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Null Subjects


Harvey
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Sometimes null subjects are marked in the syntax coding as preceding the verb and at other times as following it, in what appear (to my eye, at least) to be identical syntactical structures. I assume that there a principle being applied here that I am overlooking; I would appreciate learning about it.

 

Here is an example:

 

Exod 21:4‏ אִם־אֲדֹנָיו֙ יִתֶּן־ל֣וֹ אִשָּׁ֔ה וְיָלְדָה־ל֥וֹ בָנִ֖ים א֣וֹ בָנ֑וֹת הָאִשָּׁ֣ה וִילָדֶ֗יהָ תִּהְיֶה֙ לַֽאדֹנֶ֔יהָ וְה֖וּא יֵצֵ֥א בְגַפּֽוֹ׃
 
‎Exod 21:11‏ וְאִם־שְׁלָ֨שׁ־אֵ֔לֶּה לֹ֥א יַעֲשֶׂ֖ה לָ֑הּ וְיָצְאָ֥ה חִנָּ֖ם אֵ֥ין כָּֽסֶף׃
 
In the first, the null subject is coded before the verb ילדה; in the second, it is coded after the verb ויצאה.
 
Is this coding intended perhaps to reflect the hypothesis that underlying indicatively used verbs lies SV order, and underlying modally used ones, VS order?
Edited by Harvey
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The principle for the position of null subjects is very simple -- we put them in the same place where we expect an overt subject. 

 

Exod 21:11, in which the null subject follows the verb יצאה, is by far the most common position when the VS order has been triggered (here by the conditional אם).

 

But in Exod 21:4 you've stumbled on a rarity -- SV order after a conditional. Since the first clause has SV order after the אם, we maintained this rare order with the null subject in the second clause, with the verb ילדה. Theoretically it is unlikely that the null subject would precede the verb ילדה in v. 11, since null subjects cannot bear Topic or Focus marking (as אדניו does in the first clause), but we worked very hard to put theory in second place behind data. 

 

On SV and VS alternation, if some of this is not clear, I encourage you to visit the blog that I co-write with John A. Cook (Asbury) and follow the trail in the blog posts and posted PDFs  -- www.ancienthebrewgrammar.wordpress.com

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The verbs in question are in Ex. 21:4 and 11 are, respectively, in the protasis and in the apodosis. If I understand you correctly, SV order is unusual  in the protasis, but you nonetheless applied it to וילדה in Ex. 21:4 because the first clause of the protasis displayed SV order. In the case of Ex. 21:11, you applied VS order because that is the common order in the apodosis. Do I understand you correctly?

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Hmm... this requires a more elaborate explanation.

 

First, what you are identifying as a protasis and apodosis has a complex syntactic reality. Often there is no such overt marker, and so it is an interpretation of the coordination of the two clauses based on the semantics of the content of the two clauses and the discourse context. Such judgments are beyond our syntax database. We explicitly set out (and discussed this in the background documentation) to create a syntactic database, without semantic (beyond lexical, or course) or discourse layers. I want to be clear on that.

 

Second, for Exod 21:4, the main clause (apodosis) after the explicitly אם marked subordinate clause (protasis) is probably not ילדה, but the clause beginning with האשׁהה וילדיה תחיה. This means that the verb ילדה is, in fact, a second clause governed by the אם and thus still within a compound protasis. For Exod 21:11, the main clause does probably start with יצאה.

 

Third, whether or not a word order difference exists for protasis-apodosis (subordinate-main) clauses is controversial. I have done research and published on this, but, again, we wanted a database that was data-centric and did not preference the conclusions we may have drawn in our own research.

 

So, after all this, I hope it becomes clearer that the single principle for where null subjects are placed is where we expect to find overt subjects -- based on the patterns we observe in the immediate context as well as the larger context of the whole Hebrew Bible. Interestingly, the difference you have found in these two verses is rare and I'm not sure how many more you'll find (the caveat being that I will be proofing the database for many years to come, so there may be others that are certainly erroneous).

Edited by Robert Holmstedt
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First, thanks for your patient responses.

 

If I am not mistaken, our analysis of where the apodosis begins in each verse is the same. My point in my last posting was that after reading your first response, I saw that the two verbs in question are in significantly different positions---וילדה in the protasis and ויצאה in the apodosis---and that this lessened the significance of what I had origninally thought was an inconsistency in the treatment of their respective null subjects.

 

Thanks again.

 

 

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I stumbled on this one today: In Gen. 15:6, it seems to me that the null subject should precede the verb. I take the verb to be indicative, and the overwhelming majority of ve + qatal + subject occurrences are modal (consistent with Cook-Holmstedt). (Gen. 34:5, for one, seems to be an unusual counter-example.) Your thoughts?

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