New Topics

Matthew Anstey manstey at
Thu Aug 26 15:42:31 EDT 1999

Gday Paul,

You have raised several interesting issues. Firstly, regarding the verbless
clause, I think that Lowery ('Relative Definiteness and the Verbless
Clause,' in The Verbless Clause in Biblical Hebrew: Linguistic Approaches.
Eisenbrauns. 1999.) makes a good case for thinking that subject-predicate
attribution is best decided on a formal scale of "relative definiteness,"
rather than on a more semantic basis of identification vs classification.
According to the scales of both Anderson and Lowery, Boaz is "more definite"
than "the name of the man," however Lowery has pointed to me in personal
correpsondence that in these sort of "naming" clauses the proper noun tends
to be less definite since it is like a label, the name of the man was
'Boaz', or was 'John' etc. So this would suggest that in fact the name is
the subject and 'Boaz' is the predicate. This analysis naturally is
arguable, but it makes sense to me when considering verbless clauses

Secondly, the unmarked word-order for idenitifcation clauses is as you said
s-p, so the order is unmarked here. (Mind you, I would prefer a four or
five-fold differentiation of verbless clauses than just identification or
description. Dik (214) has 6: property assignment, class inclusion,
identification, possession, location, and existence). What seems interesting
to me is the insertion of the relative clause that has the effect of moving
the new-topic to the end, as in the English, "And today, under this very
roof, right before your very eyes, is the never seen before, incredible,
amazing, Mr McGoo!". Languages tend to place Mr McGoo at the end, through
all sorts of strategies. (I think a cognitive linguist would see this as
creating an expectation in the mind of the hearer or reader, "who shall it
be?" The fun of Ruth is that the reader knows the answer before Naomi.)

Secondly, if your analysis is correct, then we have a marked sentence order
indicating new-topic, but, and I could be wrong, this is not a typical usage
for marked sentences. Dik does not count markedness as a feature of
new-topic introduction. It is more usual for it to be used for focus, as you
mentioned. But is this sentence focus or new-topic or both? Focus is usually
achieved by left-dislocation, which is why I am interested in this verse as,
if Dik is right, then New Topic is usually achieved by right-dislocation.
Clearly differentiating these two pragmatic functions and then discerning
their influence on word order in BH is something that interests me, but
seems quite difficult to do.

With regards,

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