Diachronic Development in Biblical Hebrew Prepositions: A Case Study in Grammaticalization

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Division of the Humanities in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

By Humphrey Hill Hardy II

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Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
University of Chicago
Commitee: Dennis Pardee, Rebecca Hasselbach-Andee, Salikoko Mufwene


This dissertation applies the linguistic theory of grammaticalization to Biblical Hebrew (BH) prepositions, detailing the origin and evolution of these constructions. In this study, grammaticalization is defined as the change whereby a lexical item or a construction comes in certain linguistic contexts to acquire a grammatical function, or whereby an item or a construction expands its grammatical function(s). The primary goal is to determine to what extent grammaticalization sheds light on the development of this grammatical subsystem. 

This framework affords not just a descriptive analysis of the extant variation but provides for a diachronic description of the emergence of innovative grammatical functions. The only other significant work on BH prepositions outside of the standard descriptive grammars is Jenni's three-volume Die hebräischen Präpositionen which is restricted to the inseparable prepositions (i.e. l-, b- and k-) and is principally concerned with semantic categorization as a purely synchronic enterprise. In contrast with previous studies, this work offers a diachronic analysis of prepositions through examining the language-internal and cross-linguistic data.  The resulting pathways of change beginning with the source constructions account for the evidenced polysemy.

The resulting analysis provides an assessment of the structural and functional variation evidenced in BH prepositions that is unified around a single linguistic change, grammaticalization, which results in a new grammatical function. This approach provides a novel understanding of the emergence of this linguistic subsystem, contributing a detailed accounting of the variation evidenced by the usages of BH prepositions.  Furthermore, it demonstrates the value of integrating diachronic linguistics and traditional philological approaches in the investigation of grammar providing for an exhaustive language-internal description of prepositions.