n Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages - Definiteness and the vocative in Biblical Hebrew

Volume 36, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0259-0131


Grammars of Biblical Hebrew describe the definite article as the marker of the vocative on common nouns, except when the noun phrase is inherently definite (e.g., proper nouns, nouns with a pronominal suffix, nouns in construct with a definite noun, etc.). However, as noted by Barr (1989), Joüon & Muraoka (2006), and others, there is a significant number of vocative expressions which consist of indefinite noun phrases. In this paper, I re-examine the intersection of definiteness and vocatives in Biblical Hebrew by examining all common nouns used as vocatives in the Hebrew Bible. Three areas of linguistic research inform the discussion : (1) cross-linguistic typologies of the vocative as definite or indefinite; (2) markedness; and (3) the semantics of definiteness. I conclude that the definite article does not mark the vocative in Biblical Hebrew; instead, common nouns used as vocatives may be either indefinite or definite.

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