Syntactic tagging (was: Re: software Bible study)

Kirk Lowery KirkLowery at
Mon Jul 13 11:40:40 EDT 1998

On Sat, 11 Jul 1998 00:10:55 -0500 (CDT) Henry Churchyard
<churchyh at> wrote:

>> From: Kirk Lowery <KirkLowery at>
>> Date: Fri, 10 Jul 1998 10:56:53 -0400
>> On Wed, 8 Jul 1998 13:44:48 -0400 B Rocine <596547 at> wrote:
>>> Now here's a wish I would like to pass onto our computer
>>> text-taggers Dale Wheeler, Kirk Lowery, et al.: Tag the boundaries
>>> of clauses.
>> The other choice is to do the encoding *algorithmically*, i.e.,
>> write a computer program to do it.  This has the advantage of
>> absolutely consistent encoding, for the program will follow the
>> rules given it.  But if one doesn't describe all the conditions,
>> handle all the ambiguities, the program will stupidly follow the
>> rules it was given and won't tell the user that there were
>> situations it couldn't handle.
> On the other hand, it's very easy to construct a nested (hierarchical)
> "immediate constituent" parse from the Masoretic accents (though this
> isn't syntactically-labelled, and doesn't exactly correspond to a
> syntactic analysis, it still could be useful for some purposes).

You are very correct, and the accents have been very much neglected in
the linguistic analysis of Hebrew. In the last couple of years I have
begun emphasizing the accents when teaching Hebrew Syntax, and pointing
out their use in exegesis.

And you quite rightly point out the possibility of a low-level parse of
constituents. Unfortunately, the "hierarchy" which the accents represent
is the (musical? intonational?) structure of the massoretic *verse*, not
the hierarchy of clause structure, i.e, there is no accent for "subject"
constituent, dependent or embedded clause, etc. So the constituent
parsing represented by the accents is limited and must be handled with
care. For the "intra-clause" level of analysis, the accents are very
useful as a first pass.

On a related subject Vince DeCaen said that he'd found a simple
syntax-to-phonology mapping with constraints to derive the placement of
the accents. Vince, tell us more.

So anyone doing Hebrew syntax ignores a valuable source of information
in the accents.

Have you or anyone else applied this concretely to any software and/or
text analysis?

>>> While I'm at it, another wish: Tag the boundary between narration
>>> and quoted speech.
>> This will take *real* magic: imagine all the problems of citation
>> (direct quote) boundaries in the prophets!
> I like 2 Kings 1:6, which has four nested layers of quoted speech!

My favorite passage for complex syntax is Deut. 8. Whew! Talk about your
loooonnnnggg sentences!


Kirk E. Lowery, Ph.D.      "A scholar is just a library's way of making
516 Argyle Ave.               another library."
Ambler, PA  19002            --Daniel Dennett, "Darwin's Dangerous Idea"
(215) 641-8634

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