Pragmatics of New Topics

Paul Zellmer zellmer at
Wed Aug 25 19:15:38 EDT 1999

G'day Matthew,

Actually, this example is counter-expectation for the normal Hebrew
verbless clause.  With the lack of the article in the first element and
the proper noun in the second, the order here is Predicate-Subject,
which is generally used for description, is it not?  The "normal" word
order for identification is "Subject-Predicate."  And it is this
"counter-expectation" that I see as a stronger indication of a new
topic.  (I don't have access to Dik.)  It explains the use of fronting
to bring an element of a clause in focus, which is how I generally see
the "X-" clauses.  [For example, if a contrast is being drawn, the first
clause seems to be normally verb initial (normally a "waw-" form) and
the second clause has the contrasted item, the new topic, if you will,

Again, since I don't have access to Dik, I'm not 100% sure I am talking
about the same thing he is.  So please correct my understanding, if you

Paul Zellmer

----- Original Message -----
From: Matthew Anstey <manstey at>
To: Biblical Hebrew <b-hebrew at>
Sent: Thursday, August 26, 1999 3:02 AM
Subject: Pragmatics of New Topics

> Gday all,
> Dik(1997:316) states that "New Topics across languages have a strong
> preference for taking a relatively late position in the clause." He
> exmaples from English, French, and Russian. A clear example of this in
> view in BH is in Ruth 2:19:
> shem ha'ish 'asher 'asithi
> who I.worked
> `immi hayyom    bo`az
> with.him today [is].Boaz
> Boaz is a new topic *to Naomi*, obviously not to the reader. My
question is,
> do others think that BH generally introduces new topics this way, by
> shifting the new topic to a late position in the clause? Can anyone
think of
> other examples of this of the top of their head? Are there any clear
> counter-examples.
> With regards,
> Matthew Anstey
> Reference: Dik, Simon C. 1997. The Theory of Functional Grammar. Part
1: The
> Structure of the Clause. 2d rev ed. Functional Grammar Series 20, ed.
> Hengeveld. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

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