A Linguistic Analysis of the Biblical Hebrew Particle nā': A Test Case

In: Vetus Testamentum

Abstract

The potential for advancing our understanding of biblical Hebrew by a more rigorous application of the principals of linguistics is illustrated by the particle nā', which has been translated in widely divergent ways. The research of Shulman (1999) forms the basis for the proposal that this so-called “particle of entreaty” actually represents a previously unidentified syntactical element in biblical Hebrew—the “propositive” particle—whereby a speaker indicates an intention to pursue a particular course of action. Interpreting nā' as a “propositive/exhortative” more convincingly explains its biblical usage. Evidence of the propositive mood includes the felicity of nā' as a sentence-initial compound element, reduplication of nā' within Hebrew clauses, the linguistic vacuum of alternative polite circumlocution, and the need for cogent interpretation of nā' when used with deliberative cohortative verb forms.

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