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a database project for the study of Semitic roots

Application Aiding Design


for Linguistics, History, Cultural Studies, Etc.

By displaying all roots of all Semitic languages, and the words of ethnographic significance, organized in about 2,000 semantic categories, and sorted in order of their root-consonants' position in the oral cavity, Sembase is able to present manageable Synoptic Semitic displays.

If this database were completed, and searchable on the Net, it would be interesting to see if there would be more "hits" on "saddle" or on "sex." Either could provide valuable information to a qualified scholar, but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and I wonder how much nonsense might be written on Sex Among the Semites. I say this to make a point: the database will not be just for linguists. It should be useful for historical, social and cultural studies as well. The records not only include xliterals. Coming from a joint linguistic and ethnographic background, I am taking the trouble to include sets of individual words as well, such as "building parts," "birds," "music," and "supernatural" ~ every word I find, not just root, having to do with "kinship," "sex," the "arts," the "military," etc. Semitic "roots" form both cultural and linguistic universes.

Although Sembase has been formatted to be some sort of an electronic or hardcopy dictionary, the entries are necessarily concise in order to present a synoptic view of Semitic. The work can be used as an index to the Semitic dictionaries. It identifies the roots that are of interest to the research project at hand. The next step should be to consult the appropriate specialized dictionaries, which have far more information. Because it consists largely of roots, one would not be able to find every word meaning "ferment." But if it were necessary to round up every word with this meaning, it would guide the user to every root having to do with fermentation, and a search of the dictionaries would round up those words. A bit laborious, but without this "index," it would take more time than any scholar could afford.

An eventual electronic version will permit full-text searches. But the subcategories of electronic and possible hardcopy versions are very powerful. The subcategory "wife," for example, will have wife-related records that may not contain the word "wife," and which would be missed by a full-text search in an electronic database. With the e-database, one can do both, of course: records in the "wife" subcategory and records with the word "wife" that may not have been assigned to this subcategory.

A little disclaimer is needed regarding the use of the word "all" as in "all roots of all Semitic languages. It is very rare that "all" is really "all." There is always a fish that escapes the net.

SembaSE should also be useful to deciphering texts. At present, when a scholar is trying to determine the meaning of a root only recently attested in a lesser-known Semitic language, one strategy is to try to match consonants and context with a variety of root possibilities in other languages. Even if the context would seem to indicate that the root refers to a building part, it is not possible to inspect all known Semitic words for every building part, and then evaluate the phonological correspondence of likely suspects. Sembase will be able to quickly list every building part in Semitic, or in just one Semitic language, or any combination thereof, or more narrowly, every word for "door" (or door parts), for example. Sembase has already made this possible for Written Arabic (which may well constitute nearly a third of all its entries when completed, believe it or not), Biblical Hebrew and Geez.

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Semitic Fonts You Might Find Useful

Occasionally I find it useful, or just interesting, to design a font for a Semitic language. At times I do it almost for entertainment. After a few hours of data entry, almost anything is entertainment. These fonts have been designed using Fontographer. Please download whatever you want. To the extent possible, the fonts have been designed with an intuitively recognizable keystroke layout to make typing user-friendly. The font keystroke table gives an idea of what the fonts look like, and instructions to install them.

Old South Arabian was extremely simple in the earlier periods, and later became more rounded and was ornamented with a clear parallel to serif. The earlier font thus resembles Ariel, and the later font Times New Roman. It was often written in boustrophedon. Accordingly, I have designed one font for left-to-right, and another for right-to-left, because nonsymmetrical letters flip horizontally to accord with the direction of the line. When using these fonts, one has to change font to change direction. So far no one has developed a boustrophedon word processor. Alas. Earlier OSA, r/l
Earlier OSA, l/r
Later OSA, r/l
Later OSA, l/r

Probably not a lot of use for this one. The OSA script in Ethiopia evolved to the base Geez letters before the vocalized version was developed. This is an example of this prevocalization script. Early Geez

There may be more demand for this version of inscriptional Hebrew. Scripts were constantly developing. Not all inscriptional Hebrew is identical to this, but "Hey!" Look at the variety of modern English scripts. Inscriptional Hebrew
(circa 8th c. BCE)

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A. Chris Eccel III

Here follows a brief bio:

Semslave is not a video game. It is me. The hours required by this project are phenomenal. It is a work of love. And a slave to love is a slave indeed.

Academic Background

1978 Ph.D., University of Chicago in sociology.
My studies were one third sociology, one third statistics and one third at the Oriental Institute.
I was examined in two special fields: social evolution (ancient to modern) and sociology of law.
1972 M.A., University of Utah in sociology.
My thesis was a content analysis of advertisements in Al-Ahram newspaper from 1940 to 1970.
1971 UCLA Law School, first-year law. Made law review, and was offered the Emma da Garmo scholarship for second-year law, but decided not to be a lawyer.
1970 M.A., Harvard University, Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, Arabic major, Hebrew minor.
Completed the course work for the Ph.D. but had second thoughts about my career direction.
Taught myself Geez and Aramaic during this period.
1964 Summer program at Princeton in "Advanced Arabic."
1967 B.A., University of Utah, Greek and Arabic majors, Latin and Hebrew minors.
Graduated number one in the Department of Languages, Magna cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi. I was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship for graduate study. Harvard offered me a three-year scholarship for work towards the Ph.D.
1961 Graduated from East High, Salt Lake City, Utah -- Main fields: debate, literature and physics.

Academic Experience

1984-85 Postdoc at the American Research Center in Egypt.
1982 Visiting Professor, Middle East Center, University of Utah.
1978-81 Assistant Professor, American University of Beirut.
1977-78 Postdoc at the American Research Center in Egypt.

Foreign Service Assignments

2003-07 Director, American Cultural Center, Damascus, Syria.
2003-07 Counselor for Public Affairs, Damascus, Syria.
2001-03 PAO, Algiers, Algeria.
1998-01 PAO, Sanaa, Yemen.
1996-98 USIA, Washington, Director of the Arabic Book Translation Program and founder/webmaster of two websites dealing with the Middle East, one in English and one in HTML Arabic.
1992-96 PAO, Manama, Bahrain.
1989-92 PAO, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
1987-89 Assistant PAO, Baghdad, Iraq.


1942 Born in Wyoming; home town: Green River.
After eighteen years in Wyoming, I lived in France for two and a half years, in Australia for eight months, and in the Arab World for nineteen years. I have traveled in virtually every Arab country and much of Europe, and motorcycled throughout Egypt, including the Sinai, Siwa Oasis, and the entire oasis system from Bahriya to Kharga.


1984 Egypt, Islam and Social Change: Al-Azhar in Conflict and Accommodation, Klaus Schwartz Verlag, Berlin.
1986 "Alim and Mugahid in Egypt: Orthodoxy Versus Subculture, or Division of Labor?", in The Muslim World, Vol. LXXVIII, Nos. 3-4, pp. 189-208.
1988 "The Kinship-Based Cult of Muhammad among the Hamd of the Hawran", in Der Islam 63, 1986, pp. 323-333.
1996 "Azhar, al-", in The Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East, Vol. I, New York.

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a database project for the study of Semitic roots


Sembase can be contacted at eccelac@sembase.org. However, please note that my personal research has been put on hold until I finish Sembase. I will not be able to get to requests to assist in other scholars' research before I am able to devote attention to my own. With regrets.


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