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Linguistic Introduction: The Orthography, Morphology and Syntax of Semitic Languages

Part of the Theory and Applications of Natural Language Processing book series (NLP)

Abstract

We present in this chapter some basic linguistic facts about Semitic languages, covering orthography, morphology, and syntax. We focus on Arabic (both standard and dialectal), Ethiopian languages (specifically, Amharic), Hebrew, Maltese and Syriac. We conclude the chapter with a contrastive analysis of some of these phenomena across the various languages.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Parts of the following discussion are based on Wintner [74].

  2. 2.

    In fact, McCarthy [59] abstracts the pattern further by assuming an additional morpheme, vocalization (or vocalism), but we do not need this level of abstraction here. Many terms are used to refer to the concept “pattern”. In addition to pattern and template, researchers may encounter wazn (from Arabic grammar), binyan (from Hebrew grammar), form and measure. The term pattern is used ambiguously to include or exclude vocalisms, i.e., vocalism-specified pattern and vocalism-free pattern [41].

  3. 3.

    Because the language boundaries are not well-defined within the Gurage dialects, there is no general agreement on how many Ethiopian Semitic languages there are.

  4. 4.

    In fact the name abugida, representing a category of writing system with scores of exemplars, comes from one name of the Ge’ez script as well as the pronunciations of the first four characters of the script in one traditional ordering.

  5. 5.

    For the actual character set, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amharic_language#Writing_system.

  6. 6.

    In some other Ethiopian Semitic languages, such as Tigrinya, a distinction is made between masculine and feminine in the second and third person plural as well.

  7. 7.

    Some other Ethiopian Semitic languages distinguish masculine and feminine in the second and third person plural as well.

  8. 8.

    In IPA and Maltese, the symbol \(\hslash \) is used for voiceless pharyngeal fricative or (

    H). In HSB, it reflects the two letters that compose the Ta-Marbuta symbol (

    \(\hslash \)):

    h and

    t.

  9. 9.

    Templates are sometimes further split into patterns and vocalisms [59].

  10. 10.

    The other is Arabic.

  11. 11.

    In spite of some recent claims to the contrary [48, 75].

  12. 12.

    Parts of the discussion in this section are based on Itai and Wintner [49].

  13. 13.

    The undotted script is sometimes referred to as ktiv male “full script”, whereas the dotted script, but with the diacritics removed, is called ktiv xaser “lacking script”. These terms are misleading, as any representation that does not depict the diacritics would lack many of the vowels.

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Correspondence to Ray Fabri , Michael Gasser , Nizar Habash or George Kiraz .

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Fabri, R., Gasser, M., Habash, N., Kiraz, G., Wintner, S. (2014). Linguistic Introduction: The Orthography, Morphology and Syntax of Semitic Languages. In: Zitouni, I. (eds) Natural Language Processing of Semitic Languages. Theory and Applications of Natural Language Processing. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-45358-8_1

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