Posted tagged ‘Syntax’

Step 4b – Analyzing Cognate Nominatives: Hifil Denominatives

July 11, 2013

In our search for cognate nominatives, there were five examples in which the verb was realized in the Hifil stem. We can search for these specifically with the following Hebrew construct:

 Screen shot 2013-07-11 at 9.35.11 AM

Here are the results:

 Screen shot 2013-07-11 at 9.35.42 AM

These all seem to be examples of denominal verbs—verbs that are derived from a noun. Remember that the Binyanim are primarily derivational rather than inflectional, meaning that their main function is to create new vocabulary. While Binyan generally interact with roots in predictable ways, it is not so simple as Hifil = causative. Both the Piel and Hifil stems are productive for forming denominatives.

For instance, פרס (Qal) is glossed “to divide s/t;” therefore, we may expect פרס (Hi) to be glossed “to cause s/o to divide s/t.”  In this case, however,  פרס (Hi) is a denominative of פרסה “(divided) hoof” and should be glossed as “to have (divided) hooves.”

In each of these cases, therefore, the cognate nominative is the base nominal from which the Hifil verb was derived. On closer inspection, however, I think that the examples from Lev 11:5 and 6 have been mis-tagged. Note that the verbs יַפְרִיס (Lev 11:5) and הִפְרִיסָה (Lev 11:6) agree with וְאֶת־הַשָּׁפָן “the rock badger (ms)” and וְאֶת־הָאַרְנֶבֶת “the hare (fs)” respectively rather than פַרְסָה “(divided) hoof (fs).” I suspect that these are actually cognate accusative constructions (cf. כֹּל מַפְרֶסֶת פַּרְסָה “all that have a divided hoof” in Lev 11:3). Likewise in Psa 80:10, ‏וַתַּשְׁרֵשׁ שָׁרָשֶׁיהָ , the fs verb agrees with the fs pronominal suffix whose antecedent is גֶּפֶן “vine” in verse 9 while שרש is mp in form. I think that this also is better analyzed as cognate accusative.

Step 2b – Features of Cognate Accusatives: Verbal Semantics

July 3, 2013

In my reading on the cognate accusative in Biblical Hebrew, I’ve noticed that verbal semantics have been somewhat neglected. There are two aspects of verbal semantics that interest me based on the theoretical framework I developed for my dissertation:

First, to what degree does the event fit the transitive prototype? The canonical transitive clause has both grammatical and semantic aspects that line up as follows:

Grammatical Role Subject Object
Semantic Role Agent Patient [1]

Second, to what degree are the verb and object inherently related? Put differently, to what degree does the object add semantic information about the nature of event and to what degree can it exist independently of the event?

The cases that are most interesting linguistically are those in which the event deviates significantly from the transitive prototype and there is a strong inherence between object and verb.

First, consider a phrase like וַיַּעֲלוּ עֹלֹת “They offered burnt offerings” (Exod 32:6). This would seem to fit the semantic prototype since the עֹלֹת are affected/effected patients that undergo a change-of-state. Further, עֹלֹת seems to be semantically meaningful since you can העלה a wide variety of things besides עֹלֹת. Indeed, it is the presence of an object such as עלה, מִנְחָה, זֶבַח, or פַּר that invokes the specific semantic frame of sacrifice in the context of העלה rather than the more generalized meaning “to bring up”. Frankly, there is nothing particularly interesting here about the cognate nature of the accusative.

A phrase such as נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים “Let’s ‘brick’ bricks” (Gen 11:3) would seem to be a middle case. On the one hand, it clearly patterns with verbs of creation where לְבֵנִים fills the role of effected patient; therefore, it fits the transitive prototype semantically. Of course, can you לבן anything else besides לבנים? This makes לבנים redundant, and liable to indefinite object deletion.[2] For instance, מַדּוּעַ לֹא כִלִּיתֶם חָקְכֶם לִלְבֹּן “Why have you not finished your order to ‘brick’?” (Exod 5:14).

Finally, we have cases such as חֲטָאתֶם חֲטָאָה גְדֹלָה “You have sinned a great sin” (Exod 32:30) and ‏וַיֶּחֱרַד יִצְחָק חֲרָדָה גְּדֹלָה “Isaac trembled a great tremble” (Gen 27:33). Neither חטא nor חדר fit the semantic prototype. For instance, חטא (Qal) returns 181 hits in the MT, but I only count two cases in which it governs an object (Exod 32:30 and 32:31) and both of these are cognate accusatives and qualified. Here, an otherwise intransitive verb is massaged into the transitive prototype by treating the phrase חֲטָאָה גְדֹלָה as an effected object which was created by the action of sinning. These are what I would consider proper cognate accusatives (or at least interesting cognate accusatives). [3]

In summary, the basic description of a cognate accusative is an accusative phrase that shares the same root (or a closely related root; note we haven’t really looked into these) as the verb. To analyze the significance of this construction I would divide the data based on noun phrase type and verbal semantics. First, is the accusative a bare indefinite noun phrase or qualified in some manner. Second, to what degree does the clause fit the semantic prototype and what is the inherence relationship between accusative and verb.

[1] An effected patient is created by the action of the agent, while an affected patient undergoes a resulting change of state due to the action of the agent.
[2] Indefinite object deletion is a phenomenon in which the object in a semantically transitive clause may be omitted if it is low in referentiality (indefinite) and can be inferred from context. Verbs of eating and drinking, for instance, often allow indefinite object deletion: ויאכלו וישתוּ “They ate and they drank” (Gen 24:54).
[3] One caveat—be careful about making assumptions concerning whether a verb is “transitive” or “intransitive.” Verbs on the boundaries are often treated differently by different languages.

Step 2a – Features of Cognate Accusatives: Noun Phrase Type

July 1, 2013

Now that we have a list of cognate accusatives (two lists actually) we can begin to develop some measures to further analyze the construction. The analytics window in Accordance shows a variety of patterns.

For instance, in our group of complements you’ll notice 13 particles. Those are the instances where the verb עלה is governing a prepositional phrase headed by על. The group of adjuncts has some similar cases that should be omitted.Image

You will also see that the group of complements can be divided between nouns in the absolute state and those in the construct:


At this point I have maximized what I can do with Accordance, so we will need to start tallying things by hand.[1] My first intuition is that we should look at two things: what types of noun phrases are showing up as cognate accusatives and with what semantic classes of verbs. In this post we will look at the former, the latter in the next.

Based on the analytics, the most obvious division is between bare indefinite noun phrases and noun phrases that are qualified in some manner (adjective, pronominal suffix, or in a construct relation).[2] For our complement cognate accusatives, there are about 80 bare indefinites and 90 qualified nouns. For the adjunct cognate accusatives I count roughly 25 bare indefinites and 15 qualified nouns. Overall it seems to be split rather evenly.

It is often assumed that the cognate accusative construction is used for manner modification. Biblical Hebrew (a root-pattern language) does not have a large set of derivational morphemes; therefore, to an English speaker it may seem like Biblical Hebrew has a shortage of adjectives and adverbs (I believe one of the teaching grammars uses this label).[3] More properly, the language simply expresses such concepts differently. For instance:

‏ וַיֶּחֱרַד יִצְחָק חֲרָדָה גְּדֹלָה

“Isaac trembled a great tremble” ≅ “Isaac trembled greatly”  (Gen 27:33)

In many cases, however, the qualifier does not add any adverbial nuance. Consider the following pair of sentences:

‏ וַיַּחֲלֹם יוֹסֵף חֲלוֹם

“Joseph dreamed a dream” (Gen 37:5)

‏וַיַּחֲלֹם עוֹד חֲלוֹם אַחֵר

“Joseph again dreamed another dream” (Gen 37:9)

Note how there is already an explicit adverbialעודin the second verse. The adjective אחר seems to simply be an adjective here, specifying that it was a second dream.

Further, if manner modification is the function of cognate accusatives, what is the point of all those bare indefinites? It is often suggested that the bare indefinite cognate accusatives also have an “emphasizing” function. Thus:

 שָׁם פָּחֲדוּ פָחַד

“There they shall be in great terror” (Ps 14:5 NRSV, emphasis mine)

In general, I find this highly suspect. Consider these counter-examples in Genesis:

‏ וַיִּדַּר יַעֲקֹב נֶדֶר

“Jacob really (?) made a vow” (Gen 28:20)

‏ וַיִּזְבַּח יַעֲקֹב זֶבַח

“Jacob really (?) made a sacrifice” (Gen 31:54)

‏ וַיַּצֵּב יַעֲקֹב מַצֵּבָה

“Jacob really (?) erected a sacred stone” (Gen 35:14)

While cognate accusatives can leverage the relationship between verb and object in order to introduce manner modification, this does not seem to be a good explanation for the bulk of the examples. In the next post we will consider whether verbal semantics can help us.


[1] In a perfect world, I would like to be able to dump the cognate accusatives from the previous search into a database and then tag each of them with several user defined parameters in order to cross-reference them, but Accordance is not that type of analytical tool. In a slightly less perfect world, I would like to run some sub-searches on the result set we produced with our previous search. Normally we could do this with the [CONTENTS ? ] command, but I realized there is a problem. CONTENTS returns a list of all verses that produced a hit, but the scope for a syntax search must be a chapter or book since it is possible for a syntactic unit to span two or more verses. We can use the analytics to get some broad analysis on the distribution.
[2] Conspicuously, the search returned no hits on nouns determined by the definite article. This seems to be a by-product of the way the [AGREE] command interacts with the syntax tags, namely it is not searching the entire complement phrase for roots that agree, but only the very first element in the phrase. For instance, the following verse did not produce a hit:

לִלְבֹּן הַלְּבֵנִים

“to ‘brick’ the bricks” (Exod 5:7)

Though it is syntactically analogous to this indefinite example:

נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים

“Let’s ‘brick’ bricks” Gen 11:3

The grammars suggest that the typical “internal object” (look it up) is an indefinite cognate accusative. Were we doing a formal research project, we would obviously want to double check these definite examples to see if there is anything interesting going on.
[3] Of course, this line of thinking can lead to bad philosophical conclusions about differences between the Hebrew mind (i.e. they are concrete thinkers) and the Greek mind (capable of abstract thought). For instance, I recently had a man who had some seminary training (a while ago of course) try to argue with me that the “Hebrews” had no “concept of time”. I believe my face went into severe contortions and I began chanting the mantra James Barr… James Barr… James Barr…

Step 1 – Searching for Cognate Accusatives

June 28, 2013

Our first step will be to learn a bit about the cognate accusative construction. Rather than start with the grammars, let’s try this inductively by creating an Accordance search. Begin by opening the HMT-W4 text (not BHS-W4) and link a Hebrew Construct. So, where is the tag for cognate accusative?

When the Syntax project was introduced, one of the loudest complaints was the omission of traditional grammatical labels such as subject, direct object, indirect object, and adverb. Long story short, these labels may be convenient, but they are pre-theoretical and not well-defined for a rigorous syntax. The goal of the syntax DB, therefore, was to be as theory neutral as possible with as few labels as possible.

There are two major distinctions:

At the clause level the subject is distinguished from the predicate:

‏אַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב
[S You ] [P will bruise him (on the) heel ]

At the phrase level complements are distinguished from adjuncts:

תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב
[P will bruise [C him ] [A heel]]

In theory, this allows you to define your own grammatical relations by combining the syntax data with the morphological database. The complement of an active verb is roughly equivalent to the traditional object, the adjunct of a verb is adverbial, the adjunct of a noun is adjectival, etc.

So, our first search will look for all complements of a verb in which both verb and complement share the same root.

Screen shot 2013-06-28 at 3.32.47 PM

Remember that the Syntax DB is hierarchical in nature; therefore, it is a good practice to always build your searches top-down: clause > phrase > etc. You will also want to check “search both directions” for this example.

I have combined the syntax and morphology tags in order to specify that the head of the predicate phrase is a verb. I am not sure if this is the best practice, but the search did not work as expected otherwise.

I have specified that I only want the first—highest level—complement. This is also due to the hierarchical nature of the DB. I am only interested in the complement of the verb, but other elements (like prepositions) take complements which would produce hits if this box was left unchecked.

This search produces 390 hits. Here is a screenshot from the first page:

Screen shot 2013-06-28 at 3.33.29 PM

A quick browse suggests that everything is in order, but we will have to look at the data more closely later. In the next post we will expand our search to consider the cases in which an adjunct shares the same root with the verb. Should these also be grouped with our cognate accusatives? Should we distinguish a subset of cognate objects?

Is there a cognate nominative?

June 28, 2013

If you have studied Biblical Hebrew, then I am sure you are well aware of the cognate accusative construction. On the simple definition, a cognate accusative is an object phrase that shares the same (or a closely related) root as the verb. The phenomenon is much more complex and interesting, of course, but I did not spend much time thinking about cognate accusatives for my dissertation since they are typically indefinite and, therefore, not object marked. 

The other day I found myself wondering whether there was also a cognate nominative and what this may tell us about the nature of the grammatical relations subject and object and/or the accusative case. A quick search of the standard BH grammars came up empty, but then I thought that this may be an interesting research question for a test of the Hebrew Syntax module in Accordance

While I participated in tagging several of the books in the module, to this point I haven’t really tried my hand at any complicated searches. Indeed, while I am intimately familiar with the theoretical framework and terminology of the DB, I must confess that I have not found earlier versions of the search interface to be particularly intuitive.  

In this series of posts we’ll do a little summer research project and see where it leads.