Before I go into the binyanim full blast, here’s a review of the verb root classes from two perspectives.
Peh verb classes: alef, nun, yod. Verbs that start with heh, chet, and ayin have similarities to peh alef verbs.
Ayin verb classes: vav and yod, alef/heh/chet/ayin.
You may have heard of ayin ayin verbs and wondered what difference there was between those and a verb like pal which has an ayin in the middle. The term “ayin ayin“ ought to be replaced with its name in other systems: Gordon called it an L-stem when he described Ugaritic. What it means is that the second and third root letters are identical. Note that this is not NOT the same thing as “gemination” which, in Hebrew, means putting a dagesh in a letter as described in lesson 17. A geminated verb must have a short vowel before the gemination. An L-stem verb can take a long vowel under the first root letter. The third root letter is the starting point for a new syllable in conjugation and must not be considered the same thing as a gemination.
Lamed verb classes: alef/chet/ayin. The lamed heh verbs are specific to Hebrew and combine two historic root classes, lamed yod and lamed vav.
The second perspective on verb root classes is this: alef, heh, chet, and ayin are “guttural letters” and cannot take dagesh; they require different vowels than the strong letters in similar positions. Resh also cannot take dagesh but otherwise is normal.
Vav and yod are “weak letters”. The verbs with these letters in the middle are called “hollow verbs” because the middle letter disappears completely in some forms. Initial yod also disappears for some verbs; I don’t know a rule for this so you have to just memorize them. Historically there was a peh vav form but by the time of Akkadian, it began to disappear because it was easily confused with the initial “v” sound of the conjunction. These verbs were absorbed into the peh yod class and sometimes it shows. Hmmm.
Initial nun is a “weak letter.” In some verbs, it is retained and in others it isn’t. I don’t know of a rule for how to distinguish which verbs will drop it and which won’t. Initial lamed sometimes behaves this way, as in laqach but not lavash.
Flash cards sometimes help people with their verbs. Each time you come across a verb you don’t have in your deck, copy it onto a new flash card with all the vowels. Sort the cards by root class, and you’ll soon get an idea of their similarities and differences. I don’t think there’s an Anki deck for this yet; try creating one and then share it on ankiweb.
Now. I haven’t taken many swipes at Wikipedia on this part of the blog but I will now. The Wikipedia article entitled “Semitic Root” is actually a short discussion of the system of stems or binyanim, which are called “forms” in Arabic. Root classes and stem classes are different things.
The triliteral root system relies on the spelling of the root and relates to how to pronounce the verb under conjugation. Once Akkadian adopted cuneiform as its writing system, it standardized which symbols went with which root class – as much as it could, since there are documented indications that some people couldn’t spell even back then. Subsequently every Semitic language used basically the same verb root classes, until we got to Hebrew and the lamed heh verb class.
The stem or binyan system applies to verbs regardless of what letters are in the root or what vowels are used with the various indications of person, number or gender. Not all verbs use every stem or binyan, but this situation has no relationship to the verb root class the verb belongs to. (If you know of a peer-reviewed paper that says otherwise, let me know.) Also different languages have different sets: there is no nifal in Aramaic or Arabic, and at this point we know of the so-called “internal passives” only in Hebrew. (There will be some posts on those in a few months.)
Verb root classes relate to conjugation. Stem classes or binyanim or forms relate to meaning in many ways. The Wikipedia article on the root confuses these two issues. Ignore it.
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