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The negation of the non-verbal clause in early Syriac.

0. Introduction

The last quarter century has seen a notable increase in studies of the Semitic non-verbal clause (NVC). This is a promising development: though its structure is far from simple, the NVC is relatively more transparent than the verbal clause; it is therefore a logical starting point for syntactical research. Moreover, since elements of the Semitic verbal system have probably grown out of non-verbal types of predication,(1) the NVC is likely to teach us a few points of importance for a correct understanding of the Semitic verbal clause. In order to reach beyond the impressive results of the syntactic research undertaken in the last century,(2) present-day scholarship must adopt a relatively new approach to Semitic syntax, one characterized as truly linguistic (i.e., structural(3)) and, therefore, free of the imposition of Indo-European categories on the Semitic languages. The study of the NVC may prove to be an important stage in the formation of this approach.(4)

While we await a new Grundriss, much work remains to be done on the "nuts and bolts" of even the simpler types of NVC in the different languages and dialects. The present paper wishes to make a modest contribution to the description of the NVC in Syriac.

1. The positive NVC in Syriac: an outline

The researches of G. Goldenberg present a clear and uniform theory of the Syriac NVC.(5) His theory is summarized in the present section in a slightly modified way (see especially section 1.3.); for an understanding of the structure of the positive NVC must precede that of the negated NVC.(6)

1.1. Nucleus: Pr-EPP

The most usual type of non-verbal clause is structured around a nucleus consisting of the predicate (Pr) + an enclitic personal pronoun (EPP).(7) The EPP refers to the subject (Su)(8) and accords with it in gender and number. This nucleus suffices to constitute a clause, e.g., seda (h)w "It is a ghost" (Matt 14:26 Cureton(9)).

If the Pr consists of more than one word, the EPP is attached to the first word of the Pr (but status constructus or preposition + noun are counted as one word). E.g., a(y)k mal ake ennon dasmaya "They are as the angels of heaven" (Matt 22:30 Cureton).

To the nucleus an explicit Su may be added, either before or after the nucleus. Examples:

Su-Pr-EPP nir(y) ger bassim (h)u "For my yoke is easy" (Matt 11:30(10))

Pr-EPP-Su bnay here ennon bnaya "The sons are free men" (Matt 17:26)

These clauses with an explicit Su recall similar clauses in Biblical Hebrew. However, whereas in Biblical Hebrew they must be viewed as cases of extraposition of the Su (e.g., ha nasim ha elleh s lemim hem ittanu "As to these men, they are friendly with us," Gen 34:21),(11) in Syriac they are merely representative of the normal way to build a NVC.

Clauses that are not structured around a nucleus consisting of Pr-EPP fall in three categories (sections 1.2., 1.3. and 1.4.).

1.2. Nucleus "participial"

Certain types of adjectives have no need of an EPP in order to build a clause. The bare form of the adjective in the status absolutus expresses nexus, e.g., tkil al alaha "He is confident in God" (Matt 27:43). In this type of clause, the adjective takes the place of Pr-EPP; in the clauses described above, it constitutes the nucleus. Again an explicit Su may be added to this nucleus. Examples:

Su-Adjective rawrbanayhon sallitin layhon "Their great men have authority over them" (Matt 20:25)

Adjective-Su ma qattin tar a "How narrow is the gate" (Matt 7:14)

These clauses follow the same basic structure as the clauses described in section 1.1. However, whereas in those clauses the Su must be expressed by an EPP, in these the 3rd p. Su is implicit in the Pr. Goldenberg ascribes this to a process of "verbalization": like the active participle (qatel "he kills") these adjectives have acquired certain verbal characteristics, notably the capacity to express in their bare form the 3rd person pronominal Su (tkil "he trusts").(12) In view of their proximity to the active participle, Goldenberg termed them "participials."

1.3. The identificatory NVC

In the clauses defined in sections 1.1. and 1.2. the Pr is usually indefinite. With a definite Pr the character of the clause changes since the Pr is less clearly an item of new information about the Su. The clause is rather an identification of two known elements--whence the term "identificatory" NVC. It is often hard to decide in these clauses which element is Su and which is Pr.(13) This has certain repercussions on the structure of these clauses.(14)

a) In identificatory NVCs with a fronted pronoun the EPP is attached to the pronoun indiscriminately, whether the pronoun is Su or Pr. In a clause like ena na msiha "I am the Messiah" (Matt 24:5), the syntactic structure does not indicate which element is Su and which is Pr.(15) This means that clauses of this structure may be found where the pronoun is the Su, e.g., a(n)t (h)u msiha breh d alaha haya "You are the Messiah, son of the living God" (answer to the question: "Who do you say that I am?"). In such clauses the sequence is Su-EPP-Pr.

b) When both Su and Pr are definite noun phrases, Syriac allows the structure: noun phrase-pronoun-EPP-noun phrase, e.g., wzaro a huyu(16) bisa "And the sower is the evil one" (Matt 13:39 Cureton). This is an expansion of the structure discussed under a), and like that structure, it does not indicate which element is Su and which is Pr. Both the sequence Su-Pronoun-EPP-Pr(17) and the sequence Pr-Pronoun-EPP-Su(18) are attested.

1.4. Exceptions

Finally, a large number of exceptions are found which simply juxtapose Su and Pr without an EPP These clauses are of different kinds, and it is probably impossible to determine the rules that regulate their structure. However, they show that the structure described in section 1.1. is merely the normal way to build a NVC.

2. The negation of the NVC in early Syriac

The different types of positive NVC are fundamental to the syntactical distinctions that occur with the negated NVC. Yet Goldenberg did not formulate a correct description of the negated NVC,(19) probably because negated clauses are much less frequent than positive clauses. The present writer reached the conclusions presented below on the basis of a comparative study of the negated NVCs in the Hebrew OT (numbering about 80) and their renderings in Syriac.

The first problem confronting the student of the Syriac NVC is that two different negations are used: la and la hwa. The distinction between them is not, as Noldeke thought, that the composite form is emphatic with regard to the first.(20) Rather, each negation belongs to specific types of clauses: la hwa corresponds to the positive type constructed with an EPP, la corresponds to the positive types that dispense with an EPP. In sections 2.1. and 2.2. the syntax of these negations will be studied more closely.

2.1. la hwa

The normal type of NVC, which in its positive form would be constructed with EPP (section 1.1.), is negated by the negative particle la followed by the perfect of the verb hwa. The use of the verb does not in these clauses imply past tense, perfectivity, or becoming, but simply the negation of a NVC. In the earliest Syriac texts the verb is, as a rule, conjugated. Examples:

1 sg. la hwit gabra dmelle "I am not a man of words" (Exod 4:10)

2 m. sg. wbarnasa a(n)t wla hwayt alaha "And you are a man and you are not a god" (Ezek 28:2)

2 f. sg. ap a(n)t(y) bet lhem dihuda la hwayt(y) bsira bmalke dihuda "And you Bethlehem of Judah, you are not small among the leaders of Judah" (Matt 2:6)

3 m. sg. la hwa gabra alaha "God is not a man" (Num 23:19)

3 f. sg. la hwat hade urha "This is not the way" (2 Kgs 6:19)

1 pl. la hwayn bnay abraham "We are not sons of Abraham" (Aphr. I 484:10(21))

2 m. pl. dla hwayton bnaynasa akwathon ". . . that you are not men like them" (Thom. 259:3(22))

3 m. pl. qtilayk(y) la hwaw qtile dsaypa "Your slain are not slain of the sword" (Isa 22:2)

3 f. pl. mettul dtar yat(y) la hway a(y)k tar yatkon "For my thoughts are not like your thoughts" (Isa 55:8)

On the basis of a large sample of similar NVCs, the following rules can be said to be valid for these clauses:

a) la hwa immediately precedes the element which, in the positive clause, is followed by EPP.(23)

b) the use of la hwa excludes the use of an EPP.(24)

c) the verb hwa is conjugated and accords with the Su.(25)

Schematically, we may say that whereas a positive NVC is constructed around a nucleus:

Pr-EPP (or Pron-EPP; see 1.3.a),

a negated NVC has a nucleus:

la hwa-Pr (or la hwa-Pron).

As with positive clauses, an explicit Su may be added either before or after the nucleus, without altering the basic clause structure.(26)

2.2. la

A NVC is negated by la if in its positive form it would not be constructed with an EPP, i.e., with participials (section 1.2.) and exceptionally with other types of clauses (compare section 1.4.).

a) The negative particle is used when the nucleus of the Pr is a participial, e.g., la sniqin hlime al asya "Those who are well have no need of a physician" (Matt 9:12).(27) This is not unexpected since, as we have seen in section 1.2., the participials are to a certain extent verbalized. Of course, la is the normal negation with participles as in verbal clauses in general.

As stated above in section 1.2., a participial contains the expression of the 3rd person. This means that if the Su is 1st or 2nd person, a participial is regularly followed by an EPP. Clauses of the type Participial-EPP (1st or 2nd person) are negated by la as well, e.g., la sqil a(n)t septa dnas "You are not worried about anybody" (Matt 22:16).(28) In this respect participials again behave like participles, which are also negated by la when followed by a 1st or 2nd person Su (la qa tel na).

b) Just as one may exceptionally find positive clauses not constructed with EPP, one may find clauses negated by simple la instead of la hwa. Again, these clauses are of different kinds, and it is hardly possible to determine the factors responsible for the simple negation. Examples:

ella la dakel sullama "But the end is not yet" (Matt 24:6)

la hakana rassi e "Not so the wicked" (Psalm 1:4)

la a(y)k dhallen mnateh dYa qub "Jacob's portion is not as theirs" (Jer 10:16)

3. The negated NVC in later texts

The type of syntax described in section 2.1. is regular in Syriac literature up to the 4th century.(29) In the earliest writings it is used exclusively:

The Old Testament Peshitta(30) which is to be dated in the 1st or early 2nd century A.D.(31)

The letter of Mara bar Serapion,(32) late 2nd century (?).(33)

The Old Syriac version of the Gospels,(34) to be dated--probably--in the 3rd century A.D.(35)

The Acts of Thomas, dated to the 3rd century A.D.(36)

In other texts, which seem to be slightly later on the whole, we find instances of the type of syntax described in section 2.1., side by side with instances of the younger type of syntax, which will be reviewed below in section 3.1. Apparently these texts represent a transitional period as regards the syntax of the negated NVC.

The Book of the Laws of the Countries,(37) to be dated in the 3d century.(38) The older type is found: p. 6, 1. 1; p. 10, 1. 15; p. 14, 1. 8. The younger type: p. 1, 1. 11; p. 19, 1. 3.

The apology of (pseudo?) Meliton.(39) The older type: p. 22, 11. 1, 12; p. 23, 11. 3, 4; p. 28, 1. 13. The younger type: p. 23 1.9.

The Demonstrations of Aphrahat, dating from 337 and 344 A.D. The older type: vol. I, 97:8; 100:23-24; 196:23; 197:4, 9; 337:3; 372:2, 6; 388:26; 481:22; 481:10, 17; 488:3; 653:14. The younger type: vol. 1, 168:1; 685:15; 993:24.

The Peshitta version of the New Testament, to be dated before 431 A.D.(40) Only 2 cases of the younger type occur: John 1:20; Acts 19:26. All other examples are of the older type.

In Syriac texts of an even later date, the earlier type of syntax is wholly absent, being replaced by the type described in section 3.1. Since this falls outside the scope of the present article, the "new" type of syntax will be reviewed only briefly.

3.1. la hwa-X-EPP

The type of negated NVC found in later literature has as its nucleus: la hwa-X-EPP.(41) In this construction la hwa is indeclinable, whereas the EPP accords with the Su. Examples:

Ephraem, Contra haereses VIII 13(42) wla hwa smahe ennon shime dla pursan "They are not ordinary names without distinction"

Ibid., VI 19 law ger men halqa (h)y gzurta w urluta "Circumcision and foreskin are not from fate"

The difference between early and late syntax is demonstrated clearly by a comparison of negated NVCs in the earlier and the later Bible versions. Compare:

2 Kgs 6:19 Peshitta la hwat hade urha wla hwat hade mdi(n)ta

Syrohexapla law hada (h)y urha wlaw hada (h)y mdi(n)ta

Num 12:7 Peshitta la hwa hakana abd(y) Muse

Syrohexapla la hwa hakana (h)w mnihana dil(y) Muse.

4. Conclusions

The facts brought to light here contradict E. Beck's statement that Syriac had no clear and distinct syntax.(43) Even such a marginal type of clause as the negated NVC reveals a definite syntax, regulated by rules that are consistently observed. And though the negated NVC mirrors the positive NVC, it does not mimic its structure. The use of the perfect of the verb hwa is striking, though the Ethiopic parallel (see note 26) indicates that within the framework of Semitic linguistics it should not be regarded as anomalous. On the other hand, it is quite understandable that the language could not maintain this remarkable type of syntax and in a later stage exchanged it for a simpler type more directly related to the positive NVC.

The syntax of the negated NVC may be used in the dating of texts. An undated text that consistently uses conjugated la hwa-Pr is sure to come from the 3-4th century, a text that consistently uses non-conjugated la hwa-Pr-EPP must be dated in the 4th century or later. Practically, however, a given text will most often not contain sufficient cases of negated NVCs to decide the matter.

1 This has been claimed for the suffix-conjugation by H. Bauer, "Die Tempora im Semitischen," Beitrage zur Assyriologie 8 (1910): 1-53, along with many moderns. With regard to the prefix-conjugation, see Fr. Rundgren, "Ablaut und Apothematismus," Orientalia Suecana 13 (1964): 48-83.

2 A synopsis of these results is given in C. Brockelmann, Grundriss der vergleichende Grammatik der semitischen Sprachen, Bd. II: Syntax (Berlin: Topelmann, 1913; reprint Hildesheim: Olms, 1961).

3 In the sense of the basic axioms laid down by Ferdinand de Saussure.

4 As far as the present writer is concerned, the article of Goldenberg cited in the following note is representative of the very best this approach has to offer.

5 G. Goldenberg, "On Syriac Sentence Structure," in Arameans, Aramaic and the Aramaic Literary Tradition, ed. M. Sokoloff (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 1983), 97-140. This study constitutes a big step forward from the unsystematic approach of Th. Noldeke, Kurzgefasste syrische Grammatik (Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1898(2); repr. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1977), 235-40.

6 Goldenberg's treatment may be complemented by the insights of T. Muraoka, "On the Nominal Clause in the Old Syriac Gospels," JSS 20 (1975): 28-37. See also the latter's contribution to the problem in Classical Syriac for Hebraists (Wiesbaden: Harassowitz, 1987).

7 The EPP is enclitic in the sense that normally no other element, not even the particles den or ger, can come between the Pr and the EPP: Pr + EPP form a prosodically closed group.

8 In the present study Su (subject) designates the known element in the clause, whereas Pr (predicate) designates the element in the clause that supplies the new information. For a discussion of the terms "subject" and "predicate," see H. J. Polotsky, "Nominalsatz und Cleft Sentence im Koptischen," Or 31 (1962): 413-30, esp. pp. 414-16. Compare also G. Goldenberg, "On Syriac Sentence Structure," 98 n. 3.

9 The Curetonian manuscript of the Old Syriac version of the Gospels: F. C. Burkitt, Evangelion da-Mepharreshe, I: Text and Translation; II: Introduction and Notes (Cambridge: University, 1904).

10 Where no other indication is given, the Bible is quoted according to the Peshitta version. For the Peshitta version of the Gospels, I used Ph. Pusey and G. H. Gwilliam, Tetraevangelium sanctum iuxta simplicem Syrorum versionem (Oxford: Clarendon, 1901).

11 See S. R. Driver, A Treatise on the Use of the Tenses in Hebrew (Oxford: Clarendon, 1892(3)), 267-74.

12 Goldenberg, "On Syriac Sentence Structure," 116. One could say that the 3d p. pronoun is expressed by the zero-morpheme. However, with 1st or 2nd p. subjects the EPP needs to be used with participials (as with the active participle: qatel na "I kill").

13 In principle a clause like "I am the Messiah" can be viewed as containing information either about "I" (i.e., as an answer to the question: "Who are you?") or about "the Messiah" (as an answer to the question: "Who is the Messiah?"). Only the context can help us decide which is the correct interpretation.

14 This was first clearly realized by F. Praetorius, Athiopische Grammatik (Karlsruhe, 1886; repr. New York: F. Ungar, 1955), 159-60, and idem, ZDMG 35 (1881): 750-61, 755, and by S. R. Driver, Treatise, 199, pp. 294-95. However, the insight was never applied to Syriac. T. Muraoka (see n. 6) uses the nomenclature of "descriptive" versus "identificatory" clauses, but his use of these terms has a different basis.

15 In Matt 24:5 the context helps to identify the pronoun as the Pr: "I (and no one else) am the Messiah (you were expecting)."

16 Huyu is a regular contraction of hu hu.

17 E.g., Matt 13:20, 22, 23.

18 E.g., Matt 12:50.

19 The only remark he makes on negated NVCs ("On Syriac Sentence Structure," 108, n. 19) is incorrect: see n. 25 of the present article.

20 Syrische Grammatik, 253-54, 328B. Noldeke does note that in the NVC la is used only with adjectives, whereas with other types of Pr la hwa is more usual.

21 Aphrahat's Demonstrations: J. Parisot, Patrologia Syriaca, 2 vols. (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1894; 1907), quoted by column and line.

22 The Acts of Thomas: W. Wright, Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles (London: Williams and Norgate, 1871).

23 I.e., Pr or the fronted pronoun in an identificatory clause.

24 There are a few exceptions to this rule, e.g., 1 Kgs 19:4 la hwit(y) tab ena men abahay "I'm not better than my fathers," where the pronoun is used because of the opposition, I--my fathers; Ezra 10:13.

25 Goldenberg, "On Syriac Sentence Structure," 108, n. 19, ascribes the agreement of hwa with the Su to attraction or contamination. However, in view of the fact that la hwa excludes the use of an EPP, it is clear that the negation expresses nexus. Because of this it is logical, indeed necessary, that it should agree with the Su.

26 This syntax finds a striking semitistic parallel in Ethiopic NVCs which are negated by ikona (i = not, kona = he was). This form too is conjugated and precedes the Pr, e.g., Matt 19:6 enkasake ikonu kele e za enbala ahadu sega emuntu "Therefore they are not two, but they are one flesh"; John 19:12 emma ahyawko lazentu ikonka arko laqesar "If you let this man live, you are not Caesar's friend"; also John 7:16; 8:23; 8:47; 10:16. Cf. A. Dillmann, Grammatik der athiopischen Sprache (Leipzig: Weigel, 1857), 391.

27 Other examples: Deut 22:2; Prov 15:7; Neh 5:9; Matt 14:4; 15: 26; 19:10.

28 Other examples: 1 Sam 29:1; Matt 20:15 Cureton.

29 I.e., as pertaining to la hwa (section 2.1.). The structure with la remains unchanged throughout the history of the Syriac language.

30 Examples of NVCs negated by forms of la hwa: Exod 1:19; 4:10; Num 23:19; Deut 11:10; 20:10; 1 Sam 2:24; 15:29; 2 Sam 17:7; 1 Kgs 22:33; 2 Kgs 6:19; 19:18; Isa 22:2; 27:11; 31:3; 55:8; Jer 10:23; Ezek 28:2; Hosea 2:4; Amos 7:14; Mic 2:10; Zech 8:11; Job 9:35; 15:9; 28:14; 34:36; 2 Chr 26:18.

31 In a study on "The Old Testament Quotations in the Old Syriac and Peshitta Gospels," which will appear in Textus, I have shown that it is probable that the OT Peshitta was used by Tatian when he composed his Diatessaron, around 170 A.D. However, even without this concrete date ad quem, the OT Peshitta had been viewed as one of the oldest pieces of Syriac literature; see A. Baumstark, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur (Bonn: Marcus & Weber, 1922).

32 W. Cureton, ed., Spicilegium syriacum (London: Rivingtons, 1885), 43-48. Examples of NVCs negated by forms of la hwa: p. 43, 1. 22; p. 45, 1. 26.

33 See Cureton, Spicilegium, XIV-XV. However, the date is not given in the letter and must be derived from the historical circumstances described in it.

34 For the Curetonian manuscript, see n. 9; for the Sinaitic manuscript, I used A. S. Lewis, The Old Syriac Gospels (London: Williams and Norgate, 1910). Examples of NVCs negated by forms of la hwa: Matt 13:55; 19:6; 20:23; 22:32; 28:6.

35 See B. Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977), 39-48, with literature.

36 A. F. J. Klijn, The Acts of Thomas, NT Suppl. 5 (Leiden: Brill, 1962), 26.

37 Cureton, Spicilegium, 1-21.

38 Baumstark, Geschichte, 14.

39 Cureton, Spicilegium, 22-37.

40 Since the NT Peshitta was accepted by both the Jacobite and the Nestorian branches of the Syriac-speaking church, it is probable that it was produced, and indeed attained a certain status, before the schism of 431.

41 Instead of la hwa we sometimes find the shorter law (contracted from la hu). There seems to be no syntactic distinction between the two negations.

42 E. Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen contra haereses, CSCO 169 (Leuven: Durbecq, 1957).

43 E. Beck, "Grammatisch-syntaktische Studien zur Sprache Ephraems des Syrers," Or. Chr. 69 (1985): 1-32, esp. p. 32.
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Author:Joosten, J.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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