At the interface of syntax and prosody: differentiating Left Dislocated and Tripartite Verbless Clauses in Biblical Hebrew

Jacobus Naudé, Cynthia Miller-Naudé


The so-called tripartite verbless clause in Biblical Hebrew consists of two nominal phrases and a pronominal element. Three analyses of the pronominal element have been advanced, each with implications for understanding the structure of the sentence. A first approach has been to view the pronominal element as a copular constituent, which serves only to link the two nominal constituents in a predication (Albrecht 1887, 1888; Brockelman 1956; and Kummerouw 2013). A second approach has been to view the pronominal element as the resumptive element of a dislocated constituent (Gesenius, Kautzsch and Cowley 1910; Andersen 1970; Zewi 1996, 1999, 2000; Joüon-Muraoka 2006). A third approach combines the first and second approaches and is represented by the work of Khan (1988, 2006) and Holmstedt and Jones (2014). A fourth approach views the pronominal element as a “last resort” syntactic strategy—the pronominal element is a pronominal clitic, which provides agreement features for the subject (Naudé 1990, 1993, 1994, 1999, 2002). The pronominal element is obligatory when the nominal predicate is a referring noun phrase—the pronominal clitic is used to prevent ambiguity in the assignment of subject and predicate (see Doron 1986; Borer 1983).

As is well-known in the linguistics literature, cross-linguistically left dislocation involves a “gap” at the boundary between the dislocated constituent and the matrix sentence. In spoken language, this gap may be realized by a small pause or an interjection (Berman and Grosu 1976). In this paper we consider the prosodic evidence that is available from the Masoretic accentual tradition. The Masoretes were Jewish scribes who attempted to preserve the precise reading tradition of the biblical text through the addition of a complex system of “accents” which were superimposed on the traditional Hebrew text between the sixth and the tenth centuries CE. Although the accentual system also was used for cantillation purposes, its complex system of conjunctive and disjunctive accents provides important evidence for prosodic phrasing, which can be utilized for differentiating the role of the pronoun in these two types of sentences which are otherwise structurally identical.

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