Monday, November 22, 2021

What shows a change in the language?

The usage of /w/ as a prefix [sh] in Biblical Hebrew is rare. The prefix /w/ is pervasive in Modern Hebrew as expressions like wli, ([shli] mine) and wlo ([shlo] his) occur frequently in conversation and the more formal pronoun suffixes are not used. It almost seems that it might be an abbreviation of awr in its role as a pronoun. When did this change begin?

In most books of the Hebrew Scriptures, w (shin) as a prefix occurs less than 0.05% of the time if at all. In the following books, it is significantly more frequent:

  • The Song of Solomon 2.4%,
  • Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) 2.07%,
  • Jonah 0.44%,
  • Lamentations 0.26%,
  • Psalms 0.11%,
  • Ezra 0.07%,
  • Judges 0.05%.
In every other book, this prefix fades into insignificance.

Compare the uses of other prepositional prefixes like 

  • b, occurring between 2 and 8% in every book, 
  • l, very similar to b,
  • m, in every book, between 3 and 9%,
  • c, in every book, between 0.3% and 3.6% The Song, 2.2% Hosea, 2.5% Nahum, 1.8% Micah, down to 0.43% for Jonah.

Are there other language markers that we might notice whose frequency of use would allow us to make general statements about variations in language usage?

One I have noted before that distinguishes prose from poetry is the direct object marker /at/.

  • Prose books range from 6.68%, Leviticus, down to 4.59 for Numbers in the Pentateuch, 
  • 5.92 Joshua down to 4.17 for 2 Samuel in the former prophets, 
  • 1.65 for Isaiah, 4.42 for Jeremiah, 3.79 for Ezekiel, so slightly lower than the first sections from Genesis to Kings, 
  • then lower again for the Book of the 12, 0.54 Nahum to 4.34 Malachi, 
  • and for the Poetry books, Psalms 0.89, Proverbs 0.69, Job 0.62. 
  • The scrolls range from 0.45 Lamentations to 3.94 for Esther. Lamentations is the only one that is < 2. 
  • Daniel Ezra and Nehemiah are low probably because of the preponderance of Aramaic. 
  • Chronicles is 4.15 and is very consistent across both books.
I have always had a suspicion that some of the prophets wrote like poets. If for instance we eliminate the 4 chapters of Kings duplicated in Isaiah 36-39, his percentage drops to 1.44.

Looking at just 4 verses of the first servant song, Isaiah 42:1-4, we find a reasonable tight poetic line that could have appeared in the Psalms without surprising us too much stylistically.

Syllables: 93. Words: 43. Roots: 32. Root Recurrence: 37%. Average per verse: 4.
הֵ֤ן עַבְדִּי֙ אֶתְמָךְ־בּ֔וֹ בְּחִירִ֖י רָצְתָ֣ה נַפְשִׁ֑י
נָתַ֤תִּי רוּחִי֙ עָלָ֔יו מִשְׁפָּ֖ט לַגּוֹיִ֥ם יוֹצִֽיא
1 ♪C Lo, my servant. I will maintain him. My chosen, my very self accepts.
I have given my spirit to him. The judgment of the nations, he will bring forth.
a hn ybdi atmoç-bo bkiri rxth npwi
ntti ruki yliv mwp't lgoiim ioxia
13
14
hn ybd\i a/tmc b\v bk\iri rx\th npw\i
nt\ti rvk\i yl\iv m/wp+ l/gvi\m iv/x\ia
לֹ֥א יִצְעַ֖ק וְלֹ֣א יִשָּׂ֑א
וְלֹֽא־יַשְׁמִ֥יעַ בַּח֖וּץ קוֹלֽוֹ
2 ♪f He will not cry out and he will not lift up,
or make his voice heard in the street.
b la ixyq vla iiwa
vla-iwmiy bkux qolo
7
9
la i/xyq v/la i/wa
v/la i/wmy b/kvx qvl\v
קָנֶ֤ה רָצוּץ֙ לֹ֣א יִשְׁבּ֔וֹר וּפִשְׁתָּ֥ה כֵהָ֖ה לֹ֣א יְכַבֶּ֑נָּה
לֶאֱמֶ֖ת יוֹצִ֥יא מִשְׁפָּֽט
3 A damaged purchase he will not break, and dim flax he will not quench.
To truth he will bring forth judgment.
g qnh rxux la iwbor upwth chh la icbnh
lamt ioxia mwp't
17
7
qnh rxx la i/wbr v/pwt\h chh la i/cb\nh
l/amt iv/x\ia m/wp+
לֹ֤א יִכְהֶה֙ וְלֹ֣א יָר֔וּץ עַד־יָשִׂ֥ים בָּאָ֖רֶץ מִשְׁפָּ֑ט
וּלְתוֹרָת֖וֹ אִיִּ֥ים יְיַחֵֽילוּ פ
4 ♪C He will not dim and he will not be damaged until he has set judgment in the land,
and for his instruction, coasts will hope.
d la ichh vla irux yd-iwim barx mwp't
ultorto aiim iiklu p
15
11
la i/chh v/la i/rx yd i/wim b/arx m/wp+
vl/tvr\tv ai\im ii/k\ilv
Recurring words in Isaiah 42:1-4


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