Semitics

Book Chapters
Bar-Asher Siegal EA. The Language of the Mishnah – Between Late Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew. In: What's the Mishna. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press ; Forthcoming.Abstract

In discussing the history of the Hebrew language, a distinction must be made between its history as a linguistic system and the history of its written forms. The former assumes an idealized periodization of the language and distinguishes between Early Hebrew (EH) and Late Hebrew (LH). The latter bases the division on corpora, resulting in the traditional classification into Biblical Hebrew, Qumranic Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew, with further sub-divisions such as early vs. late Biblical Hebrew, Early vs. Late Mishnaic Hebrew, Babylonian vs. Palestinian Talmudic Hebrew, etc. Although these two perspectives are fundamentally different, they are clearly interrelated: on the one hand, our knowledge about the history of the structure(s) of the language is based on data gathered from the Hebrew corpora and on the historical setting of these texts; on the other hand, the analysis of the linguistic information in the corpora is a de facto description of how the different linguistic systems were used in each corpus. This paper aims to examine the language of the Mishnah from these two perspectives and explore the conceptual distinction between the two categories with which it is associated, namely Late Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew. I will outline what it means to provide a description of Late Hebrew as a linguistic system, and what it means to examine Mishnaic Hebrew as the language of a written corpus. Accordingly, this paper has a twofold goal: 1) to explain the difference between the two perspectives as relevant to the language of the Mishnah. 2) to demonstrate the advantages of keeping them separate.

bar-asher_siegal_revised_paper_june_2021.pdf
Bar-Asher Siegal EA. Medieval Jewish Literary Languages: the case of the Aramaic of the Zohar. In: Hebrew and Aramaic in the Middle Ages – Language Studies and Grammatical Thought. Jerusalem: The Academy of Hebrew Language ; 2020. pp. 19-63.Abstract

This paper characterizes Medieval Hebrew and Aramaic as literary languages, and uses the Aramaic of the Zohar as a test-case to explore this category. The paper seeks to explain how a ‘literary language’ – namely a language used mainly in literary contexts – arises, while utilizing three types of research: comparative philological research, which compares different languages and texts in terms of their vocabulary and grammar; sociolinguistic research, which examines the social functions of language use; and psycholinguistic research, which (in this particular case) examines issues of language acquisition. The paper builds on philological studies of literary languages to explain how the grammar of these languages evolves. It assumes that the acquisition of such languages is similar to second-language acquisition, while taking into account that these languages are both acquired and used in a strictly literary context. The main argument of the paper is that literary languages should be studied the same way as other languages, because ultimately – after making some adjustments motivated by their particular functions – they are compatible with the standard models of second-language acquisition. After concluding my general theoretical discussion, I apply my conclusions therein to the Aramaic of the Zohar (the main text of the Jewish Kabballah), adapting previous studies of Zoharic Aramaic to this theoretical framework, and examining various new issues in the Zoharic grammar.

medieval_jewish_literary_languages_the_c.pdf
Bar-Asher Siegal EA, De Clercq K. From negative cleftto external negator. In: Breitbarth, Anne, Elisabeth Witzenhausen, Miriam Bouzouita & Lieven Danckaert (eds.). Cycles in Language Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press ; 2019. pp. 228-248.Abstract

This chapter discusses the syntax and the semantics of the negator lāw in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (henceforth JBA) through the lens of the diachronic emergence of this negator. The new negator lāw is a sentential external negator, whose syntactic and semantic properties is discussed alongside a diachronic study concerning its origin. Syntactically, we propose that lāw, like negative DPs/PPs in English (Haegeman 2000) and Sicilian neca (Cruschina 2010; Garzonio and Poletto 2015) is merged in SpecFocP in the extended CP-domain from where it takes wide scope. Semantically, lāw takes propositional scope and expresses the meaning of external negation, equivalent to the independent clause: ‘it is not the case’. Diachronically, lāw, as a single-morpheme external negation, developed from a cleft whose matrix clause negates the content of the embedded clause. Following work by Bar-Asher Siegal (2015b), we argue that the syntactic reanalysis of lāw is triggered by a phonological process of univerbation between the regular negator lā in clefts with the agreement clitic. This syntactic reanalysis involves a morphological univerbation of lāw (Andersen 1987). The main claim of this chapter is that the syntactic and the semantic characteristics of this negator can be better understood in the light of its historical origin. Moreover, this is an interesting example of how a similar semantic interpretation can be associated with two different syntactic structures, thus allowing a syntactic reanalysis. This type of development is not part of the Jespersen Cycle or Croft’s cycle, but constitutes the development of a non-standard negator next to the standard negator. It is demonstrated that a similar development can be observed for the Sicilian negator neca as well (cf. Garzonio and Poletto 2015).

final_-_scan.pdf
Bar-Asher Siegal EA. Towards a Reconsideration of the Tense-Aspect-Mood System of Tannaitic Hebrew. In: Studies in Mishnaic Hebrew and Related Fields Proceedings of the Yale Symposium on Mishnaic Hebrew May 2014. Jerusalem: The Academy of Hebrew Language ; 2017. pp. 59-91.Abstract

This paper provides an analysis of the Tense–Aspect–Mood system of
Tannaitic Hebrew. Following an outline of the methodology in his choice
of the corpus for this study,  the author sketches out his analysis with a focus on
the theoretical motivations in its favor.

towards_a_reconsideration_of_the_tense_a.pdf
The Origin and the Typology of the Pattern qtil li in Syriac and Babylonian Aramaic. In: A. Mamman, S. Fassberg and Y. Breuer, (eds.), Sha’arey Lashon: Studies in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Jewish Languages in Honor of Moshe Bar-Asher. Vol. 2. Jerusalem : Hebrew University ; 2008. pp. 360-392. sh2-elitzur_bar-asher.pdf

Pages