[b-hebrew] Pronoun )nky in Judg. 6:8

Robert D. Holmstedt rdholmst at uwm.edu
Fri Oct 8 21:50:13 EDT 2004

Dear Harold and Clay,

It's been a while since I've subscribed to this list, but now seems as good a
time to jump back in for a bit as any.

Let me address a number of issues.

First, if one only looks at any linguistic theory from the outside, they would
all appear to be mumbo-jumbo and not apply to so-called "natural" language. 
The semantic operations within Dik's grammar is as good an example as Chomksy's
theories.   Critiquing them without fully understanding them is a bit like
dismissing string theory because one cannot see a connection between a ball of
yarn and the formation of the universe.

In light of the complexity of minimalist theory, and in light of the oodles of
"natural language" data that has been a part of the scientific process of
observe-refine-test-observe that has finally produced minimalism, it is hardly
to be expected that a defense of any issues, e.g., trace/copy theory, empty
categories, universal grammar, movement (whether leftward or rightward), phrase
structure (i.e., "a set grammatical sentence skeleton"), is achievable in an
email list format.  I would suggest Andrew Radford's "Syntactic Theory and the
Structure of English: A Minimalist Approach" (Cambridge, 1997) for a readable
introduction to these issues (with plenty of data).  Or, if you like the
history-of-the-field approach, check out Jamal Ouhalla's "Introducing
Transformational Grammar" (Blackwell, 1999; 2nd edition).  I used Radford's
volume last year in an advanced syntax course (general linguistics, not
Hebrew), and my grad students generally seemed to find it enjoyable.

On to more: Harold's appeal to the "thought process" is really blurring the line
between pschology and linguistics.  What we think we do when we form sentences
may in fact have nothing to do with what the mind actually does.  We have to be
much more careful here, and simple anecdotal evidence really proves nothing in
this regard.

Regarding the "intelligence" of my extraposition argument, I would challenge
anyone to *prove* that )$R does have so many functions.   Is not what we do in
the scientific approach to language just as physical scientists do?  We start
with the observed facts and formulate the simplest hypothesis to account for
them (completely apart from what traditional grammar has taught us)--a
hypothesis that is also in line with what other languages demonstrate (i.e.,
plugging into the Universal Grammar issue).

With regard to the Hebrew relative, my dissertation work involved reading all
4,993 )$R clauses.  My simple question with regard to that article you mention
was this: can a relative explanation explain all the occurrences,taking into
account features like "extraposition" and "headlessness" that are well-known
from other languages?  It is obviously the simplest, and most-scientific
starting point, one's "intuitions" about Biblical Hebrew notwithstanding.  If
the results had not been so overwhelmingly in favor of this, then I wouldn't
have argued for it.  But, over 98% of the )$R clauses in the Hebrew Bible can
be explained as relatives in this way. My proposal is simpler, more elegant,
and based on a scientific linguistic approach.  With Deut 4:10, you've simply
pulled out of the approx. 10 examples out of 4,993 that don't work so well. I
will address these in an appendix in my book on the relative clause, which is
forthcoming in the Eisenbrauns series "Linguistic Studies in West Semitic".


Dr. Robert D. Holmstedt
Hebrew Studies and Linguistics Programs
Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

-----Harold wrote:
Dear Clay,

I read the "Headlessness and Extraposition" paper and was not
convinced. Holmstedt's results seemed poorer than the normal view of
the clauses. There is less intelligence expressed by his
alternatives. One discussion he had, where he preferred "when" to
"if," seems empty since "when" and "if" can be functional
substitutes. The 1 Kings 3:12 example seemed particularly odd (God
already viewed Solomon as unique). The better solution seems to be to
regard )$R as a linking word that is open to a number of functions
depending on the context. Yes, I like the final/result interpretation
of )$R in Deut 4:10.

The leftward shift versus rightward shift distinction is new to me
and did not seem to mean much. What difference does it make which
direction one sees the phrases shifting? A person conceives a
sentence in his mind to keep words near other related words. Couldn't
one might shift words either direction? The leftward versus rightward
concept seems to build on the notion of a set grammatical sentence
skeleton, but I am not sure that there is such a thing. Take this

We met a man on the street who was wearing a yellow suit.

The argument was that this is really leftward movement of "on the
street" rather than rightward movement of "who was wearing a yellow
suit." What skeleton demands that the movement be leftward or
rightward? To have "on the street" at the end would create ambiguity.
The point is certainly not to say that "a man was wearing a yellow
suit on the street." I guess the distinction was not even necessary
to Holmstedt's concept of extraposition in Hebrew. But the shifts he
shows in Hebrew actually seem to be rightward from an English

And to Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, who
Asenath bore to him.

The relative clause at the end of the sentence seems to have been
moved rightward, rather than "before the years of famine came" being
moved leftward. And the issue is that "before the famine came"
modifies "were born" rather than "bore." The words might seem to
modify "bore" if they were at the end of the sentence. But really
nothing seems to have been moved rightward or leftward, since the
information about Asenath is extra data that doesn't fit into the
structure of the main clause.

				Harold Holmyard

-------Clay wrote:

On 10/8/04 7:05 AM, "Harold R. Holmyard III" <hholmyard at ont.com> wrote:

The leftward versus rightward
concept seems to build on the notion of a set grammatical sentence
skeleton, but I am not sure that there is such a thing.

Yes, this seems to be an enduring feature of the Chomsky school. I had no
problem with it until  I started working in **natural** languages. The
was useful with artifical (machine) languages but for ancient Greek syntax
and Biblical Hebrew is raises more problems than it solves.

thank you for your comments,
Clay Bartholomew

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list