DABHVSinP – Part 7: Direct Speech

Chip Hardy has resumed posting at Daily Hebrew, and Monday’s installment was part of a speech made by Jacob to Laban in Genesis 31. This is an interesting example of the way direct speech is similar and dissimilar to narrative in respect to grounding.

38 זֶה֩ עֶשְׂרִ֨ים שָׁנָ֤ה אָנֹכִי֙ עִמָּ֔ךְ These 20 years I [have been] with you.
Section 1
רְחֵלֶ֥יךָ וְעִזֶּ֖יךָ לֹ֣א שִׁכֵּ֑לוּ Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried,
וְאֵילֵ֥י צֹאנְךָ֖ לֹ֥א אָכָֽלְתִּי׃ and the rams of your flocks I have not eaten
Section 2
39 טְרֵפָה֙ לֹא־הֵבֵ֣אתִי אֵלֶ֔יךָ A torn carcass I did not bring to you.
אָנֹכִ֣י אֲחַטֶּ֔נָּה I myself would bear its loss.
מִיָּדִ֖י תְּבַקְשֶׁ֑נָּה From my hand you would require it.
גְּנֻֽבְתִ֣י י֔וֹם One stolen during the day
וּגְנֻֽבְתִ֖י לָֽיְלָה׃ or one stolen at night.
Section 3
40 הָיִ֧יתִי I was –
בַיּ֛וֹם אֲכָלַ֥נִי חֹ֖רֶב by day, the heat ate me
וְקֶ֣רַח בַּלָּ֑יְלָה and the frost by night,
וַתִּדַּ֥ד שְׁנָתִ֖י מֵֽעֵינָֽי׃ so my sleep fled from me.
Section 4
41 זֶה־לִּ֞י עֶשְׂרִ֣ים שָׁנָה֮ בְּבֵיתֶךָ֒ I have had these 20 years in your house.
עֲבַדְתִּ֜יךָ אַרְבַּֽע־עֶשְׂרֵ֤ה שָׁנָה֙ בִּשְׁתֵּ֣י בְנֹתֶ֔יךָ I have served you 14 years for your two daughters,
וְשֵׁ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים בְּצֹאנֶ֑ךָ and six years for your flocks,
וַתַּחֲלֵ֥ף אֶת־מַשְׂכֻּרְתִּ֖י עֲשֶׂ֥רֶת מֹנִֽים׃ and you have changed my wages 10 times.
Section 5
42 לוּלֵ֡י אֱלֹהֵ֣י אָבִי֩ אֱלֹהֵ֨י אַבְרָהָ֜ם וּפַ֤חַד יִצְחָק֙ הָ֣יָה לִ֔י Had I not had the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac,
כִּ֥י עַתָּ֖ה רֵיקָ֣ם שִׁלַּחְתָּ֑נִי you would have now sent me away empty.
אֶת־עָנְיִ֞י וְאֶת־יְגִ֧יעַ כַּפַּ֛י רָאָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים My affliction and the labor of my hands, God saw,
וַיּ֥וֹכַח אָֽמֶשׁ׃ and he rebuked [you] yesterday.

First off, notice that every clause is asyndetic except for the second clause of a parallel pair and the few wayyiqtol clauses. This is a stark contrast to the chain of syndetic clauses in narrative. Similarly, word order is no longer iconic with sequence, and there is not a verb-initial clause until verse 40 (and after that only the wayyiqtols are clause-initial).

At the risk of over-simplifying, in biblical Hebrew word order has been recognized to be related to the information structure of the sentence. The clause-initial element tends to be the focus of the sentence, ie the new information that is being related. In a narrative clause the normal word order is V(erb)S(ubject)O(bject), and it is the predicate (V + O) that is the focus. The subject has usually already been introduced elsewhere. When other constituents appear clause-initially there are two cases. If the predicate can be presupposed from the context, then the clause-initial constituent is in focus. However, if it is an entirely new event being reported, then the entire sentence is in focus and the clause-initial element is usually being introduced as topic. Thus, within the sentence it is the clause-initial element that tends to be most prominent. A good example of this occurs in verse 39 where a טְרֵפָה֙ is introduced as topic. Notice how all the following references to the טְרֵפָה֙ are anaphoric.

Now, that describes the prominence of the elements within a clause, but how can we measure the prominence of one clause in relation to another? For instance, in Section 1 we have a nice poetic couplet. Both clauses provide evidence of how Jacob treated Laban’s animals well, and they are grammatically equivalent. Perhaps Jacob being the subject of the second clause raises its prominence slightly since he is highly salient in the discourse.

In Section 2 we have an interesting sequence of verbs: lo qatal (irrealis) > x + yiqtol (past habitual) > x+yiqtol (past habitual). In narrative these would all be background. Again, all three seem to be evidence toward the point that Jacob worked hard and seem equally prominent (at least there is no indication of prominence related to “tense-switching”).

Section 3 is a bit more interesting. Here we have a sequence qatal > wayyiqtol which would signal a shift from background to foreground. There is a disjunction after the first clause, and the second and third clauses are very poetic, exhibiting both chiasm and ellipsis of the verb. The events are simultaneous so there is no sequence here, but it seems to me that there is a cause > effect relationship that would indeed correspond to a background > foreground shift, something like “It being the fact that the heat ate me during the day and the cold at night, I didn’t get any sleep.” It is interesting that the idea of not sleeping is flipped around from a negative to a positive, could this have been done specifically to use a wayyiqtol?

In Section 4 we again have a qatal > wayyiqtol shift. This time the relationship is not cause > effect, but more like “despite the fact that I did this…you did this.” This again seems to be consistent with a background > foreground shift. The first sentence in Section 6 is an unreal conditional statement, but the second half again shows a shift qatal > wayyiqtol. Here there is another cause > effect relationship that seems consistent with the background > foreground shift. 

In summary, from this one example it seems that “tense-shifting” may still be related to grounding within the smaller structures of the text, ie within major sections, but it does not seem to have any relation to the macro structure which is organized by topicalization, parallelism, repetition, etc. 

For work on word-order and information structure see Heimerdinger’s dissertation mentioned previously as well as Nicholas Lunn’s Word-Order Variation in biblical Hebrew Poetry, Paternoster, 2006, and Sebastian Floor’s unpublished Stellenbosch dissertation From Information Structure, Topic, and Focus to Theme in Biblical Hebrew Narrative.  


Explore posts in the same categories: Poetic Structure, Semitic Verbal System

4 Comments on “DABHVSinP – Part 7: Direct Speech”

  1. Terry L Eves Says:

    This is a great series of discussions. Please continue
    them. How would I go about obtaining a copy of Sebastian Floor’s dissertation to read?

    • Peter Bekins Says:

      He used to have it posted on-line, but I don’t remember the address anymore. I am not sure if it is available from UMI Dissertations as a PDF either. If you e-mail me (pbekins at fuse dot net) I would be happy to try and e-mail it to you.

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