b-hebrew digest: August 28, 1999

Matthew Anstey manstey at portal.ca
Sun Aug 29 03:54:36 EDT 1999

Gday Karl et alia,

You wrote,

>Please, everyone who knows this book, jump in with a public reply. I
>would like to know also.
>> I just purchased a copy of _A Biblical Hebrew Reference
>> Grammar_ by Christo
>> H.J. can der Merwe, Jackie A. Naude and Jan H. Kroeze. (Sheffield:
>> Sheffield Academic Press, 1999).
>> I would like to hear some of your comments about this book,
>> strengths,
>> weaknesses and the role you think it will play in the
>> future of Hebrew studies.
>> Thanks
>Karl M. Bunday

Because we are using this book in the development of some new translations
software I know this book very well, having read it through in fine detail
many times. The short answer is that it is an excellent *reference* grammar,
sort of a very complex version of Williams. That is, it does not have very
long explanations in most places, but it is very good for checking options
for particular words/syntagems and how they could possibly be understood.
They state in the intro that it is generally linguistically traditional  but
in fact in most places the authors' knowledge of modern linguistics is

Some of the specific strengths are:

1. The treatment of construct chains (a summary of parts of Kroeze's
Afrikaans doctorate)
2. the treatment of gam (van der Merwe's doctorate, I think) . The treatment
of many other individual constituents is also very good, I thought I'd just
mention these two.
3. Chapter 7 on Word Order which is heavily indebted to Gross' work from
1987-1996. This is perhaps the best presentation in English in a monograph
of Gross' very important work.
4. identifying formal vs functional uses of constituents, so they generally
divide syntax, semantics, and pragmatics for each constitutent. (However the
depth of each of these three is quite variable.)
5. morphology of nouns is very well presented
6. the use of more accurate categories for constituents (eg focus particles,
discourse particles, modal words, postconstructus, etc). This could have
been taken further, for instance they still use "perfect" "imperfect" etc
which is surprising considering their overall treatment of the verb system.
7. The inclusion of discourse-level analysis is apparent in most sections.
The authors firmly are of the view that a language cannot be described at
just the sentence level.

Some of the weaknesses/omissions:

1. weak treatment of particle na'
2. no mention of inf. constructs in construct chains.
3. omission of `al meaning "against".
4. only mentions hendiadys with waw joining both elements, ie omits NP NP
5. there could be a subsection on the locative adjunct under the Adjuncts
6. semantics of the verb stems omits a few too many varieties
7. the section on modality of yiqtol could be more nuanced (ie separate
deontic and epistemic modality; objective vs subjective modality etc).
8. it is debatable whether independent pronouns "form" temporal
constructions, which the grammar claims in section 36. Could they not be
requisite dummy nouns in the X-qatal slot?
9. not enough on poetry and its effects on the language.
10. little mention of diachronic changes in BH from early to late. A
reference grammar should probably include a section on the grammar of
Qoheleth for example.

Another general problem is the presenting of information under individual
constituents, such as grouping "modality" under yiqtol rather than treating
"yiqtol" as a section under "modality". There is occasional mention that a
particular word may have a sentential scope or even discourse scope, but the
grammar is still organised around individual words, and only occasionaly
under sentence types (eg Wh-questions). It would be good to see some
sections such as aspect, temporality, modality, discourse, etc that
considered how all the elements of BH work together to determine these
variables. But again, it is a reference grammar, one to turn to when a
particular "yiqtol" is troublesome, it is not a complete theoretical
treatment of everything, so perhaps this criticism is not pertinent to the
goals of the book.

Some of the weaknesses mentioned above we have had to consider in our
project, and they may not be problems that others notice or care for.

Overall it is in my opinion an excellent *reference* grammar and a very good
general BH grammar. Because it is quite different to other Hebrew grammars
it is hard to compare say to texts like W&O or teaching guides like Seow
(btw, when I was first learning Hebrew a book like this would have been
invaluable). It is a different sort of text on BH, which is part of its
appeal, although the decision to present the information the way they have
makes it easier to criticise, since most explanations are so short.

I hope this helps you with the strengths/weaknesses part of your question.
You also asked what role will it play in future of BH studies. This is a bit
hard for me to answer. All three authors seek to integrate modern
linguistics with the study of BH, and I think anyone who does this will
contribute to our knowledge of BH, be it anything from generative to
functional to cognitive to socio- linguistics.

I should also state a disclaimer: I have only 6 years study of Hebrew and
those with better Hebrew and/or better linguistics would perhaps write quite
a different review. But since I have read the book probably more times than
most and checked almost every example I thought I'd say my bit. Hope it

With regards,
Matthew Anstey

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