Copular and existential sentences in Biblical Hebrew
Wilson, Daniel Joseph
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This study provides an analysis of copular and existential sentences in Biblical Hebrew (BH). Biblical Hebrew uses three constructions for copular predication. One construction utilises a finite form of the BH copula hyh. The second construction — called the verbless (or nominal) clause — juxtaposes subject and predicate without any verbal form. A third construction is a verbless clause which contains a pronominal element (called PRON) and is found in very limited environments. The traditional roles attributed to the BH copula are threefold. First, it has a copular function with which it licenses the tense, aspect, or mood (TAM) of a sentence by means of the verbal morphology and has no inherent semantic content. Second, it has been called a true verb which has semantic content meaning become/exist/happen/occur. Third, it has a function at the discourse level in which it is used to update the reference time or mark discourse boundaries. BH existentials have not received much attention in the literature. Previous literature has focused primarily on the existential particles yēš and ʾên, but there has been little written about their syntactic structure or their relationship with existentials which use the verb hyh. The relationship between copular sentences using hyh and existential sentences using hyh has also been neglected in the literature. This thesis aims to answer the following questions. If hyh licenses TAM agreement, which features does it license? Is it accurate to say that hyh is a polysemous verb form which has semantic content in some examples? Should PRON be considered a copula and what is its syntactic and semantic role in a sentence? Existential sentences which use hyh look similar to copular sentences. What distinguishes them and how do sentences which use the particles yēš and ʾên compare to those using hyh. To answer these questions, I utilise the theoretical framework of Minimalist Syntax and the revisions made by Distributed Morphology. This framework informs how I view the nature of lexical categorisation, predication, the predicational/existential distinction, and the underlying argument structure of sentences. This thesis examines every form of hyh, yēš, and ʾên in the Hebrew Bible taking note of its syntactic and semantic environments. Every verbless clause in Joshua through 2 Kings as well as many throughout the Pentateuch and books which have been labelled as examples of Late Biblical Hebrew have been analysed in order to note their role as compared to sentences which utilise hyh. Within the framework adopted for this study, I demonstrate that the variation of uses of hyh and its alternation with the verbless clause is not due to multiple verbs that are homonyms of hyh in the Lexicon, nor to polysemy inherent to hyh itself, but rather it is due to the semantics of adjacent heads in the derivation. The verbless clause is the otherwise case which exists because there are no conditions causing an overt lexeme to be spelled out. I also analyse the so-called “discourse marker” function of hyh and demonstrate that it is actually a case of dislocation which is utilized in order to introduce a thetic judgment. I demonstrate that the underlying syntax and semantics of BH existential sentences is fundamentally different from that of BH copular sentences. Additionally, the alternation between existential sentences using hyh and those using the particles yēš and ʾên can be explained via a diachronic cycle. I also provide a syntactic analysis of PRON and demonstrate why it is inaccurate to label it a copula. The critical contribution of this thesis is the first comprehensive syntactic and semantic description of the verb hyh which utilises the advancements made in modern linguistic theory. The demonstration that hyh is an auxiliary whose presence is obligatory in certain syntactic and semantic environments is a significant new contribution to the field of Hebrew linguistics. My analysis of the dislocation construction utilising hyh to convey a thetic judgment is also an important new contribution.