Accent question - Deut 8:8

Henry Churchyard churchh at
Tue Aug 22 13:49:12 EDT 2000

>> Subject: Re: Parsha question - Deut 8:8
>> From: Jane Harper <jharper at>
>> Date: Thu, 17 Aug 2000 12:22:34 -0700

>> I first learned these "accent" marks as ta'amim, cantillation
>> markers.  Does anybody know how they went from being melodic
>> notation to being considered accent marks and phrase breaks?

> Subject: Re: Parsha question - Deut 8:8
> From: Raymond de Hoop <rdehoop at>
> Date: Thu, 17 Aug 2000 22:27:56 +0200

> According to I. Yeivin, Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah
> (SBL.MasS, 5). Missoula (MA): Scholars Press, 1980, p. 158, the
> accents function is primary musical:

>    ``The chant enhanced the beauty and solemnity of the reading, but
>    because the purpose of the reading was to present the text
>    clearly and intelligibly to the hearers, the chant is dependent
>    on the text, and emphasizes the logical relationships of the
>    words.  Consequently the second function of the accents is to
>    indicate the interrelationship of the words in the text...''

> In my view it is obvious that the primary and secondary function are
> so closely related, that it is impossible to speak of a first and
> second function.  Furthermore it appears that the readings of the
> accents (in this case I mean the break) are based on quite ancient
> traditions, which are also found in Qumran.  An example is found in
> Isaiah 61:10-62:9, which is written colometrically in Qumran and in
> a form that is parallel to the tradition of the Masoretes.  The
> Masoretic accents are *from the beginning* (of their usage, to be
> clear...) intended to mark phrase breaks, next to the musical chant.
> Many scholars (regretably) prefer only the musical function, which
> is not correct.  With regard to the stress, this seems to be a later
> development. Other traditions had another system of placing the
> accents on a word, but the Tiberian system finally won.

A number of different liturgical notation systems seem to have been
all invented roughly during the same period, around the 2nd. half of
the 1st. millennium A.D.: the Greek "pneumata", the Syriac accentual
system, the Latin Gregorian chant, and the Tiberian Hebrew _t.@`amim_.
However, it is only the Tiberian Hebrew system which systematically
notates multiple nested or hierarchical levels of constituency -- or
"continuous dichotomy", as Wickes called it in the 1880's.  The Greek
system is more purely musical (in a way that the Tiberian system,
where every verse monotonously ends in _silluuq_ and most verses have
_'athnah._ at the midpoint, cannot be), while the Syriac system is a
mixed logical/intonational system in which liturgical symbols are not
attached to every word (i.e. is somewhat like modern European
punctuation, but more elaborate).

It seems probable to me, that the reason it was possible to develop an
orthography for Hebrew which systematically notates hierarchical
(nested) constituency relationships, was due to a particular
linguistic feature of Hebrew: that in every Hebrew phrase (of whatever
level), it is always the last word which has the most prosodic
prominence (i.e. consistent endmost-word prominence -- or consistent
phrasal "right-headedness", as it is called in recent linguistic
theory, using a western-alphabet based metaphor of "left"="first" and
"right"="last").  If this special property of the Hebrew phrasal
phonological system had not existed, then the Hebrew cantillational
orthography would have probably developed in a way more like one of
the other roughly-contemporary liturgical notational systems (since
then there would not necessarily be any correlation at all between the
amount of prosodic prominence given to a word, and the importance of
the logical/syntactic break which follows that word -- and it was the
existence of such a correlation in Hebrew that was built upon in
developing the Tiberian cantillational orthography).  I discuss this
more in chapter 3 of my dissertation (see URL in the .sig at end).

So the constituency-notation function of the _t.@`amim_ is in a way
even more basic than their cantillational/melodic function, since the
fundamental _silluuq_ vs. _athnah._ vs. "d1" vs. "d2" vs. "d3"
structure of the accentual system is used to notate constituency,
while it is only in the details of the distributions of different "d1"
accents, of the distributions of different "d2" accents, and of the
distributions of different "d3" accents, that any kind of degree of
freedom which resembles anything that could be called "musical" in a
conventional sense begins to come into play.

So "stress" -- in the sense of relative prosodic prominence of whole
words within phonological phrases -- is a basic part of what is
written down by the Hebrew accentual orthography.  (Such inter-word
stress can be seen in the non-accentual orthography from the contrast
between forms of words with "pausal" phonology vs. those with
non-pausal phonology.)  However, marking word-internal stress
positioning (i.e. indicating a word's main stress by the syllable of
the word on which the orthographic accent symbol is placed, in the
case of accents which are not "prepositive" or "postpositive") is a
logically distinct function of the orthographic _t.@`amim_, without
any direct connection to the other functions (note that hierarchical
constituency is still indicated even by prepositive and postpositive
accents which do not indicate word-internal stress positioning).

Henry Churchyard   churchh at

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