Thursday, November 10, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- "pausal forms"

And now that problem about trop. There’s an old concept called “pausal forms”.
Trop generally consist of disjunctive and conjunctive forms. The disjunctive ones divide verses. Etnach is one of them; so is sof pasuk, the trop at the end of a verse.
The conjunctive trop, conversely, mark sets of words that are included together as a subunit of a verse. Conjunctive trop, for example, are used with the words or phrases emphasized by et when it takes the vowel tseire.
The pausal forms concept says that disjunctive trop are associated with anomalous word forms. That is, the anomalous word forms in Torah appear where there are disjunctive trop.
Modern computerized tabulation shows this isn’t so. The so-called anomalous forms appear sometimes with conjunctive trop. It’s also true that not all occurrences of disjunctive trop are assigned to anomalous forms.
Now that you know more about Biblical Hebrew, you should be asking what words are called anomalous in Torah?
For example, Gesenius once categorized the word maen in Exodus 7:27 as a piel present tense that for some reason had been written without the usual prefix of mem. Surely that ought to qualify as an anomaly. Now that you know, however, that it’s an aspectless verb, used in a place which doesn’t suit an aspected verb, you know it’s not anomalous.
Likewise, since Gesenius said that the Jews didn’t know why they put nun sofit on the ends of some verbs, those ought to be anomalies. You know differently.
I’ve been going through Torah word by word for a couple of years now, digging into new concepts. I’ve kept track of words that really seemed to be anomalous. Out of about 80,000 words in Torah, I’ve come up with maybe 200 that are anomalous – not just “hapax legomena”, like mesheq used of Avraham’s servant, but grammatically different and impossible to analyze into any of the binyanim or other forms we use now, and with no clear pattern of use.
Now, it’s entirely possible that Torah has some words that are scribal errors, that the Masoretic scholars didn’t pick up on and include in their notes, but I doubt it.
Given that the ancestors of the Jews started developing Hebrew by 2000 BCE (which I will soon discuss on the Fact-Checking page), it’s more than likely that they had ways of saying things that were perfectly meaningful to them, not at all anomalous in the context of a millennium and a half of vernacular – but which turned up only once in the written record. It’s analogous to Axel Olrik’s recognition that in the history of any ethnic group, their narrators might have told any number of stories over their fires in caves and tents and huts – but a relatively small number survived the centuries to be put into writing.  (I’ll discuss that next year on the Fact-Checking page.)
With the apparent anomalies in Biblical Hebrew, we might be looking at something as rare in the spoken language as pual is in Torah, but with just as distinctive a function – and we can’t tell what that function is because we only have one example.
The source for the concept of “pausal forms” was probably Arabic, which does have pausal forms.  What have I been saying for 15 lessons, about westerners transferring terminology used for one language, to another where it turns out to be invalid? Well, this one got itself into a muddle and 200 years later, it is just now getting straightened out.
Bottom line: “pausal forms” is an antiquated notion based on an outdated understanding of Biblical Hebrew and invalid transfer of terminology. The seemingly anomalous forms in Torah might be examples of word forms that used to be well understood when the language was used every day on the street – but which we can’t understand now because all we have is the written record, and it doesn’t give us enough data to identify meaning.

One more point of actual grammar.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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