Hebrew Language (2)

Hebrew Language The central position which this "sacred tongue" occupies in Biblical literature justifies us in supplementing the article in volume 4 by a somewhat detailed exposition of some of its leading lexical and' grammatical peculiarities, and in doing so we take the occasion to call attention to some features and linguistic principles not usually apprehended. 'These illustrate the natural simplicity no less than the profound philosophy of the language.

I. Root Meanings. —

1. It has generally been assumed that verbs are the only primitives in Hebrew, and hence the lexicons have constantly referred all words, to some verbal root. But it seems more reasonable to analogy and more consonant with fact to admit a few primitive nouns, such as אָב ,father; אָח, brother; מִיַם, water, etc. Accordingly we find יָרָה scarcely used, except in Hiph. as a denominative from יָד, hand, in the sense of stretching out the hand, e.g. in prayer or praise.

See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

2. A more important fact, admitted by most lexicographers, and denied of late by only a few scholars,* is that all the roots primarily seem to designate some physical act, or condition, appreciable by the senses. This may be true of other languages, in the primitive forms, but it is eminently characteristic of the Hebrew. Not only were the people who used it a constitutionally poetic race, affected by and reflecting every shadow of the imagination, but their originally nomadic habits made them keenly sensitive to every accident and influence of Bedawin life. They had specific terms for pitching and striking their tents חָנָה and נָסֵע, respectively), for turning out of the road to stop at a house (גּוּר), and lodging over night (לַין), etc. They were on the constant lookout for an enemy (צָפָה), and they had a term for one of a hostile tribe (אֹיֵב as opposed to שֹׁלֵם), in distinction from personal enmity (ָֹשנֵא) or individual opposition (צָרִר). The nice shades of climactic signification, which are very imperfectly developed even in the best Hebrew lexicons, are shown with graphic clearness in terms for anger: אָנִŠ, to breathe hard with the first excitement; חָרָה, to glow with the rising passion; חֵמָה, the flush of the hot blood; זָעִם, to froth with intense fury, etc. Attention to the ostensible sign of a root will enable us to note the steps of transition from a primitive to a derivative signification e.g. הָגָה, to mutter to one's self in a brown study; hence to murmur in grudge, or meditate with pleasure. The constant usage of terms in a figurative sense, with an eye to their literal import, makes every word and phrase a picture, and renders even the prosiest utterances highly poetical.

*We look with some distrust upon the fashion, prevalent in certain quarters, of seeking Hebrew etymous. in the radicals found among the cuneiform disclosures. The dialects of the Assyrian, "Accadian," and early Babylonian are yet in too crude a state of classification and investigation to bear out much reliance upon them for such purposes, and it is doubtful if they ever will be largely available for trustworthy comparison, except in a very general manner, and for obscure roots.

3. Hebrew synonyms, as thus appears, have received less attention than they deserve. The lexicographers, especially Gesenius, have occasionally traced distinctions in the use of words, and have freely compared many cognate roots, resolving most of them to certain supposed essential ideas, but this last has helped very little towards a practical discrimination of their real meaning and prevalent application, and no general system of comparing verbs closely resembling each other has been instituted. Yet it is certain that in Hebrew, as in all other primitive languages, real synonyms are very rare, and in no other tongue, perhaps, are terms more distinctively employed, especially in the physical relations of life, however vaguely they may often have to be construed in their figurative and metaphysical applications. For example, the words relating to the senses are nicely correlated to each other, and finely shaded off in comparative strength. Thus שָׁמִע is to hear simply, the sound entering one's ears whether he will or not. But עָנָה is to pay attention to what is heard, as by look or gesture; hence to answer, as expected of one giving heed to another; and finally to speak, i.e., in reply to words or thoughts merely implied. Still advancing, הֶאֵַזין, a denominative from אֹזֶן, the ear (probably a primitive, for the root אָזִן does not occur), is to give ear, i.e., turn the ear in the direction of the sound, or listen, but not very intently. Finally, הַקשַׁיב is to prick up the ears, i.e., use the hand for increasing the volume of sound, or hearken earnestly. So likewise רָאָה is to see simply, without any special effort, ἰδεῖν; but חָזָה is to behold, or gaze intently at some striking object, as in a vision, ὁράω or θεωρέω; and הַבַּיט is to look at closely, for the purpose of scrutiny or discovery, σκοπέω; while other terms are of special and narrow import, as הַשׁקַיŠ, to view, i.e., bring into the field of vision; שׁוּר, to peep, as from a lurking-place; צָפָה, to watch, as an enemy. In addressing, קָרָא is simply to call out the name of a person spoken to or of; while אָמִר is to say something, the words being added; and דַּבֵּר is to speak, the language not being given; but שַיֵּעִ is to halloo, or cry out for help; צָעִק (less strongly, זָעִק) to shriek from distress or danger; אָנִק to groan in pain or sorrow; and הָלִל merely to talk loud, out of folly or (Piel) in praise. Among pleasant emotions שֹמִח is to be glad simply, as evinced bv a quiet and satisfied demeanor; but עָלִז or עָלִוֹ is to exult with demonstrative expressions; and רָנִן to triumph with shouts of joy. Among unpleasant emotions יָרֵא is to fear, simply in a general sense; but בָּהִל is to palpitate with sudden alarm (Niph. to' be panic-stricken); פָּחִד is to be frightened by some object of terror; עָרִוֹ is to dread an impending cause of anxiety; חָרִד to shudder on the surface; רָעִד to quake in the interior; while גַּיל and חַיל are merely to spin round under the influence of any violent feeling, whether cringing through fear, writhing in pain, or jumping for joy (especially the former word). כָּשִׁל is to be weak in the ankles, hence, to totter, stumble, etc.; but כַּרֵע is to bend the knees, hence, to bow or fall; while רָבִוֹ is to crouch on the haunches, like an animal in repose. For terms denoting forever, there is עוֹלָם, the vanishing point, whether forward or backward; hence time out of mind, everlastingly; עִד, the terminus, a fixed point beyond which one cannot pass; and נֶצִח, the goal or shining mark set up as far ahead as one can well see; while תָּמַיד simply denotes continuity Of negatives there is לאֹ, not, the direct denial, οὐκ; אִל, far from it, the softer or deprecative disclaimer, μή; אִיַן, by no means, the peremptory exclusive; and בִּל, not at all, the absolute contradiction, οὐ μή, omnino. So in meteorology, עָב is a misty scud- cloud, so called from obscuring the landscape; עָנָן is a black thunder- cloud, so called from veiling the heavens; and שִׁחִק is a light fleece-cloud, so called from its resemblance to dust diffused in the sky. In brigandage מִאֲרָב is an ambush for a surprise; while סֵתֶר is a covert for security; מִחֲבֵא a hiding-place for secrecy; and סֹך or סֻכָּה. merely a lair of wild beast, as screened by interlaced twigs. In orography and geography generally, Hebrew words are used with great precision. SEE TOPOGRAPHICAL TERMS.

II. Vocalization. Syllabification is very simple in Hebrew, as the letters (all regarded as consonants) are the basis of articulation, and each (with the frequent exception of the qumiescents) has its own vowel (expressed or implied) following. The pronunciation, indeed, is not certain, as Hebrew ceased to be a living tongue after the Babylonian exile; but the sounds of the letters probably survive in the cognate Oriental languages, especially the Arabic, and the vowels supplied by the Masoretes doubtless represent those traditionally handed down to their own times. The latter form an ingenious and apparently complicated but really simple and natural series, of which the written signs are sufficiently distinct and philosophical. The intricate chain of vowel-changes arising in declension is remarkable for its strict conformity to the laws of the vocal organs, and euphony is its fundamental principle. The tone usually rests on the final syllable, as being in general the most significant of grammatical relations, and hence an increment, as carrying the accent, has a constant tendency to shorten the preceding part of the word. The oblique forms of nouns and verbs, including the suffixed pronouns, are thus literally constructed, and the balance is preserved by abbreviating the beginning. In this system two features are of prime and universal influence, namely, the sernivocal character of the gutturals (inducing a series of peculiarities in their pointing), and the necessity of the tone for either a long closed or a short open syllable. By observing the effect of these principles and a few conventional form-signs, the grammar is wonderfully simplified and clarified.

III. Doctrine of the so-called "Tenses."

1. The "Praeter" and the "Future." These are now well understood not to denote primarily time, but some other less palpable relation. The absence of a present tense is, we may remark in passing, really logical, for the present moment is but the dividing line between the past and the future, and shifts its position every instant. Ewald suggested the names "Perfect" and "Imperfect" in lieu of Praeter and Future, maintaining that the former denotes a completed act, and the latter an inchoate; and some later grammarians, including Driver, in his ingenious monograph on the subject, have hastily adopted this nomenclature. But besides the inexactness of these terms in themselves, and the liability of confounding such a use with that of the corresponding tenses in English, and still more in Greek and Latin, they will be found to be essentially erroneous. As a matter of fact, in most cases, these two verb-forms indisputably designate the two relations of time anterior and posterior; and the consummation or incipiency of the act or state is comparatively rare as an important shade of the thought. In very many, indeed, a majority of cases, such a rendering would be absurd. For example, that remarkable and pregnant announcement by Jehovah of his divine self-existence, אֶהיֶה אֶהיֶה אֲשֶׁר, I will be what I will be (A.V. "I am that I am," Ex 3:14), becomes the flattest nonsense if translated "I begin to be what I begin to be." Surely this cannot be the essential conception of the tense-form in question. The true distinction is rather. that the Pr-ster marks an actor state as a matter of fact, or something intended to be stated as such, while the Future denotes a conception, or something meant to be so stated. They are respectively the objective and the subjective points of view, the actual and the imaginary, the absolute and the conditional, the indicative and the subjunctive, the independent and the relative. Out of this fundamental distinction grow all the subordinate ones, especially the past, as representing the only real facts, and the future, as being yet but a fancy. A completed act or state, as unfait accompli. of course thus comes in naturally under the Praeter, and an inchoate one, as yet conceptual in part, falls appropriately under the Future. The use of either as "a customary Present"' is but a device of grammarians in order to bring them into accord with the vague signification of that tense in other languages, especially the English.

Continued or permanent action or condition is expressed in Hebrew by the participle, which is in itself always timeless. When a prophet expresses his vaticinations in the Praeter (as notably in Isaiah 53), his conceptions become to him realities. and he states the future as if it were already a fact. When, on the other hand, a historian uses the Future for his narration is (which less frequently occurs), he means thereby to mark the events as viewed in a subordinate relation. either' to his own mind (optative) or to some other events (subjunctive). The term אֶהיֶה, therefore, in the above passage, indicates God's revealed attributes and character as a theme of human apprehension, while יהָֹוה signifies his simple self-existence. The repetition "I conceive myself to be what I conceive myself to be," or "I am conceived to be what I am conceived to be," would then, like Pilate's phrase, "What I have written I have written," express the permanence and truthfulness of that conception. God's absolute essence is objectively incommunicable.

It would be easy to exemplify the distinction of the independent and the qualified, as represented by the two so-called" tenses" respectively, Thus, to take the first instances in Genesis: הָיתָה (Ge 1:2) is not the mere copula, but emphasizes the fact of a change having taken place in the earth; whereas יַהיֶה and יַצמִח (Ge 2:5), express the idea that no growth had yet been visible or observed; and יעֲלֶה and והַשׁקָה (Ge 2:6) denote the appearance of a mist, which answered these purposes. So we may render יַפָּרֵד והָיָה (Ge 2:10), "was divided as it were, so as to form; יַתבּשָׁשׁוּ (Ge 2:25), "felt no shame of themselves mutually." Very often in poetry the same thought is expressed in the successive hemistichs in these two forms successively, for the sake of variety; first objectively or absolutely, and then subjectively or relatively; or vice versa. The convenient subterfuge of employing the present tense in English to render these obliterates the nice shade of meaning conveyed by the original, and largely destroys its beauty and effect. A slight paraphrase is needed to bring out the delicate turn of thought. Generally some form of the Subjunctive or Potential will suffice to reproduce the graphic power of the Future. But in many (if not most) cases a real difference is intended. Thus יֶהגֶּה (Ps 1:2) denotes an interior characteristic of the saint, whereas the preceding Prieters refer to his outward deportment. So even in Ps 2:1-2, רָגשׁוּ and יוֹסדוּ state the violence of the wicked as an act, and the parallel Futures as of purpose.

2. "Paragogic" and "Apocopate" Forms. — The most important of the additions included under the former of these terms is the ה appended to verbs (sometimes likewise to nouns) for the purpose of prolonging their sound, and thus naturally increasing their emphasis. With the Praeter this is chiefly limited to the third person, as this alone is truly objective. With the Future, on the contrary, it is more appropriate in the first and second persons, giving the former an earnest or thorough significance, and softening the latter into a beseeching tone, an effect likewise produced when used with the Imperative.

Apocopation consists in throwing off in the Future and Imperative the loosely cemented ה final of verbs, and in dropping out the י characteristic of Hiphil. It imparts a curt or peremptory stress to the shortened form, and thus serves to distinguish the jussive from the predictive use of the third person Future. The tendency to apocopation with "vav conversive" in the Future arises from it bringing the tone forward, in consequence of the close connection with the preceding context, and especially, it would seem, on account of the particle, which (as we shall see presently) that form appears to have originally included.

3. "Vav Conversive." — This peculiarity, which the Hebrew alone of all the Shemitic tongues exhibits, has been a sore puzzle to linguists, and only in recent times has received an intelligible explanation. It will serve as a crucial test of the foregoing theory of the tense meanings. Its most usual and decided form, namely, with the Future, demands our first attention. The fact that in this case the vav is pointed with Pattach and the Dagesh shows the assimilation of some older consonant; in fact, there seems to have been originally some particle like an adverb more closely pointing the sequence than the simple "vav conjunctive" would have done, very much like the puerile phrase of simple story-tellers, who string each incident to the preceding by "and then." The Hebrew historian sets out with a genuine Praeter (either expressed or implied), to indicate that he is stating matters of fact, but he continues his narrative with "vav conversive " and a Future to denote a consecutive series,: the latter member members of which he conceives and represents as depending upon the others. It is this dependent and conceptual relation that requires a Future. The incidents — are all facts — (as the particle implied in the pointing intimates), but not isolated or independent tacts. They may or they may not be logically or causally connected, but they are viewed by the writer as historically following each other, and he designedly overlooks anything between them. After completing such a series, more or less extended, the writer begins a fresh series with another Praeter, and continues it for awhile with "vav conversive" again. The whole history is thus divided off in a kind of paragraph style, and the close continuity of the subordinate statements is maintained in each paragraph. If he had used Praeters with or without "vav connective" throughout, the incidents would have been merely the disjecta membra of history, without any positive bond of unity. The style would have been, as we say, comparatively incoherent. The explanation of "vav conversive" with the Praeter is more difficult. From the absence of any special pointing, and the less frequency of its use, we are entitled to infer its comparative unimportance. In fact, it seems to be a kind of imitation, by way of converse, of the "vav conversive" of the Future. A writer sets out with a Future (in form or effect), and continues the conceptual series by the Preeter; to indicate that he has now mentally transported himself into the region of fancy, and is describing things from that vivid impression. It thus resembles the "historic present" of many languages, in which a narrator views the scenes recounted as if actually taking place under his eye.

It can now be readily seen, in the light of the above explanation of these two "tenses" how in poetical passages (and all, Hebrew is more or less poetical), the Praeter and the Future (either simple or transformed by vav) may often be beautifully interchanged, according as the writer, for variety's sake, wishes to represent the same scene in adjoining hemistichs as either actual or conceptual; and this closer or more loose method of consecution, by means of simple vav or vav conversive, gives him a wider and nicer play of conception and expression. These are among the delicate shades of meaning which it is almost impossible to transfer to a version. For example, David says (Ps 3:6), "To Jehovah should I call (אֶקרָא) [as I often have done], then he has heard me (וִיִּעֲננַי) ;" i.e., in plain prose, Whenever I call he hears me, but in poetic fervor, When I think of myself as calling, I immediately know myself as heard.

IV. Agglutinative Modes of Declension and Construction.

1. By Prefixes. — Of these ב, ה, ו, כ, and ל are strictly inseparable, but like מ and שׁ, they probably represent original particles, as the Arabic article el-(which assimilates, as by a Dagesh, with the "solar letters") indicates. Whether the characteristic נ of Niphal, and the ה of its infinitive as well as of Hiphil, Hophal, etc., had a similar origin is difficult to decide. The preformatives of the Future may be more readily traced to the full forms of the personal pronouns.

2. By Sufformatives and Affixes. — The personal endings of the tenses, as well as the suffixes, are clearly fragments, somewhat modified, of the pronouns which they represent. The דּ directive is probably an enclitic fragment of the article as a demonstrative. The feminine ending ה was a softened form, like ה paragogic. The old constructive termination of masculine nouns was for both numbers, and the dual and plural absolute were intensive additions, like the decimal increase of the cardinal numbers. The frequent interchange of gender in the plural (notably in נָשַׁים, אָבות, etc.) proves that this was a later or comparatively unimportant variation. The feminine, as the weaker, takes the place of the neuter in Greek and Latin to express the abstract.

3. By Juxtaposition. — Here we may enumerate three classes of amalgamation:

(a) compounds, which are rare in Hebrew, except: in proper names, and in cases of union by Makkeph (corresponding to our hyphen only in removing the principal tone);

(b) ellipsis, by which connecting particles are dropped as unnecessary, especially in the terse style of poetry; and

(c) interchange of the various parts of speech, which, as in English, allows nouns, particles, etc., to be freely used as adjectives, adverbs, etc., and conversely.

V. Emphatic Position of Words. — Here the natural order, in contradistinction from the artificial arrangement of the Latin, and the purely grammatical of the English prevails. As with foreigners and children speaking a new language, the most important words come first (of course, after connectives, negatives, interrogatives, etc., which qualify the whole clause). Hence the predicate, as being of greater extension, precedes, and the subject or the adjective, which are but an accident of the verb or the noun, follows; except when special emphasis requires a different position, or when poetry in the parallel hemistichs calls for a pleasing variety. In this respect the Hebrew more closely resembles the Greek, which often resorts to the same expedient of emphasizing by a position near the head of the clause, like our "nominative independent." These nice shades of emphasis are difficult to render smoothly and adequately, but it might be done far more accurately than in our Authorized Version, which is habitually negligent in this respect. For the prosodiac arrangement, SEE POETRY, HEBREW.

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