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 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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Searching for Hebrew Word Order

Two different types of posts were promised and have been long in coming. The first is a series of example syntax searches to illustrate how to use the Hebrew Syntax modules in the Accordance Bible Software (see here for my introductory post on the project). The second belated post is the follow-up to my word order discussion.

I have finally begun slowly sketching the syntax searching guide, since now the search programming is sufficiently accurate to produce excellent results (I posted an initial discussion in the Accordance User’s Forum here). And although April was a wash for writing, due to a prolonged illness and grading for the end of the term, I have now begun to finish my word order article; thus, the posts from that article will appear soon.

But, in the meantime, I thought I’d illustrate how sometimes even I’m surprised by the ease of use of our syntax database.

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Posted in Ancient Hebrew, Hebrew Syntax, Syntax Database, Word Order. Tags: , , . Comments Off on Searching for Hebrew Word Order

Basic Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Verbal Clause, Part 1

I have recently finished working through Dr. Adina Moshavi’s 2010 monograph, Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Finite Clause; see here for a table of contents. Below are my thoughts on her book—not a full review but rather an engagement with it. This post will constitute the first part of a 3-part series on Hebrew word order, each of which represents “blogified” components of a article I am writing. Hebrew word order has been an ongoing area of interest for me as long as it has for Moshavi (her book is a revision of her 2000 Yeshiva University PhD thesis).

I take issue with specific, critical parts of Moshavi’s argument. In the three posts of this series I will not interact with her book chapter-by-chapter, section-by-section, and example-by-example, which would be both tedious and a tacit surrender of how the study of word order variation should proceed. (And I don’t like tedium any more than I care to let others establish the parameters and direction of a debate I’m in, and in this case, a debate I overtly joined a decade ago). Instead, I will address Moshavi’s interaction with my previous work on word order in this post (post #1); then in post #2 I will detail what I consider sound methodology and describe what I take to be a balanced typological approach to the issue of basic word order; finally, in post #3 I will build on the previous posts and present an analysis of the data in Genesis, a revision of the analysis I carried out in my 2002 thesis.

It may be helpful to state up front at the beginning that none of these three posts will address the full scope of word order diversity and, in particular, fronting in the biblical texts. Although I am engaged in a long-term project to address this, I will simply say here that there is much in the preceding works on the topic (e.g., Heimerdinger 1999, Shimasaki 2002, Lunn 2006, and Moshavi 2010) with which I agree. While I occasionally gainsay their analyses of specific verses (see, for examples, my reviews of Shimasaki and Lunn), and there are slightly different approaches to defining the term Topic and Focus, etc., there remains some general agreement on the reason for and function of fronted constituents.

Now, to Dr. Moshavi’s book:

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The Biblical Hebrew pronoun as a copula

In a previous post I argued that the likely solution for understanding a textual variant in Lev 1:17 was a processing error by a scribe — an error that reflects a different grammatical construction that the one reflected in the (older) text witnessed by the MT of B19a.  The solution critically requires recognizing that ancient Hebrew had begun to develop the use of the pronoun as a non-verbal copula.

In this post I briefly present the evidence for a copular pronoun in ancient Hebrew. Note that most non-critical (non-quotation, non-original idea) secondary sources have been omitted for the sake of space, although all such sources are included in the bibliography at the end. A greatly expanded discussion of this issue of pronoun syntax is forthcoming in an article written with Andrew Jones (Univ. of Toronto), which I will submit for publication in the near future. After it is submitted, I will post a pdf draft on this blog.

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The Linguistic Solution to the textual variation in Lev 1:17:

The Pronoun as Copula

The status of the third person pronoun as a third element in verbless clauses has been a much studied issue. In nineteenth and early twentieth century scholarship there were adherents of both the copular and non-copular analyses for examples like (1).

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The Nexus between Text Criticism and Linguistics: The Case of Leviticus 1:17

At the end of May I will deliver a paper on this topic at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. The paper is finished, although I have it out to a couple trusted readers. When I feel it is complete, I will post it on the blog and note it here.

Below is my summary of the paper.  I welcome your thoughts, especially those of you more text-critically inclined, since I do not claim to be a text critic as such.

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1. Introduction

There is an uncomfortable truth that linguists of ancient languages admit only rarely and even then with some reticence (and usually in a dark, empty room): we are, plain and simple, dependent on the paleographer, the epigrapher, and … (dare I admit it?), the text critic. For without those scholars who concern themselves with the decipherment of scripts, the first reading of texts, and the reconstruction of textual histories, the linguist would have nothing to analyze.

The difficulty of facing this truth is manifested in the modus operandi of ancient Hebrew linguists: rarely do scholars of biblical Hebrew question the wholesale acceptance of using the Masoretic text, dating to 1008 C.E., as representative of the linguistic system(s) of ancient Hebrew from 1500 years prior. They use the text of the standard printed critical edition, the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia – or its electronic form from some computer program, without qualification, without reckoning with complex textual history represented by the data.

Ancient Hebrew linguists do not always seem to have learned the lessons taught by the Qumran texts, that while some scribes were quite passive transmitters, other scribes expanded, rearranged, and clarified the materials they were transmitting. It is thus clear that ancient language linguists rely on those scholars who investigate the features of an ancient text’s scribal history (using scribal here to refer to author and/or copyist). It is equally clear that, while we need not become experts in textual criticism ourselves, we must understand the issues involved.

Conversely, everything I have said indicates that if the linguist must be aware of text, the text critic must be aware of the linguistic systems. For if the scribe updates a text based on his native grammar and that grammar differs, in large or small ways, from the grammar of the text being copied, the text critic must also be aware of the diachronic changes in linguistic systems in order to understand properly the diachronic changes in the text. It is from this perspective, what a text critic may learn from a linguist, that I shall consider the case of a pronoun variant in Lev 1:17.

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“On their own terms”: Book Goals and Book Reviews

What follows may seem to depart from our stated purpose on the blog to maintain a tight focus on issues of ancient Hebrew grammar. However, since it concerns writing projects in which we are both involved, it seemsrelatedclosely enough for the departure to avoid being an egregious one.

In her 2002OTL commentary on Lamentations(Louisville:WJK), Adele Berlin observed that “a commentary need not be encyclopedic” (ix). Given the massive history of scholarship on every biblical book, which seems to increase exponentially every year, she was wise, in my opinion, to avoid representing “every interpretation put forth or every issue debated in the scholarly literature.” Taking the position that “a commentary gets its character from what is selected for comment, both from the text and from the secondary literature,” she flatly states what her approach is and leaves the rest for others.

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Biblical Hebrew Diachrony

This past November’s NAPH annual meeting brought a close to several years of discussions about linguistic dating of biblical texts that will be preserved in a volume of the papers being being edited by Ziony Zevit and Cynthia L. Miller and published by Eisenbrauns. Both of us have papers appearing in that volume that we have posted here (Cook) and here (Holmstedt).

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Hebrew Textbook(s), Update

In a previous post, we announced the existence of a second Hebrew textbook we have created — one that uses more of an “immersive” learning experience by using comic-book style biblical scenes paired with graded Hebrew texts and asking students to read and answer in biblical Hebrew, and interact with each other and their instructor in Hebrew. This second textbook is titled Biblical Hebrew: An Illustrated Introduction (BHII), which complements the different (more traditional) pedagogy of our first textbook, Biblical Hebrew: A Student Grammar (BHSG).

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What’s in a category?

To paraphrase Shakespeare, “What’s in a category, a grammatical form by any other name would serve the same functions.” Andrason’s recent JHS article (here) and Randall Buth’s response/review of it (here) have me thinking again about categories. Randall has been quite vocal in critiquing the traditional approach to the Hebrew verb (e.g., see the discussion at Hobbin’s blog), which has revolved around the question of whether they express tense, aspect, or mood/modality, which he calls “over-simplistic labels.” Rather, he claims, “the Hebrew yiqtol conjugation can be a Tense and an Aspect and a Mood as the situation demands.” This is because tense-aspect-mood/modality (TAM) are intertwined within verb forms. The World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS) makes the same point in its introductory entry on tense-aspect:

“An alternative to seeing tense, aspect and mood as grammatical categories in the traditional sense is to regard tense-aspect-mood systems as wholes where the building-blocks are the individual tenses, aspects, and moods, such as the Past and the Progressive in English. These will be referred to as grams, and it is assumed that on the cross-linguistic level they represent a restricted set of gram types.” (here).

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