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Delayed subjects in Hebrew clauses

Ecclesiastes syntax

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#1 rmccabe

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 07:43 PM

I am doing some work on Ecclesiastes 1. In v. 6, the explicit subject of the verse is not introduced until the third clause. I am trying to set up a Hebrew construct window that looks for parallel sentences where the subject is delayed until the second or third clause. But I am having trouble writing the conditions for doing this type of search. Can anyone assist me?

 

Bob



#2 Robert Holmstedt

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Posted 24 August 2019 - 07:35 AM

This is an interesting request. The first thing to know is that every clause has a syntactic subject in our model, even if the subject is not overt. So the way to look for such a sequence is to look for a clause with a NULL as the subject followed by a clause with an overt subject (i.e., noun, pronoun). I've attached a screenshot of such a search below. 

 

The second thing to know about our database is that this kind of search will get a lot of false hits for your purposes. We do not link subjects across clauses; that is, we do not indicate participant reference. So the NULL subject may be a human in one clause followed by YHWH as the overt subject in the next clause. I hope this makes sense. Our database did not include discourse tracking for the reason that it is incredibly complicated (adds a whole lot of work!) and is a great deal more subjective than syntax. 

 

Attached File  Screen Shot 2019-08-24 at 8.36.36 AM.png   56.54KB   0 downloads


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Professor, Hebrew and Northwest Semitic Languages
Dept. of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations
The University of Toronto
blog: ancienthebrewgrammar.wordpress.com
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#3 rmccabe

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Posted 24 August 2019 - 06:17 PM

Thank you for the helpful response. I have followed your instructions and did a preliminary search in Job, though I will do further work when I get the time. Besides the numerous false hits, I have not found any sentence structure quite like Eccl 1:6.

 

Unrelated to my question, as I study Eccl, I have found the work you coauthored, Qoheleth: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text, a great resource in working with the Hebrew text.



#4 Robert Holmstedt

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Posted 25 August 2019 - 11:06 AM

I'm thrilled to hear that you find our Qoheleth volume useful.

There is a reason you aren't finding any examples like Eccl 1:6 -- this is a phenomenon known as null cataphora, that is a null (subject) pronoun whose antecedent follows in the next clause. The normal pattern is, of course, anaphora, in which the pronoun (null or overt) follows the antecedent. (I gave two conference papers on anaphora and cataphora this summer and have an article on anaphora coming out in the Journal for Semitics). Cataphora is extremely rare simply due to the ambiguity -- the reader/listener cannot identify the referent of the verbal subject until it is finally given. Obviously this kind of delay is not desirable in normal language due to the processing load / communicative confusion. If I were to hazard a guess why it occurs in Eccl 1:6 it would be because the author is deliberately being coy -- what's coming next? It's fascinating the the LXX and Targ both mistake the ambiguity and take the subject as the sun! (I guess they take it as a reference to the seasonal shift of the sun, not its daily journey.) Confirms the problem with cataphora, doesn't it?

Edited by Robert Holmstedt, 25 August 2019 - 02:38 PM.

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Professor, Hebrew and Northwest Semitic Languages
Dept. of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations
The University of Toronto
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