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Edit Doron and Irit Meir

The Hebrew article ha- is apparently undergoing a process of degrammaticalization within Modern Hebrew. Its distribution has been changing in a particular direction that is unexpected from the point of view of historical linguistics. Whereas in Classical Hebrew it was found with a limited number of lexical items, it now attaches to a variety of phrases. This change is indicative of a change in its morpho-syntactic category: it is becoming more a clitic than an affix. The morpho-syntactic change is accompanied by a semantic change; its function is to mark the definiteness of the phrase it attaches to, rather than being part of the Classical Hebrew state system. We propose that the change has its roots in a language-internal change that affected the periphrastic genitive construction of Mishnaic Hebrew and was enhanced through several phases of language contact such as the contact of Medieval Hebrew with Arabic and the contact of nineteenth-century Hasidic Hebrew with Yiddish.