The fundamental or elementary part of a word. So far as is known no Hebrew equivalent of the term "root" was used with a philological application by the teachers of the Talmud. It is true that they disputed about the radical meaning of "shaḥaṭ," dividing it into the elements "shaḥ" and "ḥaṭ," and that they even played upon the word "'iḳḳer" (Gen. xlix. 6; see Ḥul. 27a; and comp. A. Berliner, "Beiträge zur Hebräischen Grammatik in Talmud," etc., 1879, p. 31, and especially Ẓemaḥ Rabbiner, "Beiträge zur Hebräischen Synonymik in Talmud," 1899, pp. ix. et seq.); but a clear conception of "'iḳḳar," the Aramaic synonym of "shoresh" (root), as denoting the fundamental element of other linguistic forms, was by no means shown. Menahem ben Saruḳ, however, spoke of "letters which belong to the fundamental form ["yesod"]," and Ḥayyuj had a conception of root-letters when he argued against Menahem's opinion that the "aṣl" of the form "wa-tofehu" (I Sam. xxviii. 24) is the letter פ (see M. Jastrow, Jr.'s, ed. of Ḥayyuj's Arabic treatise "The Weak and Germinative Verbs in Hebrew . . . by Hayyug," p. 2, Leyden, 1897).
More important is the question in what the oldest scholars considered the Hebrew roots to consist. Menahem found them in those letters of a verb which are preserved in all its modifications; but Ḥayyuj opposed to this the important theory that no Hebrew verb consists of less than three letters (B. Drachman, "Die Stellung und Bedeutung des Jehuda Chajjug in der Geschichte der Hebräischen Grammatik," p. 44, Breslau, 1885), and this triliteral form was called "root" until modern times.Biliteral Roots.
Investigation did not end here, however. For various reasons it began to be recognized that triliteralism did not represent the original state of the Hebrew language. For example, forms were found like "galgal" (to roll, revolve; Jer. li. 25; comp. Ed. König, "Comparativ-Historisches Lehrgebäude der Hebräischen Sprache," i. 350, 372, 378), showing that the biliteral was an adequate substitute in the language for the triliteral . The same is the case with (= "hurl"; Isa. xxii. 17), which is related to (see König, l.c. i. 500). Furthermore the relationship in meaning among many triliteral verbs could not long remain unnoticed. Traces of the consciousness of this relationship possibly occur even in the Old Testament itself, as is shown by the fact that the name "Noah," which comes from the root , is explained by "yenaḥamenu," a form of the root (Gen. v. 29). This is so remarkable that it was commented upon even in Bereshit Rabbah, ad loc. (A. Berliner, l.c. p. 32). The same consciousness lay behind the connection of words related in meaning, like "yadush," "adosh," etc. (Isa. xxviii. 28; comp. Jer. viii. 13, xlviii. 9a; Zeph. i. 2), or "te'or" and "'eryah" (Hab. iii. 9). That such relationship exists in the case of many triliteral verbs can be plainly seen in a comparison of the following groups of examples; and (Gen. xxx. 39, 41; xxxi. 10; Ps. li. 7), both denoting originally "to be warm"; and (comp. , Isa. xxxiii. 19), "to be strong"; (Isa. xlvi. 8), (Jer. l. 15), and , or originally "support," as is shown by the words "yesh" and "tushiyyah"; and the Ethiopic "wasé'a," "to lift up"; (originally ) and, whose fundamental meaning is "to sit" (comp. and ); "to groan," and , "to roar"; (from which is derived "terufah," denoting "healing") and . The natural conclusion from a comparison of such groups of roots is that their logical relationship rests upon the two consonants which are common to all.
But verbs in which no weak letter occurs also show that two of their consonants are fundamental ones; and a proof of this is the variable position of the third consonant, as is seen from a comparison of (Arabic, "jazar") and (Arabic, "jaraz"), whose radical meaning is "to cut." The Arabic "ḳaṭṭ" = "cut" and the Assyrian "ḳiṭṭi" find their common elements in (Ezek. xvi. 47) = "section, small quantity," in the accusative, "for a small thing." is found also in = "cut down, root out," in = "pluck off," in = "cut down, kill," and in , in which last the meaning "cut off, shortened" has been developed into the conception "small." These proofs have been developed by Hebrew grammarians with varying degrees of distinctness, Gesenius having expressed them with exceptional clearness in his "Lehrgebäude," 1817, pp. 183-185.
The linguistic forms, then, which, as the first expressions of conceptions, contain the rudiments of the more developed forms, are called "roots"; and it is not too great an assumption to say that such roots form the basis of all real words in the Hebrew language. One can neither speak with Friedrich Delitzsch of triliteral roots in the Semitic languages, nor doubt with Kautzsch ("Grammatik," 27th ed., 1902, § 30g) that all Hebrew verbs can be traced back to the biliteral form, i.e., roots.Triliteral Roots.
That biliteral verbs, however, were ever really in use is not probable, assuredly not certain. The above-mentioned fact that , for example, was reduplicated to form does not prove that the biliteral was ever actually in use, as Philippi believed ("Morgenländische Forschungen," etc., p. 96). The two consonants ג and ל were, it is true, sufficient to express the idea of "to roll" when they formed part of a certain combination; but it does not follow that they expressed such an idea when they stood alone. Moreover, it is found that all the verbal and nominal forms of the Hebrew language are built up on a triliteral foundation. This triliteral basis is shown, for example, even in such forms as (= "they surrounded"); for if the ב of this form were not doubled in pronunciation the preceding "a" would have been lengthened. Furthermore, nouns like ("father") show in their inflection, as in the status constructus , that they correspond to a triliteral verb. That the expression of verbal concepts by three consonants was a very old characteristic of Semitic languages has been recently affirmed by the Egyptologist Erman in the following words: "Triliteralism was already well developed when the Egyptian separated from the Semitic languages" ("Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Academie," 1900, pp. 323, 350).
The triliteral embodiment of a verbal concept is called "stem" or, more exactly, "basal stem," to distinguish it from other verb-stems (as "niph'al," etc.) which are built upon it. Moreover, David Ḳimḥi at the beginning of his "Miklol" designated the three consonants of the verbal stem "ḳal" as "the fundamental letters."
The third consonant, which lengthens the biliteral form into the basal stem, may best be called "root-determinative," in imitation of a term used in Indo-Germanic grammar. It may be either a repetition of the second consonant (e.g., in ), or one of the sounds articulated in an adjoining part of the vocal cavity (e.g., in "naḥan" and "laḳaḥ"), or a sound which is half vowel and half consonant (e.g., in ), or an unstable spiritus lenis (e.g., in ), or, finally, a sound which is weak only in comparison with the other two consonants, as is seen in the above-mentioned verbs , , etc. As to the position of the root-determinative, it may stand in the first, second, or third place, as the examples already given show. Nevertheless its position is not wholly independent of certain laws. The first or second consonant of the stem may not be a repetition of one of the two root sounds. Exceptions, as in (Ezek. xxxix. 2), etc., are secondary formations; the form cited, for example, has come from (all the examples may be found in König, l.c. ii. 463). Identity of the first and third consonants of the stem, however, has not been so carefully avoided (comp. ; König, l.c.), because this indirect recurrence of the same sound was less difficult for the articulatory organs. Moreover, the three stem consonants show an interesting mutual relation in respect to quality. When, for example, , and are considered it is seen that the three sounds in each stem agree in degree of strength: all three are either emphatic, surd, or sonant. All sounds which can stand together in the root-stem of a Semitic verb are called compatible.Quadriliteral Roots.
Quadriliteral stems originate in the following ways: (a) The ordinary doubling of the middle consonant to express a greater degree of intensity in the action in question (comp. "ḳiṭṭel," etc.) is often replaced by the insertion of a vowel (comp. ) or of a liquid consonant (, Ps. lxxx. 14; , I Chron. xv. 27; etc.). (b) For a similar purpose the following consonants of the stem may be repeated: the third (comp. ), the first and third (, , etc), the second and third ( = "descendants," derived from ; etc.), or the first after the second (, etc.; see the list of rarer intensive stems in König, l.c. i. 683; ii. 379, 399 et seq.). (c) Other quadriliteral stems, to express the cause of an action, were formed by prefixing one of the following four related sounds: ת (, Hos. xi. 3); ם (, Lev. xi. 22); the spiritus asper (, etc.); or the spiritus lenis (, Jer. xxv. 3; comp. König, l.c. ii. 380, 401 et seq.). (d) Quadriliteral stems formed by prefixing a נ or ת (comp. and ) have a reflexive meaning, the ג probably being connected with the "n" of "anokî," etc., thus expressing the reflex effect of the action on the subject. The same object was gained in other forms by prefixing ת, which recalls the ת of ,etc. (König, l.c. ii. 383). It is, moreover, an interesting fact that the Semitic languages vary in regard to the number of their pluriliterals and that the formation of such stems has increased in the younger branches of the family. The old Hebrew shows comparatively few pluriliterals, while the post-Biblical Hebrew presents a large number of newly created examples (Hillel, "Die Nominalbildung in der Mischna-Sprache," 1891, p. 36). Old Syriac has a considerable number; but modern Syriac far surpasses it in this regard (Nöldeke, "Grammatik der Neusyrischen Sprache," pp. 100 et seq., 256 et seq.).
- Friedrich Philippi, Der Grundstamm des Starken Verbums im Semitischen und Sein Verhältniss zur Wurzel, in Morgenländische Forschungen, 1875, pp. 69-106;
- Friedrich Delitzsch, Studien über Indogermanisch-Semitische Wurzelverwandtschaft, 1873;
- J. Barth, Die Nominalbildung in den Semitischen Sprachen, 1891, pp. 1 et seq. Other references and arguments may be found in E. König, Comparativ-Historisches Lehrgebäude der Hebräischen Sprache, 1895, ii. 369-374, 463.