First Appearance of Definite Article in Hebrew and Canaanite

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Jim Stinehart
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First Appearance of Definite Article in Hebrew and Canaanite

Postby Jim Stinehart » Sat Mar 15, 2014 11:31 am

There appear to be two theories of when the definite article first appeared in Canaanite:

1. Minority View. Egyptian was the first Mediterranean language to have the definite article, pA, which became commonplace in the New Kingdom. It is likely that when Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III conquered Canaan in the 15th century BCE, Canaanite began to adopt the definite article, which came into Canaanite as ha(n).

2. Majority View. The definite article in Canaanite and Hebrew owes nothing whatsoever to Egyptian, but rather developed entirely independently. Though one cannot be sure when it first came into being, the range is 14th -9th century BCE, with most scholars preferring a later dating. The definite article is not firmly attested, on a regular basis, in either Canaanite or Hebrew until the 1st millennium BCE.

How old is the concept of the definite article, ha-, in Canaanite and in Hebrew? I myself am inclined to go with the minority view above, but I would greatly appreciate hearing other people’s opinions.

Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

Isaac Fried
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Re: First Appearance of Definite Article in Hebrew and Canaa

Postby Isaac Fried » Sat Mar 15, 2014 8:15 pm

1. There is no such thing in Hebrew as the fudged "definite article". Hebrew consists in its entirety of merely roots and personal pronouns PP, aka identity markers. A thing is made distinctly known by either designating it by distinguishing name, or by specifically referring to it by a PP which is a universal temporary name. The pre-adhered Hebrew HA- is, in my opinion, the curtailed PP הוא HU, or a curtailed PP היא HI.

2. Descriptive names, such as גלבוע GILBOA of 1Sam. 31:1, consisting of GAL + BUAH, come with a pre-attached HA-.

3. So the, now common, שם הפעולה Gerund.

Isaac Fried, Boston University

Jim Stinehart
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Re: First Appearance of Definite Article in Hebrew and Canaa

Postby Jim Stinehart » Sun Mar 16, 2014 11:33 am

Isaac Fried wrote: “The pre-adhered Hebrew HA- is, in my opinion, the curtailed PP הוא HU, or a curtailed PP היא HI.”

In response, let me set forth a scholarly view that, on the contrary, sees hinne, hen as the basis for the definite article in Hebrew.

The best scholarly article I have found regarding how early the definite article is in Hebrew is Na’ama Pat-El, Harvard University, “The Development of the Semitic Definite Article”, Journal of Semitic Studies LIV/1, Oxford University Press, Spring 2009. It’s on the Internet here:

http://www.academia.edu/202934/The_Deve ... c_Approach

Linguists agree that the definite article is rarely found in early Biblical Hebrew poetry. The conventional, majority view erroneously concludes from that that the definite article therefore came late to Hebrew, perhaps not until the early 1st millennium BCE. Pat-El forcefully makes the exactly contrary argument. Since the definite article is found, albeit rarely, in the earliest Biblical Hebrew poetry (such as at Genesis 49: 17, per the quotes below), the definite article likely is integral to the Hebrew language at an extremely early stage.

Let me add my own comment that like the definite article in Egyptian, as to which the case is clear, Hebrew was probably similar to Egyptian in this regard in that for centuries the definite article was used routinely in oral communications, but was nevertheless considered substandard for formal writing. Yet precisely because the definite article was so commonplace in common oral speech in the Late Bronze Age, inevitably formal writing in both Egyptian [prior to the Amarna Age] and early Biblical Hebrew poetry on rare occasion made use of the definite article.

Pat-El does not discuss that Egyptian analogy of mine, and does not propose exact dating. But he does make a very persuasive argument that the definite article is extremely old in the Hebrew language (as opposed to the majority view to the contrary).

Let me set forth here the most applicable portions of the article. I would greatly appreciate people’s comments on this topic.

“THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE SEMITIC DEFINITE ARTICLE”

pp. 24-25: “While many of the syntactical features of the article are shared, there are some native, and apparently old, patterns in each [Semitic] language which do not quite fit what we think we know about the article’s syntax. The importance of relics to historical reconstruction has been highlighted repeatedly by historical linguists dealing with morphology, but is equally valid in syntax.”

p. 27: “Relics. The following discussion focuses on native patterns in specific languages which do not exhibit the expected syntax but which seem to be very established.”

p. 28: “Hebrew. The Definite Article as a Subordinating Particle

[Here’s the most exciting part (p. 28), as it deals with the apparent presence of the definite article in what may be the oldest Biblical Hebrew poetry. I apologize for the fact that I cannot reproduce at all well the article’s alphabetical representation of Hebrew letters; please consult both the original article and Genesis 49: 17 in Hebrew.]

The definite article may appear on participles whose head noun is not definite:

sepp on ale ’orah han-nosek iqqebe sus (Gen. 49:17) ‘a snake on a road biting a horse’s heels’.

[…See also] (Jer. 27:3) ‘by the hand of messengers coming to Jerusalem’.

The lack of article on the head noun causes great difficulty to Hebraists. Davidson states that in this pattern the head noun is definite, and even when it is not formally marked, ‘the preceding word is really definite’ (1902: 133, §99).”

p. 40: “Origin

The most likely origin of the article is a deictic particle *ha and its derivatives, *han and *hal, as is suggested by Hasselbach (2007). One or both of these particles exist in all the Semitic languages and mostly function as presentatives:

Amarna. allû, annû. ‘presentative’ (Rainey 1988)
BH [Biblical Hebrew]. hinne, hen

p. 46: “[M]any of the relics found in both classical and Neo-Semitic languages are very consistent and should be assumed to go back to a common ancestor.”

p. 47: “I have further suggested that the article was derived from the presentative, which is a non-predicative particle. The presentative, or its reflexes han / hal, exists in all the [various Semitic] languages.”

* * *

To me, that suggests that the definite article was known in 14th century BCE Canaanite as a form of pre-Hebrew. The strongest Biblical support for that key proposition is that we’ve got some form of the definite article at Genesis 49: 17, which may be the earliest (or almost the earliest) Biblical Hebrew poetry. Perhaps the one thing that Isaac Fried and I would agree on here is the basic notion that ha- in Hebrew was already in use in the Late Bronze Age, not being an Iron Age development of the Hebrew language (as has heretofore routinely been supposed by the majority view).

I would love to know what people think of that article and my interpretation of that article. How old do people think the definite article is in the Hebrew language?

Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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Re: First Appearance of Definite Article in Hebrew and Canaa

Postby Isaac Fried » Sun Mar 16, 2014 12:38 pm

1. The personal pronoun HA- is an identifying tag.

2. It is not "on the contrary", הנה HIYNEH starts in itself with the personal pronoun HI; HIYNEH = HIY + HEN + HIY. Whatever is defined, is being done so by naming, possibly descriptively. There is no "definite article" in Hebrew, only a universal temporary name.

3. The "definite article" did not "develop", it became merely attached in writing.

4. In Gen. 49:17
יהי דן נחש עלי דרך שפיפן עלי ארח הנשך עקבי סוס ויפל רכבו אחור
"Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward"
The HA- in הנשך HA-NO$EK is certainly the personal pronoun HIY referring to Dan the adder, he who bites the leg of the horse.

In Jer. 27:3
ושלחתם אל מלך אדום ואל-מלך מואב ואל-מלך בני עמון ואל מלך צר ואל מלך צידון ביד מלאכים הבאים ירושלם אל צדקיהו מלך יהודה
"And send them to ... by the hand of the messengers which come to Jerusalem unto Zedekiah king of Judah"
The HA- of הבאים HABAIYM is certainly a PP for the messengers. Here, because of the plural, there is a clarifying addendum, or complement, at the end of the word, to wit: הבאים = היא + בא + הם HABAIYM = HIY + BA + HEM.

5. In short, there is no "origin" and no "development" to the Hebrew "definite article", it is but the identifying tag היא 'he'.

Isaac Fried Boston University

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Re: First Appearance of Definite Article in Hebrew and Canaa

Postby Kirk Lowery » Sun Mar 16, 2014 6:07 pm

It's been several decades since my comparative semitics class, so I could have a faulty memory. But, Jim, you seem to assume that there was a time when semitic languages did not have a definite article. That function seems to be a language universal. I would find it hard to imagine a society that would not need them or something that has the same function. It's a separate question about how the definite article developed.

And the attestation of the semitic languages get spotty as we go farther back. Just because archaic Hebrew poetry has a paucity of definite articles, one can not make sweeping conclusions about the state of the language at that time. We don't know much about the origins of Hebrew, how far it goes back, how it split from the so-called "proto-Canaanite" (if there ever was such an animal).
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Re: First Appearance of Definite Article in Hebrew and Canaa

Postby Jim Stinehart » Sun Mar 16, 2014 7:59 pm

Kirk E. Lowery:

You wrote: “It's been several decades since my comparative semitics class, so I could have a faulty memory. But, Jim, you seem to assume that there was a time when semitic languages did not have a definite article. That function seems to be a language universal. I would find it hard to imagine a society that would not need them or something that has the same function. It's a separate question about how the definite article developed. And the attestation of the semitic languages get spotty as we go farther back. Just because archaic Hebrew poetry has a paucity of definite articles, one can not make sweeping conclusions about the state of the language at that time. We don't know much about the origins of Hebrew, how far it goes back, how it split from the so-called "proto-Canaanite" (if there ever was such an animal).”

I myself agree with most everything you say. But that is not the majority view of mainstream scholars. Rather, the majority view holds that there was no definite article in west Semitic languages until the Iron Age. On that basis, the rare presence of the definite article in early Biblical Hebrew poetry is routinely used to claim that such poetry is not nearly as old as non-scholars would like it to be. In particular, the pre-1970 “Albright school” is now discredited, which claimed that every time one saw a definite article in early Biblical Hebrew poetry, that necessarily meant that a later scribe had added that modern, anachronistic element into the older original poetry.

Let me set forth here the majority scholarly view [with which I myself strongly disagree]:

“[T]here is general agreement about the comparatively late appearance of the [definite] article in Northwest Semitic languages. …[N]or is [a prefixed definite article] present in the fourteenth century B.C.E. Canaanite dialects that underlie the language of many of the Akkadian Amarna texts.” Nahum M. Sarna, here: http://books.google.com/books?id=jvFrWw ... ts&f=false

I myself strongly disagree with Sarna’s analysis, but it’s the majority view. I myself find compelling the 2009 Pat-El article I cited in an earlier post, which views the definite article as being much, much older in west Semitic languages [including both Canaanite and Hebrew] than previously thought by mainstream linguists.

Pat-El is a fine, mainstream linguist. A positive review of that Pat-El article, which summarizes the article, can be found here: http://www.academia.edu/1341010/Review_ ... e_Article_

I will quote here only the following brief snippet from that review: “The evidence in the Hebrew seems highly suggestive. If (and Pat-El has demonstrated) there are instances where there is a head noun followed by an attributive with an article, this may resemble an older form, which definitely lends support to Pat-El’s thesis.”

I myself see the definite article as being present both in (i) Canaanite in the mid-14th century BCE, and (ii) in very early Biblical Hebrew. But prior to 2009, there was precious little support for that view among mainstream west Semitic linguists.

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Re: First Appearance of Definite Article in Hebrew and Canaa

Postby linguahebra » Mon Mar 17, 2014 3:17 am

JS, It may just be a typo, but it looks like you are referring to Na'ama Pat-El, in which case, the PP should be "she" instead of "he". Just an FYI for future reference in case it wasn't a typo.
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Re: First Appearance of Definite Article in Hebrew and Canaa

Postby Jim Stinehart » Mon Mar 17, 2014 11:34 am

Ratson Naharädama:

My sincere apologies. Yes, the references to Pat-El should definitely be “she”, not “he”.

I myself find Pat-El’s fine article quite convincing. It’s nice for a change to find an excellent linguist, who is well within the mainstream, advancing an exciting new theory that happens to help my own view of the Patriarchal narratives greatly.

For my theory of the case to work, I need the definite article to be in existence in west Semitic languages (Canaanite in particular, but pre-Hebrew, Hebrew, and Biblical Hebrew are all relevant here as well) no later than the mid-14th century BCE.

I note that several people on the b-hebrew list have had a similar general reaction as I initially had to this situation: being shocked to discover that prior to 2009, most all Biblical linguists seem to have insisted that west Semitic languages had no definite article prior to the Iron Age. That just does not make common sense. But until Pat-El’s 2009 article, I’m not sure there was a mainstream linguist of recent vintage who had argued for a truly ancient definite article in west Semitic languages.

What do you think of Pat-El’s article? (I myself think her article is great.) How early do you think the definite article came into Canaanite and Hebrew?

Jim Stinehart
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Re: First Appearance of Definite Article in Hebrew and Canaa

Postby Jim Stinehart » Tue Mar 18, 2014 2:26 pm

I have now found out what the actual situation is regarding the presence or absence of the definite article in early Biblical Hebrew poetry.

See this second article by Prof. Pat-El: “Features of Archaic Biblical Poetry and the Linguistic Dating Debate”, by Na'ama Pat-El and Aren Wilson-Wright, Hebrew Studies 54, pp. 387-410 (2013), here: https://www.academia.edu/5349045/Featur ... ing_Debate

“In our corpus [of all archaic Biblical Hebrew poetry], there are 589 absolute nouns, where an article can morphologically and syntactically occur (i.e., construct nouns and nouns with possessive suffixes have been excluded), and yet only 45 of them are formally definite (7.64%). For comparison’s sake, any section of Psalms (for example 1–31) with a similar number of absolute nouns, yielded at least 10% definite nouns.” [Section 4.4, at p. 51.]

Note that despite what most mainstream scholars and linguists claim, the definite article is not truly rare, much less non-existent, in archaic Biblical Hebrew poetry. The actual situation is that the definite article appears in 7.64% of the cases where it could possibly appear in archaic Biblical Hebrew poetry, while appearing in about 10% of the cases in Psalms. If the comparison is limited to Hebrew poetry, the difference between the appearance of the definite article in archaic Biblical Hebrew poetry and other Biblical Hebrew poetry is in fact not great at all.

Mainstream linguists have, most unfortunately, deliberately tried to mislead us as to the underlying facts here, as we read at p. 50: “The rarity of the definite article in archaic biblical texts is well known and has been noted, for example, by Cross and Freedman. They claim that the article is not used as a rule in archaic poetry and go as far as to omit instances of the article in those places where it does occur.”
Can you believe that? Frank Moore Cross of Harvard, one of the biggest names of all times in mainstream Biblical linguistics, “go[es] as far as to omit instances of the [definite] article in those places where it does occur.” That ain’t kosher!

In my own opinion, the near-unanimous claim by mainstream scholars that early Hebrew had no definite article is totally bogus. Statistically, it’s a question of 7.64% vs. 10%, not 0% vs. 10%, in comparing how often the definite article appears in archaic vs. non-archaic Biblical Hebrew poetry.

To me, the situation here was likely almost identical to that of Egyptian a few hundred years earlier. The definite article was commonplace in ordinary Egyptian speech by the 15th century BCE. But the definite article was considered “substandard”, and hence avoided to some extent in Egyptian formal writing, until the Amarna Age. Then pharaoh Akhenaten declared that henceforth formal Egyptian writing should use the definite article. Indeed, that was one of the very few reforms of Akhenaten that the Egyptian people actually liked, and that proved permanent. Likewise in Hebrew, the definite article was probably known from very early times, but it likely also was considered “substandard” when it came to composing formal Hebrew poetry. That is why the definite article is somewhat underrepresented in early Biblical Hebrew poetry. But the definite article is certainly not completely absent in early Biblical Hebrew poetry, nor is it really all that rare either, occurring in 7.64% of the cases where it could possibly occur.

The scholarly claims that the definite article was non-existent in Late Bronze Age Canaanite and in early Hebrew cannot stand the light of day.

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Re: First Appearance of Definite Article in Hebrew and Canaa

Postby Isaac Fried » Tue Mar 18, 2014 11:36 pm

I think Kirk is right in saying that the Hebrew "definite article" was always there, the opinionated declarations of some "mainstream" bigwigs notwithstanding. It is merely the PP 'he', attached and curtailed in writing. This HA- is not different from the Ha- interrogative, and the HA- of the הכר HA-KER of Gen. 38:25. Its employment is a matter of usage and style.
It is worth noticing in this connection that the HA- interrogative is almost entirely out of spoken Hebrew --- intonation in speech, and the question mark in writing rendered it archaic and quaint.

The "definite article" is minimally used, with no ill effect, even in present day poetry. Below is one of the most popular Hebrew poems of modern times, by the great Hebrew poet שאול טשרניחובסקי Shaul Chernikhovski 1875 - 1943

שַׁחֲקִי, שַׁחֲקִי עַל הַחֲלוֹמוֹת
זוּ אֲנִי הַחוֹלֵם שָׁח
שַׂחֲקִי כִּי בָאָדָם אַאֲמִין
כִּי עוֹדֶנִּי מַאֲמִין בָּךְ
 
כִּי עוֹד נַפְשִׁי דְּרוֹר שׁוֹאֶפֶת
לֹא מְכַרְתִּיהָ לְעֵגֶל-פָּז
כִּי עוֹד אַאֲמִין גַּם בָּאָדָם
גַּם בְּרוּחוֹ, רוּחַ עָז
 
רוּחוֹ יַשְׁלִיךְ כַּבְלֵי-הֶבֶל
יְרוֹמְמֶנּוּ בָּמֳתֵי-עָל
לֹא בָּרָעָב יָמוּת עֹבֵד
דְּרוֹר – לַנֶּפֶשׁ, פַּת – לַדָּל
 
שַׂחֲקִי כִּי גַּם בְּרֵעוּת אַאֲמִין
אַאֲמִין, כִּי עוֹד אֶמְצָא לֵב
לֵב תִּקְוֹתַי גַּם תִּקְוֹתָיו
יָחוּשׁ אֹשֶׁר, יָבִין כְּאֵב
 
אַאֲמִינָה גַּם בֶּעָתִיד
אַף אִם יִרְחַק זֶה הַיּוֹם
אַךְ בּוֹא יָבוֹא – יִשְׂאוּ שָׁלוֹם
אָז וּבְרָכָה לְאֹם מִלְּאֹם
 
יָשׁוּב יִפְרַח אָז גַּם עַמִּי
וּבָאָרֶץ יָקוּם דּוֹר
בַּרְזֶל-כְּבָלָיו יוּסַר מֶנּוּ
עַיִן-בְּעַיִן יִרְאֶה אוֹר
 
יִחְיֶה, יֶאֱהַב, יִפְעַל, יָעַשׂ
דּוֹר בָּאָרֶץ אָמְנָם חָי
לֹא בֶּעָתִיד – בַּשָּׁמַיִם
חַיֵּי-רוּחַ לוֹ אֵין דָי
 
אָז שִׁיר חָדָשׁ יָשִׁיר מְשׁוֹרֵר
לְיֹפִי וְנִשְׂגָּב לִבּוֹ עֵר
לוֹ, לַצָּעִיר, מֵעַל קִבְרִי
פְּרָחִים יִלְקְטוּ לַזֵּר

In which I count no more than three explicit HA-. It is interesting that the first HA- of HA-XALOMOT, 'the dreams', is usually dropped in singing, in favor of just XALOMOT, as the HA- hinders the melody, and is felt to be out of line.

I recall also that the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, declared in his time a total war מלחמת חרמה on the little innocent Hebrew word את ET, used to introduce the "direct object", wholly banishing it from his speech, saying thus
לקחתי העט וכתבתי המכתב
"I took the pen and wrote the letter"
confirming thereby my suspicion that את ה ET HA- used to be the one word ETHA, split in two by a schizophrenic scribe.

Isaac Fried Boston University


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