[b-hebrew] We and us

David Kummerow farmerjoeblo at hotmail.com
Mon Nov 13 22:22:11 EST 2006

Gday Bryan,

Thanks for your response.

I have read Revell's monograph and I find his label (non-)immediacy to 
be rather vague: "the designation … important for the narrator’s 
purpose" (p.45); “the essence of what a speaker or writer wishes to 
convey” (p.55); “foreground” (p.341); “prominence of any sort” (p.56); 
“the expression of emotion or urgency [vis-à-vis] politeness, deference, 
or distance” (p.57). (Note that this position has moved on from his 
earlier article where the distinction was said to be one of politeness.)

The question is: Are these functions grammaticalised in the speaker's 
choice between 'anoki and 'ani? Such an elastic definition means that 
Revell can somewhat stretch things to fit. But, nevertheless, the 
question remains. I am unable to find mention of any other language 
employing first-person pronouns (let alone other pronouns) to 
grammaticalise such distinctions in the typological literature (e.g., 
Bhat; Siewierska; Helmbrecht; Mühlhäusler & Harré; Cysouw; etc). For the 
theory to be typologically justified, however, it needs to be 
demonstrated how a language would develop such functional oppositions 
and the data supporting the development. Such is not the case here. The 
data itself is solely the Biblical Hebrew data. It needs to be explained 
how BH has developed such a supposed functional opposition in the first 
person (and not in the other persons) as well as why it diverts from 
from other known languages in this regard.

To be fair, Revell mightn't care less about how other languages work and 
function. But typology has demonstrated time and again that there are 
functional pressures at work behind the grammaticalisation of language. 
The fact that BH under this account has a uniquely grammaticalised 
functional opposition in the first-person pronouns---whether this be one 
of politeness as in his first account in his article or one of 
(non-)immediacy under his second in his monograph---is extremely 

David Kummerow.

> HI David,
> I thankfully accept your caution.
> In fairness to Revell, I poorly stated his definition of 
> immediacy/distance as a parameter of usage. It is not only a deference 
> or politeness distinction per se. Immediacy reflects a category of 
> usage in which social status, emotional intensity, and personal 
> concern come into play (see _The Designation of the Individual_ 3.4, 
> 26.1, 28.5.1-2).
> In addition his analysis of the 'ani/'anoki contrast does not sit 
> alone. According to Revell, it is part of a widely utilized and 
> self-consistent parameter of usage, immediacy/distance.
> Of course, we should probably view with suspicion any 
> "self-consistent" linguistic system in the Hebrew Bible, but again, in 
> fairness to Revell, his corpus of study is limited to Sam-Kings, if I 
> remember correctly.
> I am not out to defend Revell. Only to be fair. On the other hand, I 
> do like coming to the Hebrew Bible with a "friendliness" like his, in 
> which one strives to find consistency in the corpus we have rather 
> than trying to reconstruct the origin of BH.
> shalom,
> Bryan

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list