile, or central vowel; sometimes the vowel is completely omitted (s'wà quiescens). In both cases this is shown by a diacritical point below the line. Where attention is drawn, on the other hand, to the retention of full vowel quality, a point appears above the line. It should be noted here that in this early period no distinction was made between the two forms of s'wà; a letter with either s'wà mobile or s'wà quiescens was simply regarded as not being a full syllabic unit. This is borne out both by the conventions of Syriac metre1 and by principles of syllabic formation found in the grammar of Jacob of Edessa. 2 In brief, then, the point above the line marks a full pronunciation or a comparatively dominant form, the point below the line some 'weakening' or modification or a less dominant form. In the case of homographs which resemble each other exactly in the number and stress value of their syllables and differ from each other only in the character of their vowels the diacritical point is used to indicate these different vowel qualities, but the principle remains the same. The homograph whose distinctive vowel more nearly approximates to the dominant Syriac vowel à takes a point above the line ; the homograph with a non-dominant vowel takes a point below the line. The diacritical point must have appeared early in the history of written Syriac. It is not, it is true, found in the Edessene document dated 243 and discovered at Dura Europos. 3 The earliest allusion 1

See Severus bar Sakko in Martin, De la métrique chez les Syriens, 1879. A letter with Vwà mobile forms a component part of a compound syllable, c+c+v; above, p. 7, n. 2. T h e distinction between the two forms oíVwd began to be drawn in t h e second period of Syriac grammar when Syriac speakers were sharply divided into Eastern and Western. But even in the later period Elias bar Sinaya uses the term 'quiescent' alike ofí'wá quiescens (e.g. X in ^ V v o ) and S'wá mobile (e.g. a in Gottheil, op. cit., ch. 2. I hope to treat of this in a further study. 3 Torrey, 'Syriac Parchment from Edessa' in Zeitschrift für Semitistik, 10 X ( 93S)- T h e point distinguishing r from d is also not found in this document; and it does not appear in the first-century Syriac inscription at Serrín (Moritz in Oppenheim, Inschriften aus Syrien . . ., 158) or the second-century inscriptions found by the present writer at Sumatar in 1952. According to Pognon, Inscriptions sémitiques (1907), 19 f., in t h e fifth century Syriac r certainly had a point (»); the point with d (?) was optional. 2




to the point seems to belong to the third to fourth century in Ephraim Syrus's commentary on the word Jwo-. in Gen. 36: 24. 1 In Add. 12150 written at Edessa and dated 4 1 1 we have already a fairly complex and remarkably uniform system of diacritical points. We can only guess at the reason for such precision. It is unlikely to have been the influence of foreigners, for the system, as we have seen, arises directly from a comparative internal examination of the language, its paradigmatic framework and word structures. It bears none of the marks of the later vowel signs adopted independently both in East and West Syria under the stimulus of foreign language forms. It may have arisen as a result of the expansion of literacy and a parallel increase in secular or nearsecular literature, which required more precise instruments for its expression. The early copyists are notable, as we have already remarked, for the discretion with which they employ the diacritical point. We may regard it as a general rule that the more ancient a text the more discreet is its application of the point. It is inserted almost invariably only when its absence might cause misunderstanding. At this period, moreover, it is found principally to distinguish homographs of the same grammatical species, that is, nouns, verbs, pronouns, &c. It is not used to distinguish a verb from a noun, and so forth. Furthermore, care is usually taken in this period to place the diacritical point above or below a fixed place in the word. The exact position depends upon the particular significance of the point in the context and, in a lesser degree, to the incidence of the other more primitive points (the point that distinguishes »from» and the sign for the plural) which might be confused with it. We now proceed to analyse in detail the use of the diacritical point in the first period.2 1. The modification of consonantal quality or its full retention: (a) Alap. The 'weakening' of consonantal quality is shown by a point below the line3 e.g. W U ;4 )«; 5 yoaa )j|o ;6 ' Martin, JA, 1875, 92. Manuscripts used for this period are all dated before 600, but the examples cited are mainly from manuscripts of the fifth century: Add. 12150 (411), Add. 14425 (464), Add. 17182 (474), and photographs in Hatch, op. cit. 54, 56. 3 4 But not in Add. 12150. Add. 14425, fol. 3b. 5 6 Add. 14425, fol. 5b. Add. 17182, fol. 3a. 1




and frequently elsewhere with Jjo{o.6

o»seji • So in • perhaps • also ^ I j o X 8 proper names, )-Us/ a»/ ; « » m ^ o In the 1st s. impf. the preformative I maintains its consonantal v a l u e : e.g. * W ;10



;12 i ^ - ' i ? ;13

(b) He. Where this letter occurs at the end of a word it retains its consonantal value when it is a radical letter. 17 When he represents a f. s. objective or possessive suffix it has firmer consonantal Talue than when it represents a m. s. suffix. 18 T h e former is preceded by the dominant vowel sound a, 19 the latter by the vowel e :20 e.g. •^ass;

;21 ¿ 28


and passim. But










0 ; 2 5 ¿b--o;


;26 ^



3 3

«fc^oio. 36

1 Add. 1442s, fol. 5a. 2 Add. 14425, fol. 146. 4 A d d . 14425, fol. 4«» Add. 14425, fol. 3b. 6 Add. 14425, fol. 36. ' Add. 14425, fol. 61 a. 7 Add. 14431, fol. ib. 8 A d d . 17102, fol. 26a. 10 A d d . 12150, fol. 47a; Add. 14431, fol. 546. • Add. 17102, fol. 37a. 12 A d d . 14425, fol. 21 b. " Add. 14425, fol. 103a. 14 A d d . 17102, fol. 23a. " Add. 14459, fol. 1386. 15 Add. 17102, fol. 38a. 16 A d d . 14599 (dated 569), fol. 19b. 17 See below, p. 26. " T h e pronunciation of final he is called Moberg, op. cit., A p p . Z u r

Termin., s.v. j S a . Students of Hebrew will compare the mappiq. Arabic, it may be remarked, has here no system of points like Syriac and Hebrew; the consonantal value of the f. s. suffix is maintained by a following long vowel, Ifrt opp. ¿J . 15 See below, p. 21. " T h e association of a 'weak' hi with the vowel sound e is shown later when o is used frequently to represent the Greek e, e.g. i m . m o o ^ ; cf. Bar Hebraeus, op. cit. iv. 1, § 11. 11 Add. 12150, fol. 256. 22 A d d . 12150, fol. 213a. 24 A d d . 14425, fol. 246. " Add. 14425, fol. 3a. 2S Add. 12150, fol. 1186. 26 A d d . 14425, fol. 3a. 27 Add. 17182, fol. 4b, 66. 28 Hatch, op. cit. 54. 30 A d d . 14425, fol. 5a. " Add. 12150, fol. 212b. 32 A d d . 17182, fol. 2a. " Hatch, op. cit. 56. 11 Add. 17182, fol. 34a. 34 A d d . 14425, fol. 97a. 36 A d d . 17107 (dated 541), fol. 4b. " Add. 14425, fol. 106a.







The diacritical point above the final hê of the f. s. suffix became stereotyped, and is found also when the preceding vowel is not a but e: e.g. ¿.fc-./; 1 ¿.-»-».NV» ; 2 1^*1? ¿-»sû»; 3 ;4 w A \ o , 5 and passim. (c) Particularly important is the use of the diacritical point with the letters w and y. The Syriac o represents both the consonant w and the vowel û or u ; - represents both the consonant y and the vowel i. When they are vowelless consonants they are reinforced by a preceding a vowel (that is, aw, ay, or the diphthongs au and aï) and take a point above the line. When they are treated as vowels they receive a point below the line. E.g. Ha^.;6 >»W; 7 Joot fc-ao;8 e^*;10 r « * 3 ; 1 2 fr^;13 ' j ^ ; 1 4 r ^ ; 1 5 t.a.o, 1 6 So in proper names: ^Jo» j 1 7 " ^ ^ » / . 1 8 Of frequent occurrence are the monosyllables hw and hy and their compounds. When w and y retain their consonantal quality (haw or hau, hay or hai) they are emphatic deictics and receive a point above the line. [This point, may, however, be regarded not as the diacritical point but as an accent—in West Syria m*hawwyânà (demonstrative), in East Syria pàqôJâ (command, used as demonstrative).19 Both these accents are shown by a single point above the line and are associated with a high tone.] When, on the other hand, w and y in hw and hy are used as vowels (hû, hi), these words are personal pronouns: e.g. y o k ^ j s ? ôo»;20 suootj oot;21 23 24 o« oo); LL>) o'o^; la^o o«; 2 5 26 27 28 29 çooia o«; «t». o«; a-oo.; Jjj^cuao; fft> ^ao? oot oot ' V i ^ ; 3 " lwo|l/ ? I « ; 3 1 Jo» llsoo?;32 lali J o . ^ ; 3 3 )?« -o»o;35 I

Add. 12150, fol. sa. Hatch, op. cit. 54. 5 Add. 17182, fol. 2b, 4b, &c. 7 Add. 17182, fol. 47a. 9 Add. 12150, fol. 210a. II Add. 12150, fol. 217b. 13 Add. 14425, fol. 3a. 14 Add. 14425, fol. 5b. 16 Add. 14431, fol. 60a. 18 Add. 14431, fol. 68b. 20 22 Add. 12150, fol. 21 ib. Hatch, op. cit. 56. 23 Add. 17182, fol. 17a. 25 Add. 12150, fol. 210a. " Add. 14425, fol. 9a. 2 » Add. 14425, fol. 23b. 31 Add. 12150, fol. 2i26. 33 Add. 17182, fol. 4b. 3


Add. 12150, fol. 69a. Add. 14425. fol- l 8 8 ° 6 Add. 14425, fol. 5b. 8 Add. 12150, fol. 207a. 10 Add. 12150, fol. 212a. 12 Add. 12150, fol. 2176.



Add. 17182, fol. 16a. " Add. 14431, fol. 58a. " Below p. 124 and p. 87. " Hatch, op. cit. 54. 24



Add. 17182, fol. 46a. Add. 12150, fol. 2126. 28 Add. 12150, fol. 73a. Add. 12150, fol. 66b. 32 Add. 12150, fol. 53b. 34 Add. 12150, fol. 47a.


'loot we»;





ôaao Jot wot; IJSJ^-» -CX „ « J Jfc«^»;

15 3


aNo) l a j o ^ i » , 5 and passim. (d) Some letters, notably I, m, n, standing at the end of a word, and therefore without a vowel, 6 occasionally receive a point warning the reader to preserve their full consonantal quality. In the case of I the point is frequently placed not above the line, as we might expect, but below it. It is possible to regard the point with these final letters as an accent, rather than as a diacritical point. T h e functions of the two systems—diacritical point and accents—do, in fact, overlap here. In either event the point indicates the deliberate enunciation of the letter to which it is attached; this effect is attained whether we regard it as a diacritical point showing that special stress is to be given to the letter, or as a pausal accent showing that it is to be read with prolongation of the voice and cut off from the following word: 7 e.g. ycuôtX ; 8 il ^ o « ^ ; 9 ^ . n - o ^A.;10

' ^ a a i l ; 1 1 h»»l



2. T h e modification of a vowel to s'zvâ is shown, where the copyist regards it as necessary, by a diacritical point below the line. 14 Conversely, it is occasionally advisable to indicate that a letter is fully vocalized; it is then marked by a diacritical point above the line. (a) Verbs15 (i) Pl'al. 3rd m. s. pf. has a point below the line after the radical letter which has a s'zvâ; e.g. yçîo "M«,; 1 6 111»; 17 j»-,-^; 1 8 Umo )if>o;20 Jo«; 2 1 o f c J o ; 2 2 J ^ , 2 3 and frequently. In the homograph, the m. s. act. part., on the other hand, the first letter has the stress and the dominant vowel-sound a and is marked by 1

2 Add. 14425, fol. 3a. Add. 1 2 1 5 0 , fol. 1186. 4 Add. 1 7 1 8 2 , fol. 12b. Add. 14425, fol. 4b. 5 6 Add. 1 7 1 8 2 , fol. 2a. But see above, p. 7, n. 1. 7 8 On the accent 'esyânâ, below, p. 69. Add. 12150, fol. 210a. 10 ' Add. 14425, fol/26. Add. 14425, fol. 36. 12 " Add. 14425, fol. 3a. Hatch, op. cit. 56. 13 Add. 1 4 4 3 1 , fol. 60b. 14 But not normally in the case of the final letter of a word (which has no vowel ; 15 cf. p. 7, n. 1). A summary of the main types only is given here. 16 Add. 12150, fol. 53&. 17 Add. 1 2 1 5 0 , fol. 212a. The i loses its consonantal value and the word is 3

pronounced detâ. 18

19 Add. 12150, fol. 213a. Add. 14425, fol. 2b. 21 Add. 14425, fol. 3a. Add. 14425, foil. 36, 66. 21 Add. 14425, fol. 56b. T h e y loses its consonantal value and the word is 23 pronounced viîteh. Add. 1 7 1 8 2 , fol. 496. 1Q





a point above the line, usually after the lettef concerned: e.g. ;» 111* Ho? ; 3 W l ^ o ^ U » ^ ¿ . k j / ? Joo, ) £ » ,8 and frequently. The use of the diacritical point with these two forms of the verb became so general that it is found even with geminate and hollow verb's where no homographs exist and where consequently there is no danger of ambiguity: e.g. ]j-.o •aooi^a y*.o ; 1 0 (Pirn-» j u o b u t »')jo ^ i ) ; IZ ^ a .I3 3rd pi. pf. has a point below the line to mark the first letter w i t h / W : e.g. o i a ^ j ; 1 4 oo.ti.; 1 5 c ^ i l o ; 1 6 oo.c*;17 o A - o ; 1 8 and frequently. So also with geminate verbs: e.g. o X x ; ' 9 qXxio. 20 In the same way 1st pi. pf. receives a point below the line after the first letter with s'zed: e.g. '; 2 1 yi*>};22 23 24 yj»/ ; ^jfc«^». 1st pi. pf. of verbs tertiae âlap have a homograph in the m. pi. act. part., but verbs of all types may take the diacritical point above the line in this participial form to mark the stressed first syllable: e.g. ^ « j / ^ j ' 2 5 t*®*"' v 0 - 1 «?; 26 but also VO^J/

ooot ^ a o h l ; 2 8 Ç.VS*-»; 29

The importance of the diacritical point is shown most clearly in the verbal form Q T L T which may, according to the stress and vowels, represent 2nd m. s. pf. or 1st s. pf. or 3rd f. s. pf. These forms are distinguished as follows : 2nd m. s. receives a point below the line after the first letter with s'wiI: e.g. U»h;30 Kao^; 31 fco*^».» i ^ ; 3 2 L o ^ Jllso;33 bwo, 3 4 3S and passim. 1

2 Add. 12150, fol. 211 6. Add. 12150, fol. 2136. 4 Hatch, op. cit. 54. Add. 14425, fol. 6a. 5 6 Add. 14425, fol. 103a. Add. 14425, fol. 1916. 7 8 Add. 17182, fol. 2b. Add. 17182, fol. 496. 10 ' Add. 12150, fol. 50b. Add. 12150, fol. 53a. 11 12 Add. 14425, fol. 51 a. Add. 14425, fol. 4a. 13 14 Add. 14425, fol. 6a. Add. 12150, fol. 68b. 15 16 Add. 12150, fol. 726. Add. 12150, 210b. 17 18 Add. 14425, fol. 2b. Add. 14425, fol. 26b. 20 " Add. 14425, fol. 66. Add. 14425, fol. 66. 21 22 Add. 12150, fol. 73a. Add. 12150, fol. 207a. 23 24 Add. 12150, fol. 207a. Add. 12150, fol. 212a. 25 26 Add. 12150, fol. 73a. Add. 12150, fol. 212a. 27 28 Add. 12150, fol. 596. Add. 12150, fol. 183a. 29 30 Add. 12150, fol. 2106. Add. 12150, fol. 666. 31 32 Add. 12150, fol. 69a. Add. 14425, fol. 3a. 33 34 Add. 14425, fol. 36. Add. 14425, fol. 336. 35 So also 2nd f. s. and 2nd pi. pf.: e.g. » f c o o - ^ i o «¡S-X^-D» (Add. 12150, fol. 212a); U ^ J ^ M (Add. 12150, fol. 213a); • • h(Add. 14425, fol. 146); vokA-^-o? (Add. 12150, fol. 2116), &c. 3




1st s., which is composed of two syllables of the basic form qetlei, receives a point above the line after the vocalized first letter : e.g. two/ ksaojoj Ua-/; 1 fc^oio;2 j » ^ l * ^ ? ; 4 0.V-JÛ; 5 and passim. 3rd f. s. is, like 1st s., made up of two syllables. But there appears to be less stress on the first than on the second syllable, which has the dominant vowel a (qetlat).6 T h e diacritical point is placed, then, below the line after the first syllable: e.g. l«o|o J l » ^ ^ . fc^vauo;7 lb. vi y Ijjo/ »-.» wot . 9 Since, however, confusion might arise between this form and 2nd m. s., we find it shown more precisely by means of two diacritical points reflecting the relative stress value of the syllables—one below the line after the first syllable, the other above the line after the second syllable : 1 0 e.g. JU»»/ twoio; 1 1 I f V o aa ' f c ^ j . 1 4 In verbs teniae âlap, where there is no fear of confusion, it is sufficient to place a diacritical point under the first letter with Vwâ: e.g. L o o » ; 1 5 j j o . 1 6 Sometimes, however, we find two points, by analogy with the 'sound' verb: e.g. -loot ~oi?; 17 'Loot JI?.18 The imperative P*'al also has a diacritical point below the line to mark a letter with s'wâ: e.g. otf> yok-ilo; 19 ys. t ^ - . 2 0 So also where the first radical has fallen away : e.g. c l » . 2 I The infinitive has in the same way a point below the line to mark the first radical letter with s'wâ: e.g. ; 22 Jj-oo. 23 In the imperfect there appears to be no analogous method of 1

2 A d d . 1 2 1 5 0 , fol. 49a. A d d . 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 3 a . 4 Add. 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 36. A d d . 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 7b. 5 A d d . 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 101 b. 6 C f . Birkeland, Akzent und Vokalismus im Althebràischen, 3 f. 8 ' A d d . 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 23b. A d d . 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 61 a. ® A d d . 14609 (dated 586), fol. 95a. 13 In later East Syrian manuscripts when categories of points are distinguished by size—the diacritical point being comparatively small and the accents large— the first of the two points of the 3rd f. s. pf. is small and the second large, 1 —:, see below, p. 2 7 . F o r the close relation between the two categories of points, 11 12 •ee pp. 14, 1 5 . A d d . 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 3a. A d d . 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 3b. 3


21 13

Add. Add. Add. Add. Add.

14425, 12150, 14425, 12150, 14425,

fol. 3a. fol. 72b. fol. 3a. fol. 2 1 0 b . fol. 6a.

14 A d d . fol. 1 4 4 2 5 , 126. A d d . 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 12b. A d d . 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 66. 20 A d d . 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 56. 22 A d d . 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 2 a . 16


A d d . 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 266. But note also

(Add. 1 4 4 2 5 , fol. 1 8 3 a ) ,

(Add. 1 7 1 8 2 , fol. 4a), where the correct pronunciation is produced by an alternative method, the diacritical point marking the vocalization of the prefixed preposition. B2299





distinguishing homographs (3rd f. s. and 2nd m. s.; 3rd m. s. and 1st pl.). So we have : (2nd m. s.) jootl (2nd m. s.) ;2 Jl 3 (3rd f. s.). (ii) Pa"el. T h i s intensive conjugation, in which the first radical letter maintains the stress throughout, is sharply contrasted with the P''al conjugation. T h e stressed syllable significantly has the dominant vowel-sound a, and is marked where necessary with a point above the line to distinguish it from the corresponding form of the P''al:4 e . g . ^ a i ; 5 -cul; 6 p^»;7 oNN-oxiS piJL; 8 c y s o . 9 3rd pl. p f . : qX^jso. 10 1st s. pf.: l y e / fcoo^o? U W . " Imperative: o y 5 ; 1 2 »¿aU»!o. ! 3 Imperfect: 0 ) ^ . 0 ; u (o. 15 Participle: 16 Infinitive: o^n^. ojm\v>,' 7 (iii) T h e reflexive-passive conjugations. These conjugations with the preformative et, Eïp''el and Eïpa"al, reflect the contrast between P''al and Pa"el; the former therefore has a diacritical point below the line, the latter a point above the line. 'Internal' homographs within the individual conjugations are distinguished from each other in the same way as in the simple conjugation. 18 S o Etp>'el: e.g. ^oU/; 19 kounA/ 2 3 (2nd 2 5 m. s. pf.); W*) ' f c - W ^ a n d l ^ - . U » (3rd f. s. pf.); ¿ » » ¡ ^ ^Afc^feooo; 2 6 »o.»)/27 (imper.). Eipa'al: wojl/ fJ>Ur,2* o>->N-> o - l i l j o ; 3 0 p M ^ 3 1 (3rd f. pi. pf.); osifcj». 3 2 (iv) Ap'el. T h e distinctive sign of this conjugation is the diacritical point below the line after the first radical letter, which has 2 ' Add. 12150, fol. so a. Add. 12150, fol. 61 b. 3 Add. 12160 (dated 584), fol. 36. 4 Confusion may arise between, for example, m. s. act. part. P''al and 3rd m. s. pf. Pa"el; both have a point above the line. Usually the former has a point after the first radical (e.g. » ¿ 3 ) , the latter over the first radical but copyists are sometimes negligent. 6 ' Add. 12150, fol. 1166. Add. 12150, fol. 213a. 8 ' Add. 12150, fol. 213a. Add. 14425, fol. 14a. 10 ' Add. 14425, fol. 57a. Add. 12150, fol. 210a. 11 12 Add. 12150, fol. 49a. Add. 14425, fol. 57a. 13 14 Add. 14425, fol. 94b. Add. 14425, fol. 187b. " Add. 14459, fol- I33b" A d d - '4459, fol. 121a. 17 18 Add. 14425, fol. 200b. See above, p. 15. 20 " Add. 12150, fol. 1586. Add. 14425, fol. 4b. 21 22 Add. 12150, fol. 1916. Hatch, op. cit. 54. 23 24 Add. 14425, fol. 3a. Add. 14425, fol. 5b. 25 26 Add. 14425, fol. 37b. Add. 12150, fol. 210b. 27 28 Add. 14425, fol. 34a. Add. 12150, fol. 2136. n 30 Add. 14425, fol. 106a. Add. 14425. fol. 101a. 31 32 Add. 12150, fol. 2136. Add. 17182, fol. 3b.



19 ;2

a s ' w a in the basic f o r m of the 3 r d m . s. p f . : e.g. o f c o / ;* 3

a-op»/ 0*00/ ; otl^woojo ;



'Ua^ep/ )l ; so also where the first radical

is absorbed, «as/; 6 k a a ! ? ; 7 and od^ua^jo . . . l k - i o 8 ( 3 r d f. s. p f . ) ; « a s l 9 ( 3 r d f. s. impf.). B u t in the m. s. part, of roots where the first radical has been elided the preformative m with the v o w e l - s o u n d a frequently takes a point above the line. T h i s is perhaps intended e.g. A \ . I Q . ' 0

to avoid confusion with infin. P'al: (b) Other parts



H e r e again, to prevent misunderstanding between homographs, a diacritical point below the line shows that a letter has s'zva, while a point above the line informs the reader that a full vowel, usually the v o w e l a, is to be pronounced. Nouns:

1 1

j ^ ;




Add. 14425, fol. 105a. 22 Add. 14431, fol. 26. 24 Add. 1 7 1 1 0 , fol. 8a. 26 Add. 14425, fol. 2b. Add. 12150, fol. 206b and passim. 30 Add. 14425, fol. 6b.

33 Add. 14425, fol. 576. Add. 14425, fol. 29a. " Add. 14568 (dated 599), fol. 326. 35 Add. 14425, fol. 37b. 41 Add. 14431, fol. 1 1 5 a . 35










Ji*aso yoia^; »0» V^odo; ?o,*7. On the other hand we find: ^.tf^Jljo;»'.^».6


Miscellaneous: (ASO? ;7 ^»l -aX-» ;8 UJJO f+o.9 On the other hand:

3. Homographs which resemble each other exactly in the number and stress value of their syllables and are to be distinguished from each other only by the character of their vowels, are marked by the diacritical point. Syriac vowels may be classified roughly into three groups—the a-group, the /-group, and the w-group. In the written language the last group was treated separately, for early in the fifth century and continuously thereafter it is invariably represented by the mater lectionis o .lz Many words with a vowel of the ¿-group which has arisen out of a modified y appear with the mater lectionis Vowel sounds of the a-group, on the other hand, are rarely represented by the mater lectionis / except at the end of the word.13 Ambiguity, then, is likely to arise in a written text only between vowels of the a-group and a limited number of the z'-group, or between shades of vowels within a single group. The possibility of confusion is, as we have already noted, lessened still further by the requirements of the meaning of any given passage; the vowel values of a word are normally implicit from the context to any reader of Syriac acquainted with the vocabulary, the paradigms, and other grammatical conventions of the language. Moreover, the exact shade of 1

Add. 17102, fol. 16a. 3 Add. 17102, fol. 22a. Add. 17102, fol. 416. 4 Add. 14425, fol. 36. 5 6 Add. 14425, fol. 4a. Add. 14425, fol. 1566. 7 8 Add. 14425, fol. 6a. Add. 1 7 1 8 2 , fol. 37a. 9 10 Add. 14431, fol. 2b. Add. 14425, foil. 2b, 3b. " Add. 14425, fol. 5a. 12 The two words and which often appear without o , are in too frequent use and too well-known to permit of any confusion; cf. Bar Hebraeus, K'iaba d1 Semhe, iv. 4, § 4. But even they are found occasionally written with o. T h e insertion or omission of this letter does not, as some scholars (e.g. Zingerle, ZDMG, xx. 446) have claimed, depend upon the position of the word in the written line. An examination of manuscripts of this early period shows the variant spellings of ^ o and to be used indiscriminately in any position in the line. 13 The mater lectionis I is, however, used frequently in the transliteration of foreign names. For an exhaustive discussion of matres lectionis in Syriac, see Duval, op. cit. 56 ff. 2




a vowel within its main class is to some extent determined by the consonantal value of the letter to which it belongs.1 Nevertheless, even within this narrow range confusion might occur between a number of homographs and could be removed only by indicating the character of the vowel sound. Again the diacritical point was the device adopted. The sound a, and more particularly a—z'qapd—was evidently considered the dominant vowel sound.2 That homograph whose distinctive vowel is a or whose distinctive vowel more nearly approaches a receives a point above the line, the other receives a point below the line. This principle may be made clearer by the following diagram; vowel sounds in the area marked by the dotted line are accompanied by a mater lectionis.3



Examples: ycuà, 4 those, opp. vqjo(,5 these; )i , 7 king, opp. UN-?, 8 counsel, cf. llnaN^j ,9 kingdom (which, in spite of the conventional diacritical 10 point, has no homograph); who, whoever, opp. 13 12 from, cf. U ^ j ^jo ^ a o ; J f c ^ x , offering, opp. l l s V v , cause; 16 | i aa> ) i4 book, opp. J^aloo,15 scribe good, opp. rumour; 17

peace-offerings, opp. |ooX*, peace ; j i » ^ , 1 8 in the morn-

ing, opp. JiSj, bird; )uaf>, 19 harp; JJ.a^, 2 0 crime, opp. Jlib»,20 1 T h e most striking illustration of this is, of course, the influence of gutturals on the adjacent vowels. 2 Cf., for example, G . R. Driver, Problems of the Hebrew Verbal System, 45. 3 This vowel diagram and the others that follow below show only the relation of a vowel sound to its neighbours on either side, and not its precise position. It is scarcely necessary to remark here that a vowel sound does not have any definite boundary lines ; it merges into the adjacent sounds as the shades of the colour spectrum all merge into each other. 4 Add. 1 2 1 5 0 , fol. 486; Hatch, op. cit. 5 4 ; and passim. 5 6 Add. 14425, fol. 36; and passim, Add. 1 2 1 5 0 , fol. 107b, See. 7 8 Add. 1 2 1 5 0 , fol. 210a. Add. 1 4 4 3 1 , fol. 1290, &c. 9 10 Add. 1 2 1 5 0 , fol. 210a. Add. 14425, fol. 4a. 11 12 Add. 14425, fol. 1046. Add. 1 4 4 3 1 , fol. 4b. 13 14 Add. 14425, fol. 986. Add. 14445, fol. 36; Add. 1 7 1 0 2 , fol. 54a. 15 16 Add. 14425, fol. 136a. Add. 1 4 4 3 1 , fol. 1 7 6 ; and passim. 18 " Add. 1 7 1 0 2 , fol. 40a. Add. 1 7 1 0 2 , fol. 11 b. 20 " Add. 1 4 4 3 1 , fol. 4 1 a . Add. 1 7 1 0 7 , fol. 24a.







criminal; g i v i n g s h a d e ' PPbecause; 2 4 5 ]»w, vow; Ik»-«; jko^-. So also in proper names .=. denotes the sound a, while — denotes e or i: e.g. (ol.;6 k*^».; 7 ^





U ^ ;

1 6





Such was the ordinary use of the diacritical point in Syriac manuscripts before A.D. 600. But we detect also traces of two more complex developments, exceptional in this early period but of frequent occurrence in the next when Syriac-speaking peoples were divided into two great groups in the East and the West. The first is the extended application of the double diacritical point or - to mark the third of a group of homographs. The sign is, as we know from later grammarians, termed m'paggdana, bridle.20 We have seen it employed with the verbal form, the 3rd f. s. pf. 21 We find it also, although rarely, with nouns: e.g. .}Q22 'ata, sign, opp. )!/, 'eta, he came, and ){/, 'ate, coming (m. s.), and with particles: e.g. and probably also jooto ,7 it marks a s'wa.8 In uniU? and probably infe-ivwot10(2nd m. s. pf.) it marks the vowel-sound e.u In •fcO^oo12 and V ^ J O 1 3 and Tm^O 14 (3rd f. s. pi.) it replaces the lower point of the m' We find also, rarely, the sign -f to mark the vowel a (p'taha, opp. a, z'qapa) which later becomes frequent. This vowel symbol is not to be confused with m'paggdana, with which it is identical in appearance.16 Like it, however, it is a compromise—not between two homographs but between the two vowel sounds a (—) and e (v). 17 Examples: ^trfis ; 18 ; 19 ycwo? .20 The signs 77 and -r representing the vowels e and a respectively are found in both East and West Syrian manuscripts after the breach towards the end of the sixth century, but they are especially frequent in the former. It should be noted that an early manuscript in which they occur, Add. 14425, was copied, according to the colophon, at Amid, which lies at a point north of, and almost equidistant from, Edessa and Nisibis, respectively the two great centres of West and East Syrian cultural life. Amid was a frontier town and the scene of much fighting between the Byzantines and Persians, but at this time it may have belonged to the Eastern rather than the Western sphere of cultural influence. 1 See below, p. 37. It occurs only rarely in East Syrian manuscripts, e.g. lii. (Add. 14460, fol. 18a) and ^so (Add. 1 2 1 7 0 , fol. 122a). Both of these are early manuscripts being dated 600 and 604 respectively. 2 Add. 14425, fol. 3 a ; Add. 1 7 1 7 6 , fol. 586; Add. 14459, fol. 68b, See. 3 4 5 Above, p. 14. Add. 14425, fol. 3a. Above, p. 14. 6 7 8 Add. 14425, fol. lb. Add. 14459, fol. 125a. Above, p. 1 5 . 9 10

Add. 1 7 1 0 7 , fol. 37a. T h e Hebrew text here (Ezek. 2 7 : 7 ) has


12 Add. 14459, fol. 686. " Above, p. 2 1 . Add. 14425, fol. 3b. 15 " Add. 14425, fol. 205b. " Add. 14459, fol. 7oa. Above, p. 17. 16 So Severus bar Sakk6 calls the vowel p'taha pugada; below, p. 49. 17 18 See Jacob of Edessa, below, p. 38 foot. Add. 14425, fol. 3a. " Add. 14425, fol. 4b; Add. 14635 (dated 554), fol. 16b. 20 A d d 1 7 1 0 2 , fol. 2 3 a ; so not infrequently with proper names in this manuscript.



THE DIACRITICAL POINT IN THE SEVENTH TO TWELFTH CENTURIES: EAST SYRIA THE system which we have outlined, however adequate it may have been to safeguard the correct pronunciation of well-known words in familiar contexts, was fully intelligible only to members of the language family. With the Schism between Nestorians and Monophysites and the political realinement of the times, the great mass of Syriac-speaking Christians was split into two large groups the Eastern in the Persian, the Western in the Byzantine, sphere. They were not a single cohesive entity. Each fragment, with its own political orientation and ecclesiastical separatism, was a minority on the outskirts of a vast non-Semitic power. It was probably this intimate association and dependence upon non-Semites that led to the need and desire for a more accurate representation of sounds in Syriac, and, in particular, of vowel sounds. The preoccupation of Syrian writers with homographs had been hitherto, as we have remarked, based upon the character of the letter as a simple syllabic unit. In the new phase the letter is defined more precisely in its component parts, that is, in its consonantal and vowel qualities.1 It then became possible to reproduce in Syriac with some exactness any native or foreign word within the old consonantal and the new vowel framework of the language. It should not be supposed, however, that the new system immediately replaced the diacritical point. They appear side by side and are complementary to each other. Even in manuscripts of a very late date when the new signs predominate, the diacritical point is still found, albeit in a truncated and stereotyped form. The new development took place rapidly in the East after the sixth century. 2 In the West, on the other hand, vowels were not 1 M e r x , op. cit. 56, declares that after J a c o b of Edessa (d. 708) Syrian grammarians do not discuss the syllable. M e r x does not volunteer a reason. But it probably lies in the weight given by later grammarians to consonants and vowels rather than to letters and syllables. 2 East Syrian manuscripts dated 600 and later already distinguish the diacritical point from the vowel signs by their size. See above, p. 6.




introduced; the early system continued undisturbed for some centuries, although, as we shall see, there are clear indications that a sharp definition of vowel sounds was recognized in the late seventh century. The two main sections of Syrian Christians followed, indeed, widely separate paths in their general linguistic trends until they gradually reunited in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries. Their systems of vowel signs are therefore analysed separately in the present and the following chapters. A. EAST S Y R I A N


We are fortunate in having at our disposal dated East Syrian manuscripts which, taken chronologically, give a fairly clear picture of the development of the diacritical point and the evolution of the vowel signs.1 The arrangement of the latter by centuries which has been adopted here must, however, be regarded as probable rather than certain. Individual phenomena may be encountered in isolated passages in manuscripts earlier in date than that assigned to them below; such cases are indicative of a trend rather than an accepted practice. Many manuscripts, moreover, bear additions by later revisers who have inserted the punctuation of their own age. Care has beeii taken to cite here examples which are unmistakably in the writing of the original copyist. 1. The diacritical point marks consonantal values as in the first period.2 (i) The letter dlap has a point above the line where it is a radical letter: e.g. k-JJ; 3 ^.(laaX. 4 But it seems that in this period the dlap tended increasingly to lose its consonantal quality. An attempt to arrest this process is probably shown by the extended use, in the course of time, of the diacritical point, to safeguard the pronunciation of the dlap as a consonant. The point is found above the line not only with the 1st s. impf.5 but also with the Ap'el pf.: e.g. k-oot 1

^s>\o P

The principal manuscripts used here are: Add. 14460 (600), Add. 14471 (615), Add. 14448 (699), Add. 7157 (768), Add. 14492 (862), Add. 12138 (899). 2 Above, p. 12. 3 4 Add. 14492, fol. 16. Add. 14460, fol. 14a. s Above, p. 13. 6 7 Add. 7157, fol. n oa. Add. 7157, fol. 326.









(ii) T h e letter he has a point above the line where it is a radical letter: e.g. o t - w ; 1 o»asl.2 In J j o m ^ o . , 3 on the other hand, the point below the line shows that the initial letter is not a true h but merely represents the Greek spiritus asper. T h e use of the diacritical point to distinguish the f. s. from the m. s. suffix continues. 4 But the consonantal quality of the letter hi, like that of alap, was weakening. W e find the point employed, even with the he of the m. s. suffix, to maintain its full value at the end of a word when the next word begins with alap or y od or 1dm ad or'e: e.g. oi\n». ;5 JOOM ^»Jjftik

ons>)7 |CSOI

O.YI V O t ^ A t t i o


o t l k j l . Ji*.? ( J c ; 8



2. T h e use of the diacritical point to mark the retention of the vowel quality of a letter or its reduction to s'zva11 is frequent both with verbal forms and with nouns: e.g. \1Z Uo-Us» ; 13 Hoi: 1 4 but ;' 6 Uii-^, 1 7 wine, but )y*L. , 18 donkey. 3. T h e diacritical point is employed much more freely than in the first period to indicate specific vowel sounds. 1 ' Moreover, while in the previous period the point is normally used in this way only once in a word, now it is found twice in some words. So with the Pa"el conjugation: e.g. o - a j i ;20 j-a-ao ;21 cf. ^XU-vo; 2 3 ysfcJ^js. 24 Similarly in other conjugations: e.g. .fift-o;25 .aasl©;26 yasjjsU; 2 7 Imj^J?. 28 But a new phenomenon, which is already general in manuscripts of the seventh century, is the two-point sign in place of the single 2 Add. 14460, fol. 456. Add. 14460, fol. 25b. Add. 14460, fol. 27b. 4 Also with two points instead of one: e.g. oOa? (Add. 14460, fol. 15a; Add. 14448, fol. 14a). See below, on this page. 5 Add. 14460, fol. zb, 6 Add. 14460, fol. 3a. 8 Add. 14460, fol. 5a. ' Add. 14460, fol. 36. 10 Add. 14492, fol. 1 a. ' Add. 14460, fol. 10a. " See above, p. 15. 1 1 Add. 14460, fol. 10b. " Add. 14460, fol. 44a. 14 Add. 14460, fol. 45a. 15 Add. 14492, fol. 59a. 16 Add. 14460, fol. 49a. " Add. 14492, fol. 1 a. 18 Add. 14460, fol. 20a. " Above, p. 21. 10 Add. 14460, fol. 8a. 21 Add. 14460, fol. 34a. 22 Add. 14460, fol. 12a. 23 Add. 14460, fol. 10b. 24 Add. 7157, fol. 103a. 25 Add. 7157, fol. 616. A later hand has another point below the line: j i a s o . 26 Add. 7157, fol. 144a. See below, p. 27. 28 Add. 14460, fol. 3b. " Add. 14492, fol. 56b. 1





diacritical point below the line. Traces of this are, indeed, as we have noted above, found in manuscripts of the first period. It marks a s'wd: 2 e.g. l^ao;3 Jo«, 4 and frequently. 5 It is employed also to mark the use of the letter o as the vowel u: 6 e.g. Uj* oot;7 llax^., 8 and the use of the letter - as the vowel i: 9 e.g. It also replaces the point below the line in the 3rd f. s. pf. ; traces of this had already appeared in the first period e.g. '¡.-^o 'Uaoio o^.; 1 2 ' l ^ ? I^s;13 L'Ilo . . . tsq^) .' 4 Sometimes the point above the line which normally follows is omitted: e.g. lS-s^S;15 i ^ r , 1 6 Is^ooUi-i? .' 7 An exactly similar form is found with nouns with the m'paggdànà : e.g. ]Lcls ,20 The 3rd f. s. pf. and the f. s. constr. alike have the ending at,21 and we may assume that they are given the same two-point symbol by process of analogy. Most commonly, however, the sign - represents the vowel sound e, as the single diacritical point below the line had done in the first period ; 22 indeed, in the course of time it came to be employed almost exclusively with this significance. Like the other East Syrian vowel points which appeared subsequently it was distinguished from other points by its size. The vowel points formed what Bar Hebraeus later called the category of small points.23 The vowel sign ^ A few examples occur of a two-point symbol above the line, (a) with the f. s. suffix: e.g. on^^V. (Add. 14460, fol. 336); ¿¿i. (ib., fol. 546); « s o (ib., fol. 36a); ~V (ib., fol. 36a); ¿ t - ^ o s S (ib., fol. 64Ò); (è) with the letter o retaining its consonantal sound: e.g. W * » ? 00» (Add. 14460, fol. 36); 001 (ib., fol. boa). Since, however, they all appear only at the end of a word *nd may be the combination of a diacritical point with an accent, they should be treated with caution. 2 3 Above, p. 15. Add. 14448, fol. 14k 4 Add. 14460, fol. 86b\ Add. 14471, fol. 13a, and passim. 5 Cf. the use of - for - to mark the P''a! infin., e.g. .-»mlft\ , Add. 14471, fol. 20a, and Add. 14460, fol. 15a. 4 7 Above, p. 14. Add. 14471, fol. 656. 9 » Add. 14460, fol. 48b. Above, p. 14. " Add. 14471, fol. 396; Add. 14460, fol. 146, 33a. 12 " Above, p. 23. Add. 14460, fol. 15a. 14 " Add. 14460, fol. 97b. Add. 14448, fol. 14a. 16 15 Add. 14460, fol. 33k Add. 14460, fol. 4a. IT Add. 14471, fol. 52a. " Add. 14471, fol. 69a; Add. 14448, fol. 146. See above, p. 22. n 20 So also in West Syria; below, p. 37. Add. 12138, fol. 486. 11 In later West Syrian manuscripts IT. 11 23 Above, p. 2 1 . Above, p. 6.








— is not always placed on the syllable concerned: e.g. a?»«; 1 ^ W S ^ J ;2


opo f J - o i ;

; 4 *£os>i ^.IOI ; 5 10


;6 y o j - k j » ;7 o ^ l / ;8


In some manuscripts the signs — and — are used interchangeably on the same folio and even in the same line: e.g. and )«~ao ; 13 cf. i«^ without points and j - ^ . 1 4 This is particularly the case with loot, h'wd (3rd m. s. pf.), and oot, hu (m. s. personal pronoun). The two-point sign here, however, seems to give the word special emphasis. Thus Jo« is to be taken as a principal, loo. as an auxiliary verb; the latter follows closely upon the main verb in speech, and the initial he is not pronounced.15 Another sign, which is found occasionally in the first period16 but is of general use in East Syrian manuscripts of the seventh century and later, is — for the vowel sound a (p'idhd). It is found only in a closed syllable or before a letter with 'virtual doubling* of its consonantal quality: e.g. - U ; 1 7 U?/; 18 j-oi; 1 » U » l / ; 2 0 '^¿j?; 2 1 ; 2 2 o»o— ,23

The gradual introduction of the vowel signs — and — , and the more extensive use of — as the vowel sound eji, is well 1

Add. Add. 4 Add. 5 Add. ' Add. 8 Add. 10 Add. " Add. 2


14460, 14460, 14460, 14460, 14471, 14471, 14471, 14471,

fol. 3b. 3 fol. 9b. Add. fol. 146. 6 fol. 17a. Add. fol. sb. 9 fol. 20a. Add. fol. 65b. fol. 69a; but the parallel passage in

14460, fol. 10a. 1 4 4 7 1 , fol. 4b. 1 4 4 7 1 , fol. 426. Add. 14460, fol. 11b has

Add. 1 4 4 7 1 , fol. 536, &c. Add. 1 4 4 7 1 , fol. 3b. Add. 14666, fol. 56a. 15 See Bar Hebraeus, K'iaba d'Semhe, iii. 1, § 4, and ii. 4, § 4. The fact that the he is not pronounced has led Bar Malkon (in Add. 25876, fol. 2856), followed by Bar Hebraeus, op. cit. iv. 5, § 1 and, among modern scholars, Martin, JA, 1875, 1 5 1 , and Weiss, Zur ostsyrischen Laut- und Akzentlehre, 1 9 3 3 , 5, to maintain that - n - under jo a indicates that the consonantal value of 0» is retained, while shows that it is to be omitted. This view is, however, clearly incorrect, for retention of consonantal value is shown by the point above the line; above, pp. 1 3 , 26. 16 Above, p. 23. 17 Add. 14460, fol. 146. On this word see Bar Hebraeus, op. cit. iv. 4, § 1. 18 Add. 14460, fol. ib. 19 Add. 14471, fol. 4a. 20 Add. 1 4 4 7 1 , fol. 4b. " Add. 1 4 4 7 1 , fol. 2b. " Add. J 4 4 7 1 , fol. 39b. " Add. 1 4 4 7 1 , fol. 65b. 13







illustrated by a comparison of the pointing of the proper names in Matt. 1. in Add. 14460 (dated 600) and Add! 14471 (dated 615): Add. 14460 onfi\i O «J...K1.V yiinSfn jf^ -•-«

Add. 14471 oonNj Ojl.MftV. yOiaX» yi\->..» (or

So also:

Add. 14460 .iV) (fol. 18 b) o ^ l / (fol. 186) oj^» (fol. 20a)

Add. 14460 iv ub/ mo; yCiv^.N» ^.ikX*.

Add. 14471 juuao yOm-N» ^.¡IsX*.

Add. 14471 o ^ j (fol. 196) o^L (fol. 20a) o)-^» (fol. 21 a)

If, then, we envisage a vowel diagram showing the development of the vowel signs in the middle of the seventh century it would take this appearance:

With the turn of the seventh century we note a further stage in the evolution of the vowel signs. The vowel a (z'qapa) is now regularly given the more precise symbol (or or doubtless to avoid confusion with the other uses of the single diacritical point e.g.

j; 1 jfus Aaoaio;1 JlLo?? )ofco;z Ji-j; 3

A new sign appears also for a vowel sound e between e and i.s It is written — (or — or, rarely, — ) : e.g. oMJ