The Noun ’îš in Ancient Hebrew: A Marker of Essential Participation
SBL Annual Meeting 2020 Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew Seminar: Typological and Grammatical Categorization of Biblical Hebrew
Keywords:Biblical Hebrew, Old Testament, pragmatics, functional linguistics, cognitive linguistics
Taking a functional, cognitive, and communication-oriented approach, this paper posits that in ancient Hebrew, the noun ’îš often played a distinctive role: to signal to an audience that its referent is essential for grasping the depicted situation. In such cases, this noun’s meaning resides mainly on the level of the discourse between the speaker and the audience, rather than on the semantic level. Three types of biblical evidence are presented in support of this idea: ’îš-headed appositions, relative clauses that either serve in lieu of a substantive or modify ’îš, and clauses that introduce an unquantified subset of a known group. The tests involve comparing cases where ’îš is present in a referring expression versus similar cases where it is absent. The study found that all of the studied cases with ’îš were sketching a new or modified situation, in which this noun’s referent was profiled as a key participant. In contrast, all cases without ’îš treated the referent of interest as a given element. The hypothesis accounts for 129 biblical instances of ’îš that scholars had deemed pointless or puzzling. Hence it yields a Hebrew Bible text that is more coherent and informative.
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