Categorical Shifts of the Idiom Ribono shel(a)olam: From a Tannaitic Vocative to a Jewish Theocentric Interjection to a Substrate Component in Israeli Hebrew Discourse

In: Journal of Jewish Languages

Abstract

Oral transmission of the Tannaitic Hebrew double genitive vocative ribbono šella‘olam ‘Master of the Universe’ maintains the definite article in the Hebrew component of two ancient Jewish vernaculars: Jewish Neo-Aramaic and Judeo-Arabic in Djerba. The textual transmission of the phrase, changed it graphemically from the Tannaitic original רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁלָּעוֹלָם into medieval רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם. The new spelling was the source of its final formation in Yiddish and Judeo-Spanish, without the definite article. The decategorialization of this double genitive phrase from a theocentric vocative to a semantically bleached interjection in these Jewish languages, especially Yiddish, was the point of departure for its meaning and pragmatic function in nascent spoken Modern Hebrew, as evidence from Mendele’s bilingual oeuvre indicates. It may be tentatively proposed that further grammaticalization and broadening of this substrate component structure-function pairing may have led to the emergence of a new category of analogically constructed discourse markers in Modern Hebrew.

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