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Dissertation Information

Title: Topics in Tiberian Biblical Hebrew Metrical Phonology and Prosodics Add Dissertation
Author: Henry Churchyard Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of Texas at Austin, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 1999
Linguistic Subfield(s): Phonology;
Subject Language(s): Hebrew, Ancient
Director(s): Anthony Woodbury
Robert Harms
Robert King
Armin Mester

Abstract: This dissertation examines a number of linguistic issues in the phonology of ancient Hebrew, using the extremely rich prosodic information available in the Tiberian orthography of Biblical Hebrew. In addition to a basic analysis of syllabification and stress-assignment, and an examination of the exact linguistic interpretation of the orthography, a detailed analysis of Hebrew vowel reduction has been undertaken. Explaining the occurrences of reduced and unreduced vowels requires the creation of a layer of foot-like constituents below the level of feet responsible for stress in the usual sense. Also, certain previously-unconsidered linguistic patterns provide evidence that the distribution of syllable types in Hebrew phonological representations obeys a trochaic 'Trimoraic Law' generalization, and that the metrical constituents governing vowel reduction are systematically maximally trimoraic in certain contexts.

It is also shown that the Hebrew rhythm rule does not apply in a fundamentally different way from that of rhythm rules in other languages -- though the particular nature of Hebrew metrical representations does have certain effects on the rhythm-rule (casting some light on the nature of rhythm rules in general). The analyses of vowel reduction and the rhythm rule together throw doubt on the necessity and desirability of multiplanar metrical analyses of Hebrew (or in general).

The relationship between two distinct sources of phrasal prosodic constituency information provided by the orthography is also examined in detail. The first is the system of Tiberian cantillational 'accents' (Hebrew _t.`aamiim_), which provides an Immediate Constituent parse (largely prosodic in nature) for the Hebrew Bible. The second is a set of phonological phenomena which are sensitive to the greater prominence connected with phonological-phrase final (or 'pausal') position. A computer-assisted empirical textual-statistical study of the congruences and discrepancies between the accentual system and such pausal phonology was undertaken, which throws light on the linguistic nature of the accentual system. A number of biblical verses that show apparent discrepancies between accentual and pausal constituency are collected and individually discussed, and while the accentual and pausal constituency systems are often parallel, they cannot always be fully reconciled as variant orthographic manifestations of a single type of linguistic/prosodic constituency.

Finally, the history of Hebrew main stress and the origins of the consecutive imperfect stress shift are also discussed.