The pragmatics of word order in biblical Hebrew: A statistical analysis
Moshavi, Adina L.
MetadataShow full item record
The majority of clauses in Biblical Hebrew prose have verb-first word order. Although the dominant order is verb-first, some clauses are inverted, with a fronted subject, object, or adverbial phrase. It is not clear why these clauses deviate from the normal word order. Furthermore, when an inverted clause contains at least two non-verbal constituents, (e.g., a subject and an object,) it is not known why one component, rather than the other, is selected for fronting. Many theories regarding the discourse function of word order inversion have been proposed, but a lack of adequate definitions has been a barrier to statistical verification of these theories. In this study, we test the hypotheses that inversion is linked to temporal sequencing and to information structure, i.e., the "newness" or "oldness" of the information in the clause relative to the previous context. We develop rigorous definitions for these concepts, and perform a multivariate statistical analysis of the book of Genesis. Results indicate that nonsequentiality and focus-presupposition information structure are independently associated with inverted word order. This association is found to exist both in narrative and in direct discourse. Non-sequential clauses may be anterior or simultaneous. The selection of the fronted constituent in non-sequential clauses is found to depend on the clause syntax: the subject is fronted, unless it is pronominal and the clause contains a non-pronominal object or adverbial phrase. In that case, the non-pronominal constituent is fronted, and the pronominal subject is omitted. We identify four different focus types found in focus-presupposition clauses: fill-in, contradictory, additive, and specifying. Fronting in focus-presupposition clauses is governed by a pragmatic consideration, namely the presence or absence of a topic. Clauses with a topic are topicalized, with the topic fronted, while topic-less clauses are focused, with the focus fronted. The topicalized clause can be subdivided in two different ways: into focus and presupposition, and into focus, topic, and pivot. Focusing occurs primarily in direct speech, while topicalization occurs mostly in narrative.