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Cambridge University Library

Book: Points of Contact, by Nick Posegay

Points of Contact book cover
Melonie Schmierer-Lee
Fri 7 Jan 2022

Points of Contact: The Shared Intellectual History of Vocalisation in Syriac, Arabic, and Hebrew ● By Nick Posegay ● Open Book Publishers, 2021

This book is the newest entry in the Cambridge Semitic Languages and Cultures series, and it is authored by the Genizah Research Unit's very own Nick Posegay. It investigates the shared history of ideas behind the vocalisation systems of three medieval Semitic languages, examining the work of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars as they developed ways to record the recitation traditions of the Bible and Qurʾan.

In the early medieval period, these scholars faced the same challenge of preserving their religious texts in a rapidly changing cultural and linguistic landscape. At this point in time, Syriac, Arabic, and Hebrew scribes lacked most of the diacritic signs that modern writers can now use to record vowel sounds. The few tools they did have, including the matres lectionis letters, were insufficient to transcribe every sound in their pronunciation systems, and so they risked the introduction of errors. Medieval scholars of these three traditions thus created vowel systems to write down the finest details of every Biblical and Qurʾanic verse. They also developed new methods for studying the phonology of their holy languages, down to the last vowel, often synthesising multiple concepts from earlier Greek, Syriac, Arabic, or Hebrew sources.

This book compares the development of the new field of vocalisation in each of these languages to show how medieval scholars exchanged ideas across religious and linguistic boundaries. It incorporates significant evidence known only from Genizah manuscripts, particularly Judaeo-Arabic texts written by Jewish Masoretes and grammarians to describe the Hebrew of the Bible. These include several unpublished fragments that shed light on the evolution of the names of the Hebrew vowels.

The entire book is available to download free of charge at the Open Book Publishers' website:

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