Thursday, September 1, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- "getting rid of passives"

Slight change but it’s a good thing.  If you want to review these lessons, I’ve made it a bit easier.  Go back  to the  first post about Dr. Cook’s dissertation.
At the bottom of each post there is now a  link to the next one.

About January 2015 I started chasing a verbal form called the internal passive. It started because a scholar named Schorch, who specializes in Samaritan literature, tried to claim that it involved what I had just learned was the narrative past.
This is another subject where learning Arabic exploded what all my sources on Hebrew were teaching me. So here we go for another roller coaster ride.
In Biblical Hebrew, there are seven binyanim.  The qal, piel, and hifil get labeled as “active”, while three binyanim with “oo” as the vowel in the first syllable get labeled “passive”. This is different from a past participle, which has “oo” in the second syllable.
Translations have shoehorned onto them the label “passive”, a form that appears in Greek, Latin, French and so on. And so most grammars of Hebrew, both Biblical and otherwise, call these “the passive of X” where X  is one of the “active” binyanim.
I need to change the dialogue here and I have good reasons to do so that will help you, not only with Biblical Hebrew, but also with Arabic if you ever decide to learn it.
What Biblical Hebrew and Quranic Arabic both need sometimes is “agentless” statements.  Sometimes the agent is understood.  The verb can’t happen if Gd doesn’t take action.  In other cases the verb is part of a narrative and the agent is named elsewhere in the narrative. In half a dozen cases, the logical subject is given in a prepositional phrase but he (in one case she) isn’t the actual agent.
In legal material, use of an “agentless” structure identifies that it doesn’t matter who the agent is, the verb applies  to him, her, them, etc. no matter who they are. The law applies  to everybody.  The  agentless binyanim let us ignore issues like age or nonage, male or female, individual or group. 
They also let us ignore who issued the decree or made the determination. The appropriate authority may be identified in another part of the legal code and once somebody is part of that authority, who they are doesn’t make a difference in whether the law has to be carried out or not. 

That’s important in a culture that lasts for decades, centuries, or millennia.
It's also more of that both-ways-looking thing I’ve been talking about.
The most important thing to understand, is that at least two of these binyanim show up in Biblical Hebrew as a direct inheritance from proto-Semitic, and they have cognate forms in all the other ancient Semitic languages (with sort of one exception that I might get around to and might not). 
If the others haven’t been detected in other ancient Semitic languages, it’s probably because  their grammar books are morphological and not functional in nature.
I want you to absorb all that and I’ll get into specifics next week.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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