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 Long ago it was said, that grammar was the art of writing and of speaking a tongue correctly: but long ago it ought also to have been considered that this definition good for living tongues was of no value applied to dead ones. In fact, what need is there of knowing how to speak and even write (if composing is what is meant by writing) Sanskrit, Zend, Hebrew and other tongues of this nature? Does one not feel that it is not a question of giving to modern thoughts an exterior which has not been made for them; but, on the contrary, of discovering under a worn-out exterior ancient thoughts worthy to be revived under more modern forms? Thoughts are for all time, all places and all men. It is not thus with the tongues which express them. These tongues are appropriate to the customs, laws, understanding and periods of the ages; they become modified in proportion as they advance in the centuries; they follow the course of the civilization of peoples. When one of these has ceased to be spoken it can only be understood through the writings which have survived. To continue to speak or even to write it when its genius is extinguished, is to wish to resuscitate a dead body; to affect the Roman toga, or to appear in the streets of Paris in the robe of an ancient Druid.

I must frankly say, despite certain scholastic precedents being offended by my avowal, that I cannot approve of those sorry compositions, whether in prose or in verse, where modern Europeans rack their brains to clothe the forms long since gone, with English, German or French thoughts. I do not doubt that this tendency everywhere in public instruction is singularly harmful to the advancement of studies, and that the constraint of modern ideas to adapt themselves to ancient forms is an attitude which checks what the ancient ideas might pass on in the modern forms. If Hesiod and Homer are not perfectly understood; if Plato himself offers obscurity, for what reason is this so? For no other reason save that instead of seeking to understand their tongue, one has foolishly attempted to speak or write it.

The grammar of the ancient tongues is not therefore, either the art of speaking or even of writing them, since the sound is extinct and since the signs have lost their relations with the ideas; but the grammar of these tongues is the art of understanding them, of penetrating the genius which has presided at their formation, of going back to their source, and by the aid of the ideas which they have preserved and the knowledge which they have procured, of enriching modern idioms and enlightening their progress.

So then, while proposing to give an Hebraic grammar, my object is assuredly not to teach anyone either to speak or to write this tongue; that preposterous care should be left to the rabbis of the synagogues. These rabbis, after tormenting themselves over the value of the accents and the vowel points, have been able to continue their cantillation of certain barbarous sounds; they have been indeed able to compose some crude books, as heterogeneous in substance as in form, but the fruit of so many pains has been to ignore utterly the signification of the sole Book which remained to them, and to make themselves more and more incapable of defending their law-maker, one of the noblest men that the earth has produced, from the increased attacks that have never ceased to be directed against him by those who knew him only through the thick clouds with which he had been enveloped by his translators [1].

For, as I have sufficiently intimated, the Book of Moses has never been accurately translated. The most ancient versions of the Sepher which we possess, such as those of the Samaritans, the Chaldaic Targums, the Greek version of the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, render only the grossest and most exterior forms without attaining to the spirit which animates them in the original. I might compare them appropriately with those disguises which were used in the ancient mysteries [2], or even with those symbolic figures which were used by the initiates; the small figures of satyrs and of Sileni that were brought from Eleusis. There was nothing more absurd and grotesque than their outward appearance, upon opening them, however, by means of a secret spring, there were found all the divinities of Olympus. Plato speaks of this pleasing allegory in his dialogue of the Banquet and applies it to Socrates through the medium of Alcibiades. It is because they saw only these exterior and material forms of the Sepher, and because they knew not how to make use of the secret which could disclose its spiritual and divine forms, that the Sadducees fell into materialism and denied the immortality of the soul [3]. It is well known how much Moses has been calumniated by modern philosophers upon the same subject [4]. Freret has not failed to quote all those who, like him, have ranked him among the materialists.

When I say that the rabbis of the synagogues have put themselves beyond the state of defending their lawgiver, I wish it to be understood that I speak only of those who, holding to the most meticulous observances of the Masorah, have never penetrated the secret of the sanctuary. Doubtless there are many to whom the genius of the Hebraic tongue is not foreign. But a sacred duty imposes upon them an inviolable silence [5]. It is said, that they hold the version of the Hellenists in abomination. They attribute to it all the evils which they have suffered. Alarmed at its use against them by the Christians in the early ages of the Church, their superiors forbade them thereafter to write the Sepher in other characters than the Hebraic, and doomed to execration those among them who should betray the mysteries and teach the Christians the principles of their tongue.

One ought therefore to mistrust their exterior doctrine. Those of the rabbis who were initiated kept silence, as Moses, son of Maimon, called Maimonides, expressly said: [6] those who were not, had as little real knowledge of Hebrew, as the least learned of the Christians. They wavered in the same incertitude over the meaning of the words, and this incertitude was such that they were ignorant even of the name of some of the animals of which it was forbidden them, or commanded by the Law, to eat [7]. Richard Simon who has furnished me with this remark, never wearies of repeating how obscure is the Hebraic tongue:[8] he quotes Saint Jerome and Luther, who are agreed in saying, that the words of this tongue are equivocal to such an extent that it is often impossible to determine the meaning [9]. Origen, according to him, was persuaded of this truth; Calvin felt it and Cardinal Cajetan himself, was convinced [10].

It was Father Morin who took advantage of this obscurity to consider the authors of the Septuagint version as so many prophets [11]; for, he said, God had no other means of fixing the signification of the Hebrew words. This reason or Father Morin, somewhat far from being decisive, has not hindered the real thinkers, and Richard Simon particularly, from earnestly wishing that the Hebraic tongue lost for so long a time, might finally be reestablished [12]. He did not conceal the immense difficulties that such an undertaking entailed. He saw clearly that it would be necessary to study this tongue in a manner very different from the one hitherto adopted, and far from making use of the grammars and dictionaries available, he regarded them, on the contrary, as the most dangerous obstacles; for, he says, these grammars and these dictionaries are worth nothing. All those who have had occasion to apply their rules and to make use of their interpretations have felt their insufficiency [13]. Forster who had seen the evil sought in vain the means to remedy it. He lacked the force for that: both time and men, as well as his own prejudices were too much opposed [14].

I have said enough in my Dissertation concerning what had been the occasion and the object of my studies. When I conceived the plan with which I am now occupied, I knew neither Richard Simon nor Forster, nor any of the thinkers who, agreeing in regarding the Hebraic tongue as lost, had made endeavours for, or had hoped to succeed in its reestablishment; but truth is absolute, and it is truth which has engaged me in a difficult undertaking; it is truth which will sustain me in it; I now pursue my course.


[1] The most famous hereslarchs, Valentine, Marclon and Manes rejected scornfully the writings of Moses which they believed emanated from an evil principle.

[2] Apul. I. XL.

[3] Joseph. Antiq. I. XIII. g.

[4] Freret: des Apol. de la Rel chét. ch. II.

[5] Richard Simon, Hist. Crit. L. I. ch. 17

[6] Mor. Nebuc. P. II. ch. 29.

[7] Bochart: de Sacr. animal.

[8] Ibid. I. III. ch. 2.

[9] Hieron. Apelog. adv. Ruff. I. 1. Luther, Comment. Genes.

[10] Cajetan, Comment, in Psalm.

[11] Exercit. Bill. L. I. ex. VI. ch. 2

[12] Hist. crit. I. III. ch. 2.

[13] Hist. Crit. I. III. ch. 3.

[14] The rabbis themselves have not been more fortunate, as one can see in the grammar of Abraham de Balmes and in several other works.






 The word grammar has come down to us from the Greeks, through the Latins; but its origin goes back much further. Its real etymology is found in the root   rg   rk   rq   (gre, cre, kre), which in Hebrew, Arabic or Chaldaic, presents always the idea of engraving, of character or of writing, and which as verb is used to express, according to the circumstances, the action of engraving, of characterizing, of writing, of proclaiming, of reading, of declaiming, etc. The Greek word (greek font) signifies properly the science of characters, that is to say, of the characteristic signs by means of which man expresses his thought.

As has been very plainly seen by Court de Gébelin, he who, of all the archaeologists has penetrated deepest into the genius of tongues, there exist two kinds of grammars: the one, universal, and the other, particular. The universal grammar reveals the spirit of man in general; the particular grammars develop the individual spirit of a people, indicate the state of its civilization, its knowledge and its prejudices. The first, is founded upon nature, and rests upon the basis of the universality of things; the others, are modified according to opinion, places and times. All the particular grammars have a common basis by which they resemble each other and which constitutes the universal grammar from which they emanate [15] for, says this laborious writer, “these particular grammars, after having received the life of the universal grammar, react in their turn upon their mother, to which they give new force to bring forth stronger and more fruitful off-shoots.”

I quote here the opinion of this man whose grammatical knowledge cannot be contested, in order to make it understood, that wishing to initiate my readers into the inner genius of the Hebraic tongue, I must needs give to that tongue its own grammar; that is to say, its idiomatic and primitive grammar, which, holding to the universal grammar by the points most radical and nearest to its basis, will nevertheless, be very different from the particular grammars upon which it has been modelled up to this time.

This grammar will bear no resemblance to that of the Greeks or that of the Latins, because it is neither the idiom of Plato nor that of Titus Livius which I wish to teach, but that of Moses. I am convinced that the principal difficulties in studying Hebrew are due to the adoption of Latin forms, which have caused a simple and easy tongue to become a species of scholastic phantom whose difficulty is proverbial. For, I must say with sincerity, that Hebrew is not such as it has ordinarily been represented. It is necessary to set aside the ridiculous prejudice that has been formed concerning it and be fully persuaded that the first difficulties of the characters being overcome, all that is necessary is six months closely sustained application. I have said enough regarding the advantages of this study, so that I need not dwell further on this subject. I shall only repeat, that without the knowledge of this typical tongue, one of the fundamental parts of universal grammar will always be unknown, and it will be impossible to proceed with certainty in the vast and useful field of etymology.

As my intention is therefore to differ considerably from the method of the Hebraists I shall avoid entering into the detail of their works. Besides they are sufficiently well known. I shall limit myself here to indicate summarily, those of the rabbis whose ideas offer some analogy to mine. The Hebraic tongue having become absolutely lost during the captivity of Babylon, all grammatical system was also lost. From that time nothing is found by which we can infer that the Jews possessed a grammar.

At least, it is certain that the crude dialect which was current in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus Christ, and which is found employed in the Talmud of that city, reads more like a barbarous jargon than like an idiom subject to fixed rules. If anything leads me to believe that this degenerated tongue preserved a sort of grammatical system, before the captivity and while Hebrew was still the vulgar tongue, it is the fact that a great difference is found in the style of writing of certain writers. Jeremiah, for example, who was a man of the people, wrote evidently without any understanding of his tongue, not concerning himself either with gender, number or verbal tense; whilst Isaiah, on the contrary, whose instruction had been most complete, observes rigorously these modifications and prides himself on writing with as much elegance as purity.

But at last, as I have just said, all grammatical system was lost with the Hebraic tongue. The most learned Hebraists are agreed in saying, that although, from the times of the earliest Hellenist interpreters, it had been the custom to explain the Hebrew, there had been, however, no grammar reduced to an art. The Jews, dispersed and persecuted after the ruin of Jerusalem, were buried in ignorance for a long time. The school of Tiberias, where Saint Jerome had gone, possessed no principle of grammar. The Arabs were the first to remedy this defect. Europe was at that time plunged in darkness. Arabia, placed between Asia and Africa, reanimated for a moment their ancient splendour.

The rabbis are all of this sentiment. They assert that those of their nation who began to turn their attention to grammar did so only in imitation of the Arabs. The first books which they wrote on grammar were in Arabic. After Saadia-Gaon, who appears to have laid the foundation, the most ancient is Juda-Hayyuj. The opinion of the latter is remarkable [16]. He is the first to speak, in his work, of the letters which are hidden and those which are added. The greatest secret of the Hebraic tongue consists, according to him, of knowing how to distinguish these sorts of letters, and to mark precisely those which are of the substance of the words, and those which are not. He states that the secret of these letters is known to but few persons, and in this he takes up again the ignorance of the rabbis of his time, who, lacking this understanding were unable to reduce the words to their true roots to discover their meaning.

The opinion of Juda-Hayyuj is confirmed by that of Jonah, one of the best grammarians the Jews have ever had. He declares at the beginning of his book, that the Hebraic tongue has been lost, and that it has been reestablished as well as possible by means of the neighbouring idioms. He reprimands the rabbis sharply for putting among the number of radicals, many letters which are only accessories. He lays great stress upon the intrinsic value of each character, relates carefully their various peculiarities and shows their different relations with regard to the verb. The works of Juda-Hayyuj and those of Jonah have never been printed, although they have been translated from the Arabic into rabbinical Hebrew.

The learned Pocock who has read the books of Jonah in Arabic, under the name of Ebn-Jannehius, quotes them with praise. Aben Ezra has followed the method indicated by these two ancient grammarians in his two books entitled Zahot and Moznayim. David Kimchi deviates more. The Christian Hebraists have followed Kimchi more willingly than they have Aben Ezra, as much on account of the clearness of his style, as of his method which is easier. But in this they have committed a fault which they have aggravated further by adopting, without examining them, nearly all of the opinions of Elijah Levita, ambitious and systematic writer, and regarded as a deserter and apostate by his nation.

I dispense with mentioning other Jewish grammarians [17]. I have only entered into certain details with regard to Juda-Hayyuj, Jonah and Aben Ezra, because I have strong reasons for thinking, as will be shown in the development of the work, that they have penetrated to a certain point, the secret of the Essenian sanctuary, either by the sole force of their genius or by the effect of some oral communication.


[15] Mond. prim. Gramm. Univ. t. I, ch. 13, 14 et 15.

[16] Richard Simon. Hist. Crit. L. I. ch. 31.

[17] Although Maimonides is not, properly speaking, a grammarian, his way of looking at things coincides too well with my principles to pass over them entirely in silence. This judicious writer teaches that as the greater part of the words offer, in Hebrew, a generic, universal and almost always uncertain meaning, it is necessary to understand the sphere of activity which they embrace in their diverse acceptations, so as to apply that which agrees best with the matter of which he is treating. After having pointed out, that in this ancient idiom, very few words exist for an endless series of things, he recommends making a long study of it, and having the attention always fixed upon the particular subject to which the word is especially applied. He is indefatigable in recommending, as can be seen in the fifth chapter of his book, long meditation before restricting the meaning of a word, and above all, renunciation of all prejudices if one would avoid falling into error.







I have announced that I was about to reestablish the Hebraic tongue in its own grammar. I claim a little attention, since the subject is new, and I am obliged to present certain ideas but little familiar, and also since it is possible that there might not be time for me to develop them to the necessary extent. The modern grammarians have varied greatly concerning the number of what they call, parts of speech. Now, they understand by parts of speech, the classified materials of speech; for if the idea is one, they say, the expression is divisible, and from this divisibility arises necessarily in the signs, diverse modifications and words of many kinds.

These diverse modifications and these words of many kinds have, as I have said, tried the sagacity of the grammarian. Plato and his disciples only recognized two kinds, the noun and the verb [18]; neglecting in this, the more ancient opinion which, according to the testimony of Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Quintilian, admitted three, the noun, the verb and the conjunction [19]. Aristotle, more to draw away from the doctrine of Plato than to approach that of the ancients, counted four: the noun, the verb, the article and the conjunction [20]. The Stoics acknowledged five, distinguishing the noun as proper and appellative [21]. Soon the Greek grammarians, and after them the Latins, separated the pronoun from the noun, the adverb from the verb, the preposition from the conjunction and the interjection from the article. Among the moderns, some have wished to distinguish the adjective from the noun; others, to join them; again, some have united the article with the adjective, and others, the pronoun with the noun. Nearly all have brought into their work the spirit of the system or prejudices of their school. Court de Gébelin [22] who should have preferred the simplicity of Plato to the profusion of the Latin grammatists, has had the weakness to follow the latter and even to surpass them, by counting ten parts of speech and giving the participle as one of them.

As for me, without further notice of these vain disputes, I shall recognize in the Hebraic tongue only three parts of speech produced by a fourth which they in their turn produce. These three parts are the Noun, the Verb, and the Relation  ~v  shem,  l[p  phahal,  hlm  millah. The fourth is the Sign,  twa  aoth [23]. Before examining these three parts of speech, the denomination of which is quite well known, let us see what is the fourth, which I have just mentioned for the first time. By Sign, I understand all the exterior means of which man makes use to manifest his ideas. The elements of the sign are voice, gesture and traced characters: its materials, sound, movement and light. The universal grammar ought especially to be occupied with, and to understand its elements: it ought, according to Court de Gébelin, to distinguish the sounds of the voice, to regulate the gestures, and preside at the invention of the characters [24].

The more closely a particular grammar is related to the universal grammar, the more it has need to be concerned with the sign. This is why we shall give very considerable attention to this in regard to one of its elements, the traced characters; for, as far as the voice and gesture are concerned, they have disappeared long ago and the traces they have left are too vague to be taken up by the Hebraic grammar, such as I have conceived it to be. Every sign produced exteriorly is a noun; for otherwise it would be nothing. It is, therefore, the noun which is the basis of language; it is, therefore, the noun which furnishes the substance of the verb, that of the relation, and even that of the sign which has produced it. The noun is everything for exterior man, everything that he can understand by means of his senses. The verb is conceived only by the mind, and the relation is only an abstraction of thought.

There exists only one sole Verb, absolute, independent, creative and inconceivable for man himself whom it penetrates, and by whom it allows itself to be felt: it is the verb to be-being, expressed in Hebrew by the intellectual sign  A  o, placed between a double root of life  hAh  It is this verb, unique and universal, which, penetrating a mass of innumerable nouns that receive their existence from the sign, forms particular verbs. It is the universal soul. The particular verbs are only animated nouns. The relations are abstracted by thought from signs, nouns or verbs, and incline toward the sign as toward their common origin. We shall examine in particular each of these four parts of speech in the following order: the Sign, the Relation, the Noun and the Verb, concerning which I have as yet given only general ideas. In terminating this chapter, the Hebrew alphabet, which it is indispensable to understand before going further, is now added. I have taken pains to accompany it with another comparative alphabet of Samaritan, Syriac, Arabic and Greek characters; so as to facilitate the reading of words in these tongues, which I shall be compelled to cite in somewhat large number, in my radical vocabulary and in my notes upon the Cosmogony of Moses.

It must be observed, as regards the comparative Alphabet, that it follows the order of the Hebraic characters. This order is the same for the Samaritan and Syriac; but as the Arabs and Greeks have greatly inverted this order, I have been obliged to change somewhat the idiomatic arrangement of their characters, to put them in relation to those of the Hebrews. When I have encountered in these last two tongues, characters which have no analogues in the first three, I have decided to place them immediately after those with which they offer the closest relations.


[18] Plat. in Sophist. Prisc. L. Il. Apollon. Syn.

[19] Denys Halyc, de Struct. oral. 2. Quint. Inst. L. I. ch. 4.

[20] Arist. Poet. ch. 20.

[21] Diog. Laert. L. VIII, § 57.

[22] Gramm. univ. L. II. ch. 2. 3 et 4.

[23] An English grammarian named Harris, better rhetorician than able dialectician, has perhaps believed himself nearer to Plato and Aristotle, by recognizing at first only two things in nature, the substance and the attribute, and by dividing the words into principals and accessories. According to him one should regard as principal words, the substantive and the attributive, in other words, the noun and the verb; as accessory words, the definitive and the connective, that is to say, the article and the conjunction. Thus this writer, worthy pupil of Locke, but far from being a disciple of Plato, regards the verb only as an attribute of the noun. “To think,” he said, “is an attribute of man; to be white, is an attribute of the swan; to fly, an attribute of the eagle, etc.” (Hermes, L. I. ch. 3.) It is difficult by making such grammars, to go far in the understanding of speech. To deny the absolute existence of the verb, or to make it an attribute of the substance, is to be very far from Plato, who comprises in it the very essence of language; but very near to Cabanis who makes the soul a faculty of the body.

[24] Gramm. univ. L. I. ch. 8. et 9.


Hebraic Alphabet


Comparative Alphabet