Archive for November 2009

SBL Paper: Paul Korchin on the Pseudo-Cohortative

November 28, 2009

You may know Paul Korchin’s name from his dissertation on markedness in the Canaanite and Hebrew verbal system. He delivered a paper in the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew section which I found interesting.

In Biblical Hebrew 1st person verbs we sometimes find cohortative forms where we would expect a nonvolitive meaning. For instance, in parallel passages 2 Kings uses the cohortative form אבואה, while Isaiah uses אבוא:

2Kg 19:23  וְאָב֙וֹאָה֙‭ ‬מְל֣וֹן‭ ‬קִצֹּ֔ה

And I reached its farthest lodge

Is 37:24 וְאָבוֹא֙‭ ‬מְר֣וֹם‭ ‬קִצּ֔וֹ

And I reached its farthest peak

There are 94 examples of such pseudo-cohortatives compared to 527 normal volitive forms in the Hebrew Bible. Korchin categorizes these into five categories – expression, conveyance, perception, locomotion, and impact – suggesting that they share the feature of action away from the deictic center. Note that since this phenomenon always occurs with 1st person verbs, the deictic center is always the speaker.

Korchin’s argument is that the pseudo-cohortative forms are the result of a natural process of grammaticalization whereby a hypernym is reanalyzed as a ventive or itive affix. A hypernym is a word whose semantic range fully encompasses a second word (or set of words), the hyponym(s). The usual test for a hypernym-hyponym relationship is the “is a” clause:

A puppy (hyponym) is a dog (hypernym).

In the case of the pseudo cohortative, the hypernym would be to go הלך. Korchin suggests that the process may have begun with “get up and go” compounds such as:

Gn 43:8 וְנָק֣וּמָה‭ ‬וְנֵלֵ֑כָה

Let us get up and go…

Unfortunately, this part of his paper became a bit confused so I couldn’t follow exactly how he saw the process unfolding. On the one hand he seemed to be arguing that the affix grammaticalized directly from הלך by phonological reduction, on the other hand he implied that a reanalysis of the cohortative –â affix as a ventive took place.

I was also disappointed that he did not address the argument that what we have with the pseudo-cohortatives is actually hypercorrection by scribes who are misanalyzing the wayyiqtol as waw + volitive form. For 2nd and 3rd person this is the jussive, for 1st person it is a cohortative. Note that the examples are overwhelmingly from books considered to be LBH. In Qumran Hebrew this becomes the normal form.


Back from SBL

November 25, 2009

I had a great time in New Orleans this week and am very glad to have met as many of you as I could. I apologize for not making the bloggers dinner, but we had so many HUC alumni from varying career stages present that I was able to get in a lot of great networking.

Unfortunately, I left in a bit of a rush and left my power cord in the hotel room, so I will have to moderate my computer use a bit for the next few days (or use the old PC in my office, gasp). I am also dead tired, but I have to make three pies for Thanksgiving tomorrow and tonight I am making dinner for the extended family of about 15 (my mother-in-law will be cooking the official meal tomorrow).

So, I have some things on the back burner to discuss, especially John Cook’s interesting paper on the waw-consecutive from Monday afternoon. Daniel Rodriguez also gave me some nudging to get back to my Intro to Linguistics series (on the sidebar) so I played around with that a bit on the plane ride home as well.

For my American friends, have a happy Thanksgiving.

Report from New Orleans

November 22, 2009

I’m here in New Orleans for SBL. I’m not sure if it is because I feel a little higher on the totem pole this year (it feels nice to say ABD, but it will really feel good to finally add the Ph). Perhaps it is because my network of friends has grown a bit so that I know many more people (it was fun to eat both with Chip Hardy of DailyHebrew and non-biblioblogger Alan Lenzi yesterday, I also briefly met Daniel sans Tonya of Hebrew and Greek Reader).

Yesterday morning I sat in the finest SBL presentation I have ever attended. The OI folks did an excellent job discussing the Kuttamuwa inscription. Each paper was well presented and very interesting.

Perhaps I’m a hypocrite, but despite the theme of this blog I can’t make it through the BH linguistics sections, and I particularly found yesterday’s combined poetry section to be a bore. Maybe its because I’ve been reading so much on information structure and word order lately that nothing struck me as particularly novel or interesting. The presentations also tend to be of the order “here is example 37a, and here is 37b…..”


Getting back up to speed

November 17, 2009

My main computer is an iBook G4 that is going on 6 years old now. For the last few months the hard drive has been spinning quite loudly and clicking at me, a sure sign of impending doom (plus I only had about 1/2 GB of free space left which meant it ran slooooow).

So, seeing as how I’m in the middle of writing this dissertation thing I figured a crashed hard drive would not be good. Last night I switched out the old for a new 250 GB model. I think I have everything pretty much back to normal now, but I lost a few fonts that I had put in the main font folder instead of my user folder.

I also have a copy of Leopard coming so I can take advantage of the time capsule backup program. Leopard also has CoreText which can do the contextual forms for OpenType fonts like SBL Hebrew. Unfortunately I can’t go to Snow Leopard since I have a PowerPC.

A definiteness scale

November 12, 2009

Consider the set of sentences in example 1:

1 a. I went to see a doctor today.

1b. I went to see the doctor today.

1c. I went to see your doctor today.

1d. I went to see Dr. Brown today.

1e. I went to see that doctor today.

1f. I went to see her today.

All of the highlighted phrases share the same referent, but notice that there are many more choices for referring expressions beyond indefinite and definite.  This is because these other types of expression also align with definiteness.

While the binary indefinite-definite opposition can be used to code the basic distinction between identifiable and unidentifiable referents, these other types of noun phrases can be used to code other points on the scale in the form of an implication hierarchy. Sticking with Prince’s identifiability scale, a general definiteness hierarchy can be proposed such as 2:

(2) evoked > unused > inferable > brand new >
proper noun definite noun phrase
possessive phrase
indefinite noun phrase

On an implication hierarchy, if a form can be used for one point on the scale, this implies that it can also be used for any higher point on the scale. On the other hand, conversational implicature suggests that if their is a more informative grammatical form for a higher point on the scale, this will be used instead. This tends to limit a particular form to a particular range on the scale, though there can also be reasons for over- or under-specifying a discourse referent.

Personal and demonstrative pronouns are usually taken to be highest on the scale because they refer directly and always express evoked referents. Pronouns can refer either through anaphora, which Prince labels textually evoked, or deixis, in which case the referent is situationally evoked. Demonstratives can also function as determiners when used together with a noun phrase. They can be either deictic (Look at that guy!) or anaphoric (I read that article too.).

Proper nouns also refer directly and are therefore considered to be uniquely identifiable as in Russell’s analysis. Certainly proper nouns can be ambiguous, ie “John Smith”, but unmodified proper nouns tend only to be used to introduce a discourse referent if it is one that the hearer is assumed to be familiar with, and therefore they correlate to the unused category.

Noun phrases marked with the definite article generally cover all discourse referents that can be considered identifiable. Definite noun phrases that are co-referential to an already introduced discourse referent are anaphoric and can be considered textually evoked as in 3:

(3) The neighbor’s dog got out last night. The cur knocked over our garbage cans.

More complicated is the case of first-mention definite noun phrases. In some situations a definite article can function similarly to a demonstrative as in 4 (assuming that a hammer is present in the immediate situation):

(4) Pass me the hammer please.

In this case the definite phrase could be considered situationally evoked. Definites which have unique referents within the relevant social context are comparable to proper nouns and correlate to the unused category. Examples include the sun, the president, the river, etc.  However, most first-mention definites are inferables as I discussed in the last post (like the driver).

Possessives are a more complicated case which I will discuss in my next post. Usually, however, they can be considered an inferrable that includes its anchor.

Additional Bibliography

Fraurud, Kari. “Definiteness and the processing of NPs in natural discourse.” Journal of Semantics 7 (1990): 395-433.

The identifiability scale

November 11, 2009

In my last post, I noted that the choice between “a car” and “the car” has to do with the assumption of whether the particular car is identifiable by the hearer. Thus the use of an indefinite phrase tips the hearer that they need to create a new “record”, while the definite noun phrase causes them to search for an existing record in their mental database.

However, identifying a referent is not always as simple as whether a record exists or not. Though some modify it slightly, the identifiability scale suggested by Ellen Prince remains the starting point for most studies (see also Gundel, et al for a more complicated scale). Prince multiplies the given-new distinction into four basic categories similar to 1:

(1) evoked > unused > inferable > brand new

An evoked discourse referent correlates basically to a given status. It has either been mentioned already or is self-evident from the extra-linguistic situation and can therefore be referred to through anaphora or deixis. For instance, if we are standing in a museum looking at a painting, I might say, “I like the painting.” I don’t need to introduce the painting into the discourse, but can evoke it directly.

On the other end of the scale, brand new discourse referents correspond to what is normally termed new information since they are unfamiliar to the hearer before being mentioned in the discourse. Brand new referents can be made slightly more identifiable by anchoring them. For instance, I might say, “a man I work with” instead of just “a man”.

The middle categories cover referents which have not been introduced into the discourse, but are identifiable based on the hearer’s broader knowledge, so-called first-mention definites. An unused referent is new to the discourse, but it is already familiar to the receiver. This can also be termed discourse-new and hearer-old information. Rather than creating a new referent from scratch, the existing record can be copied from long-term storage directly into the discourse model, along with any existing attributes or links. For instance, take sentence 2:

(2) I went down to the river yesterday.

Presumably, there is only one prominent river within the relevant speech community so that it can be introduced with a definite noun phrase.

Inferrables deal with cases like the cover in my previous post. An entity is inferable “if the speaker assumes that the hearer can infer it via logical or plausible reasoning based on other evoked or inferable entities.” Thus, because it can be inferred that books have covers, there is no reason to introduce a cover as an indefinite noun with a third sentence. A more efficient discourse would be 3:

(3) I bought a book yesterday. The cover was torn.

Givón notes that this can also be called “double-grounding”, since it requires both association and anaphora, or “frame-based reference”. A frame is the set of general knowledge that can be connected to a particular entity or situation.  Often this type of reference is based on whole-part relations or possession as in the case of the book. However, Chafe also gives the example of a classroom which can be inferred to have a teacher, blackboard, and students, but can also be connected to things like homework, books, quizzes, etc., and all of these can be introduced with definites.

In this post I have continued to give examples with indefinite or definite noun phrases, but in my next post I will explore the options for tipping off the hearer more precisely as to where a referent falls on the identifiability scale.

Additional Bibliography

Givón, Talmy. Syntax: An Introduction. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2001.

Prince, Ellen. “Toward a Taxonomy of Given-New Information.” Pages 223-55 in Radical Pragmatics. Edited by Peter Cole. New York: Academic Press, 1981.

Prince, Ellen. “The ZPG Letter: Subjects, Definiteness, and Information-status.” Pages 295-325 in Discourse Description: Diverse Analyses of a Fund Raising Text. Edited by S. Thompson, and W. Mann. Philadelphia & Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1992.

Definiteness within Discourse

November 9, 2009

The idea of definiteness as a scalar rather than binary category comes from its correlation with identifiability. As mentioned in my previous post, identifiability has to do with the hearer’s ability to identify the referent of a particular expression. Thus the choice between “a car” and “the car” by a speaker has to do with their assumptions about whether this particular car can (or should) be identified by the hearer.

First, I need to introduce the concept of a discourse model. The processing of a text by the hearer can be conceptualized as the creation of a temporary discourse model in the hearer’s mind.  This can be conceived of as a relational database consisting of the discourse referents represented by noun phrases in the text (Heim actually uses the analogy of file cards, but I took the liberty to update it a bit). Discourse referents can be individuals, classes, concepts, etc, and can be given attributes and links to other discourse referents based on the information in the text.

So, for instance, in our car example the hearer would have a discourse referent labeled Car to which they could add the attribute that it was bought by me. There can also be a link to me, since I am another discourse referent, with the attribute that I bought the car.

Referent: Pete Car
Attribute: bought car bought by Pete
Links: Car Pete

The most important clue to a hearer when processing a noun phrase in a text is whether they should create a new record for the discourse referent or find an existing record to update. This distinction between new referents and old referents is also termed givenness, expressed as a distinction between given and new information. Irene Heim noted that there is a basic relationship here with definiteness. An indefinite noun phrase triggers the creation of a new discourse referent, while a definite noun phrase usually implies that a discourse referent is given.

So, if the car is unfamiliar to my hearer, then I introduce it as an indefinite, but if I want to refer to it again later I switch to a definite phase to tip the hearer that they already have a record created as in 1:

(1) I bought a car today…. The car is a metallic black color.

The Car record can now be updated with the attribute metallic black.

This view of definiteness tends to highlight the anaphoric use of definiteness – the car is identifiable because it was mentioned previously. However, if identifiability was only a binary category, we would have discourses such as in 2 (from Prince and Walker):

(2) I bought a book yesterday. The book had a cover. The cover was torn.

This sequence feels redundant because it seems likely that the speaker can assume that the hearer knows that books have covers, thus it violates Grice’s Maxim of Quantity:

1. Make your contribution to the conversation as informative as necessary.
2. Do not make your contribution to the conversation more informative than necessary.

However, this sort of general and situational knowledge – that books have covers – is not captured in the basic given-new or definite-indefinite distinctions. Therefore, in my next post I will look at the idea of an identifiability scale and how definiteness can also be considered a scalar.

Additional Bibliography

Heim, Irene. “File Change Semantics and the Familiarity Theory of Definiteness.” Pages 164-89 in Meaning, Use, and the Interpretation of Language. Edited by R. Bauerle, C. Schwarze, and A. von Stechow. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1983.

Kartunnen, Lauri. “Discourse Referents.” Pages 363-85 in Syntax and Semantics 7: Notes from the Linguistic Underground. Edited by J. McCawley. New York: Academic Press, 1976.

Lambrecht, Knud. Information Structure and Sentence Form: Topic, Focus, and the Mental Representations of Discourse Referents. Cambridge ; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Walker, Marilyn, and Ellen Prince. “A Bilateral Approach to Givenness: A Hearer-Status Algorithm and a Centering Algorithm.” Pages 291-306 in Reference and Referent Accessibility. Edited by Thorstein Fretheim, and Jeanette K. Gundel. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1996.