Friday, September 25, 2009

Apposition in Biblical Hebrew

I've been going through Waltke and O'Connor's Intro to Biblical Hebrew Syntax with some students, giving it a detailed read and appraisal. It's been tremendously influential and is without question a magisterial work. However, I must admit I'm not wholly sold on everything in it.

An example is the treatment of apposition (Chapter 12). Apposition is described as a "sequence of nouns ... with the same syntactic function and agreement and with comparable reference" (p. 226). This is not very clear, as W&OC seem to recognize. I want to discuss a different set of criteria, without discussing all the details of the chapter.

The appositive phrase is basically of the structure N1 N2. This is similar to the structure of the construct phrase, but in the construct phrase the N2 cannot be omitted without disturbing the phrase structure. In apposition N2 can be dropped and the phrase structure is left intact. For instance in the construct phrase nehar Perat, "the river Euphrates", while notionally appositional, is syntactically a construct phrase and Perat cannot be omitted leaving only nehar. But in the phrase ha-melek Dawid, "king David," Dawid could be omitted leaving ha-melek to function as a one member noun phrase. So the first test is omission of N2.

The omission test doesn't work against adjectival phrases however. In the phrase N-Adj, Adj could be dropped, just like N2 in the appositional phrase, e.g., ish tov, "a good man" could be pared to just ish. We could say that tov has a "distinct sort of reference" (W&OC 12.1c) as an adjective, but not every word used attributively in Biblical Hebrew is morphologically an adjective, e.g., ish yoshev ba-bayit, "a man dwelling in the house," where Adj = participle + prepositional phrase.

In fact, it is not easy to find further tests to differentiate appositional phrases from adjectival, but I propose two possibilities. One is the reversibility test. One could conceivably reverse the order of N1 and N2 in apposition, e.g., ha-melek Dawid = Dawid ha-melek. One could not similarly reverse ish tov into *tov ish. Thus the adjectival phrase shares with the construct phrase the trait of irreversibility.

However, I am not sure this works all the time. My intuition (as well as W&OC) tells me that ishah almanah "woman, widow" in Hebrew is apposition, but it is not reversible. One could not say, I don't think, *almanah ishah just as well as ishah almanah. Perhaps this means we should actually understand this phrase and others like it as adjectival modification, and not apposition.

Another possible test is the repetition of the preposition test (or: "rep of prep"). In apposition, a governing preposition may be repeated before N1 and N2, e.g., livni le-Yitzxaq, "to my son, to Isaac" (Gen 24:4). The same could not happen in the adjectival phrase, e.g., ha-ish ha-tov "the good man" cannot become *la-ish la-tov "to the good man." But as W&OC point out (12.3f), the preposition or other particle is not repeated in apposition if N1 is a proper name. It is not clear why this is.

In any case, I think it is clear that some of the further cases mentioned by W&OC, e.g., shloshah banim, "3 sons," cannot possibly be apposition. The relation between numeral (or other quantifier) and the quantified noun does not meet any set of criteria for apposition, including W&OC's. Further discussion of quantifiers will have to wait, however. For now, I'd be interested in hearing comments about apposition.


John Hobbins said...

I like your tests. I would say this - just thinking out loud.

In construct chains in which N1 and N2 are notionally apposite, N1 can be dropped, and the phrase structure left intact, but not N2.

I would call this type B apposition. Nehar Perat is an example. A more complex example: bat betulat Jerushalaim (two N1s).

In type A apposition, either N1 or N2 can be dropped, and the phrase structure left intact. Example: ha-melek Dawid.

Cross-linguistically, the city of Baltimore is a type A apposition of sorts, with "of" however changing the name of the game.

On another topic, I've asked for your input here:

The Quiet Hebraist said...

With respect to your example of ha-melek David = David ha-melek, I would propose that these are not actually equivalents. Despite Waltke and O'Connor's assertion that David ha-melek is a typical way of applying titles as apposition, the example David ha-melek does not occur in SBH. This is common in Chronicles and LBH, and, in my analysis, the result of contact with Aramaic. It appears that the preposing of the title is something different than postposing, which I would call apposition.

It also does not seem to be the case that you can reverse this, as we have no examples of anything like ha-cohen Abyatar, but we do get Abyatar ha-cohen. The same is true for almost every profession. While this may not affect the reversability test, it may be best to steer clear of titles in examining such a test.