Recycling . . . its not just about the environment!

Perhaps it is the combined effect of information explosion beginning the end of last century combined with the unending pressure to publish or perish, but too often scholars find themselves covering the same old ground that has already been well-covered by past scholars. It is not simply that we are engaged in the same sorts of debates (Indeed, my work on the verb admittedly focuses on one of the most longstanding debates in Hebrew grammar!), it is that we too quickly forget the ideas that earlier scholars have advanced—usually unsuccessfully, which explains their forgotten state. Unfortunately, the rapid digitization of these old resources makes such absent-minded recycling even more egregious.

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Basic Word Order in Biblical Hebrew, update

Back in April and May I wrote a 6-part series on basic word order in the Biblical Hebrew finite verbal clause (see: #1#2#3#4#5, #6). I am now pleased to announce that the full article, with the full lists of examples and fuller interaction with secondary literature, has appeared in The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (an excellent journal that has an exceptionally timely turn-around from submission to online publication).

The direct link to the PDF article is here.

In brief, I argue that Biblical Hebrew can and should be classified as a Subject-Verb language from a cross-lingusitic typological perspective. Moreover, I challenge those who hold the traditional Verb-Subject analysis to defend their position with linguistic arguments. Recently I heard the issue of BH word order characterized as follows: “Everyone believes that Hebrew is VS except for this one fellow Holmstedt.”  This is depressing but not surprising. Though no one has actually argued the VS position from a linguistic perspective (of any sort), the tradition holds for those unwilling to have what they were taught in introductory Hebrew turned on its head.

It is the essence of scholarship to question previous positions using newer analytical frameworks. To remain stubbornly attached to the 18th-century views of Gesenius, as brilliant as he was, is the type of attitude that so often makes Biblical Hebrew studies an embarrassment to those of us who do interdisciplinary scholarship. “I’ll keep thinking Hebrew is VS because … that’s what I was taught” or “… that’s what it seems to me when I read texts” are not acceptable scholarly responses. It is incumbent upon those who think my SV argument is wrong to make the argument using the tools of modern linguistics. Tradition is not an argument (at least not in scholarship).

In my previous word order studies I took a softer rhetorical approach, hoping to woo both senior and junior scholars by the linguistic and aesthetic appeal of my analysis. No more soft wooing. I am coming to the realization that I am probably not going to get through to those who stubbornly hold to the VS position despite sound linguistic arguments to the contrary. So now I am waiting for scholars who are willing to engage linguistics as it is currently formulated. Whoever you are, I invite you to embrace my analysis, contribute to its perfection, or dismantle it. Regardless what you do, if you make a good linguistic argument, I will applaud you. Indeed, I look forward to it!

I have thrown down the gauntlet. Will someone accept the challenge?

Basic Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Verbal Clause, Part 6

The end is here—the end of this series, that is. I’m no end-of-days prophet, just a Hebrew linguist. (For the other parts of the series, see: #1#2#3#4, #5.)

This is the last post in my 6-part series on basic word order in Biblical Hebrew. My posts have focused on a good linguistic methodology for determining basic word order and the data have been taken only from the book of Genesis. My posts (and the article that they have come from) are simply the beginning. This sort of analysis should be applied to every biblical book (I’m getting there!).

Although at the end of the last post I indicated I would provide ‘my story’ of how to account of the word order variation in Hebrew, typologically and diachronically, I decided that adding this component did not fit the methodological focus of the series. I will add a future post that summarizes my own views on Hebrew word order. Indeed, since I’m giving a paper in the Fall in Germany on this issue, I’ll probably want to use this blog as a sounding board.

As for this series, I welcome any methodological challenges, whether you see holes in my argument or have an alternative model drawn from general linguistics. Comment about it. Post it on your blog and let me know. There has never been (as far I can see) an extended, linguistically informed discussion of word order issues in ancient Hebrew and it’s high time we begin!

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Basic Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Verbal Clause, Part 5

In this series (see post #1, #2, #3, #4), I have argued that the study of Biblical Hebrew word order has lacked methodological rigor. In this, the penultimate post, I introduce the last criterion by which the word order data must be filtered.

I have been a bit slower putting up this post since I wanted to check and re-check my data, questioning my judgments as I went in order to produce the best possible results. My eyeballs now hurt more than ever. But, I still hope to finish off the last section by the end of the weekend. From my two or so readers, I covet input.

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Basic Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Verbal Clause, Part 4

The fourth post in a series on Biblical Hebrew Word Order, introduced here.

In the last two posts I introduced and discussed the criteria of frequency and distribution. In this post I will add the criterion of clause type as yet another important filter for the raw word order data.

The Criterion of Clause Type

The second criterion used to filter raw frequency results concerns ‘clause type’. This criterion is predicated on the observation that languages often exhibit different word order patterns in different clause types; in such cases, not all clause types present the language’s basic word order. Consider English interrogative clauses, such as When did Noah leave? This clause type in English has the inflected Verb, did, before the Subject, in contrast to the declarative counterpart, Noah left yesterday. On this basis, we would exclude interrogative clauses as a source for basic word order in English. Moreover, although interrogatives are typically a minority clause type in English texts and so their exclusion would not normally affect the frequency results, we can imagine a text that consists predominantly of questions, resulting in a highly skewed frequency-based analysis for English word order.

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Basic Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Verbal Clause, Part 3

The third post in a series on Biblical Hebrew Word Order, introduced here.

In the last post I introduced and discussed the criterion of frequency—the most commonly applied test for basic word order. While there is simply no way to determine basic word order apart from this criterion, I suggested that it must be carefully applied. In particular, I argue that the raw numbers must be further filtered by other criteria, such as distribution, which I will discuss in this post.

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Basic Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Verbal Clause, Part 2

Nearly two months ago I posted the first part of what was to be a 3-part series on basic word order in Hebrew. The end of the term, grading, and other writing projets have kept me from writing the other posts. In fact, now that I have almost fully drafted the article related to this series, it has become clear that the wiser course (for readability) will be to break the remaining posts into five parts. Below I provide the second. The others will follow this quickly.

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