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

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Sat Oct 9 13:53:32 EDT 2004

On Friday 08 October 2004 13:07, C. Stirling Bartholomew wrote:
> On 10/8/04 10:02 AM, "Dave Washburn" <dwashbur at nyx.net> wrote:
> > Thus, I tend to reject
> > everything he came up with from the development of trace theory down to
> > the present time.
> Dave,
> Do you you employ the notion of empty constituents? For example if a )$r is
> functioning as a relative clause marker but there is no explicit antecedent
> do you supply a null place holder to mark the position of the "missing"
> antecedent and then proceed with your syntax analysis as if this empty
> constituent was a real constituent?

No, I don't.  I think part of the problem with the later Chomsky and his 
disciples is that they try to get far too mathematical.  A certain amount of 
mathematical formulation can get us some results in language, but beyond a 
certain point we have to admit that we're dealing with the mystery of the 
human mind.  Regarding )$R, could you give an example of "no explicit 
antecedent" that we can kick around?

> I can see some merit in this approach but also one major liability.
> Proceeding  as if this empty constituent was a real constituent shuts down
> the analysis of the actual text before you supplanting it with a virtual
> text. Assuming that the actual text is syntactically well formed, it
> behooves us to try and understand it as it is not transform it into a
> virtual text that fits our favorite language model.

Well, yes and no.  Chomsky developed the idea of empty constituents in order 
to explain the behavior of certain anaphora in English.  But in English more 
than any other existing language, weird things can happen and probably will.  
That's the other big part of my beef with him, because English is a 
"slumgullian" language with a little of this, a little of that, a little of 
I-don't-know-what, all shoehorned together into something that is fairly 
coherent most of the time but subject to instant revision and popular 
alteration.  That's not going to get us very far in understanding a language 
that was considerably less hybrid, such as BH.  Consider the following 
snippet from that great linguist, Bill Cosby:

That's right, Mel.  I always use, a razor, on my face, to shave, it.

With all the pauses, one would think it would be difficult to figure out the 
antecedent of "it" here, but it's not.  Why?  Because we understand that he's 
making fun of a speaker who is, shall we say, something less than an 
intellectual giant.  Chomskyan theory, indeed any theory that leans too 
heavily on formulae, will never be able to fit this clause into one of the 
boxes, and will likely declare the clause ungrammatical.  Yet, pretty much 
every American here knows somebody who talks like this.  At some point, the 
use of empty constituents and such to explain every spoken phenomenon in 
(American) English will produce a theory that is nothing but mush (to use the 
technical term ;-)  I actually read a fairly technical article some years ago 
in which the researcher was trying to analyze the way certain teenagers on 
the east coast insert a particular vulgarism into various words.  This guy 
actually gave it a name, "the [censored]-infix."  He tried to figure out, 
based on syllable-counts and other criteria, how these kids decided where to 
put the "infix" within a word.  Now, in a certain sense, reading that article 
was quite entertaining: as Tony Campolo once said, there's nothing more fun 
than watching a brilliant person expound on a stupid idea.  But for the 
advancement of language study, it was pointless.  I find the idea of 
developing empty constituents in order to explain English anaphora equally 

> However, I will admit that supplying an empty constituent can have some
> analytical benefits. I do it frequently.

In certain contexts in certain languages, yes.  But I've noticed that in 
Hebrew, especially in )$R clauses, anaphora tend to be explicitly stated.  
That is, in English we might say "the place where he found himself."  Hebrew, 
at least BH, would be more likely to say "the place which [)$R] he found 
himself in it [BW]."  So from what I have observed - though I haven't looked 
at all of the instances - such empty categories are unnecessary in Hebrew, 
and may even be counter-productive.

Dave Washburn
"No good.  Hit on head."   -Gronk

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list