Transitivity and Object Marking in Biblical Hebrew
An Investigation of the Object Preposition 'et
by Peter Bekins
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Hebrew grammarians have found it difficult to explain the variable use of the object preposition 'et in Biblical Hebrew, which has typically been attributed to a weak emphatic sense or explained as stylistic variation. Drawing on the functional-typological literature on Differential Object Marking (DOM), this study takes a fresh approach to the problem by treating transitivity as a prototype category, which can be decomposed into a cluster of interrelated parameters.
Two types of DOM are examined in Biblical Hebrew: asymmetric variations between overt and null marking of the object with 'et and symmetric variations between the marking of the object with 'et and the realization of the argument within a prepositional phrase. Asymmetric variations primarily derive from an association between the grammatical relation object and the pragmatic role of (secondary) topic, while symmetric variations derive from the association between accusative case marking and the semantic patient.
The book makes careful use of the linguistic literature to develop a model that can account for the complex interactions between syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Not only does this contribute to our understanding of Biblical Hebrew in areas such as discourse structure and verbal semantics, but it also points forward to new directions of research related to the typology and chronology of Biblical Hebrew within the context of Northwest Semitic.
Publisher: Harvard Semitic Museum
Publication date: 2014
Bibliographic info: xxi + 234 pp.
"It is a well-conceived and linguistically literate investigation of patterns of use and nonuse of the object preposition 'et in biblical Hebrew. Partial and subject to revision as its conclusions most definitely are, this particular foray into a matter of Hebrew grammar is exemplary in terms of method and contains within it the seeds of significant exegetical gains.
"The conclusions Bekins arrives at are solid and represent an advance over all previous discussions. Cross-linguistically, animacy and definiteness are recognized as primary factors influencing the presence and nonpresence of overt object marking in languages such as Hebrew that (have come to) lack a case system of the kind one finds in Akkadian, Greek, and Latin. The quality of the presentation is excellent to the point that I am left wishing that Bekins will write a full-scale grammar of ancient Hebrew along the same methodological lines.
"On reading Bekins's discussions, I was tempted over and over again to replicate and develop further his results by drilling down and sifting through the data we have in hand from a few more angles. In saying so, I am giving the highest praise I can of a researcher's output."—John Hobbins, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in Review of Biblical Literature
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