Author: Pat-El, Na'ama
Date published: January 1, 2011
Egyptian, Semitic and General Grammar: Studies in Memory of H. J. Polotsky. Edited by Gideon Goldenberg and Ariel Shisha-Halevy. Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 2009. Pp. xix + 501.
Hans Jakob Polotsky (HJP) was the founder of the Linguistics Department in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and an Egyptologist whose ideas revolutionized the field. Among his students are such well-known and diverse scholars as Edward Ullendorff, Olga Kapeliuk, and Miriam Lichtheim, among others. The volume under review is a collection of twenty -five papers read at a conference in his memory and edited by two of his former students, an Egyptologist (A. Shisha-Halevy) and a Semitist (G. Goldenberg). My comments below will refer solely to the Semitic material in the book. The reader is directed to the book's introduction for a lengthy, occasionally idiosyncratic, review of the papers.
Although HJP's main contribution to linguistics was in Egyptology, the majority of the papers here deal with Semitic languages, including languages about which he never published (Modern Hebrew, Akkadian). Neo- Aramaic is unrepresented in this volume, despite being of great interest to HJR Another mystifying absence is a contribution by one of HJP's favorite students, Olga Kapeliuk, whose recent work focuses on Neo-Aramaic.
The book adequately opens with Ullendorff ' s entertaining memoir of his time as a student of HJP and their acquaintance thereafter, a delight to anyone familiar with the German Jewish scholars who constituted the faculty of the Hebrew University in its early days.
Eran Cohen discusses the notion of nexus and nexus-focusing in Old Babylonian, following Goldenberg' s expansive treatment of the topic in Hebrew. The paper could benefit from a thorough editing; the very long review of the literature and discussion of minute aspects of terminology overshadow some of the interesting ideas in this paper. Another paper focused on Akkadian is Nathan Wasserman's syntactic and semantic study of the modal particle tusa.
Rafael Talmon explores the Arabic construction tamyiz, a function of the accusative which is not assigned by verbal valency. Talmon discusses the categorization of the different types and its evolution within the Arabic grammatical tradition. The paper is fascinating and provides a plethora of data, both for the historian of linguistic thought and for the Semitist.
Joshua Blau, a prominent scholar of Middle Arabic, once again confronts the problem of the origin of Neo-Arabic and its connection to Middle Arabic. This is one of the most important and heatedly debated topics in Arabic linguistics today. Blau mostly examines lexical material, with each item revealing paths of morphological and phonological change. He also reviews the post-classical exponents of tanwin fathä (-an, orthographically -'). Unfortunately, Blau barely acknowledges the debate surrounding the origin of Neo-Arabic. Most of the data in this paper is not new, and it is a pity that Blau does not conclude with a more comprehensive summary which would place his data in the context of the larger debate on the origin of Arabic.
Two papers concentrate on Modem Ethio-Semitic: Gideon Goldenberg on the beginning of writing Ksstane and Rainer Voigt on a South Tigrinya dialect, an important descriptive contribution.
Three papers discuss Modem Arabic dialects: Otto Jastrow on the Arabic of the Haifa area, Roni Henkin on Bedouin Arabic spoken in South Israel and Sinai, and Rami Saari on Maltese. Jastrow outlines the grammar of four distinct dialects and examines their connection to the Muîallaî dialects. His conclusions, based on the hollow verbs which show generalization of the long medial vowel (küliri), are not completely convincing, as they occur independently in other dialects (Cairene Arabic gülin), and are problematic as diagnostic features.
Four papers of general linguistic interest grace this collection: Rauret Domčnech discusses the term copula in linguistic literature. Despite the brevity of the paper it is rich and edifying. She is skeptical of the term "copula" as applied to the 3rd personal pronoun or demonstrative in nominal sentences, a view similar to the one taken by Goldenberg and Zewi. Simon Hopkins's contribution is a classic in the spirit of the Polotsky school of linguistics. He examines the pattern a monster of a man and its derivatives in several languages, including in Neo-Semitic. Hopkins insightfully points out that in the emotive genitive pattern, the prepositional phrase is not an attribute of the head noun, i.e., the temper of the devil = the devil's temper, but a monster of a man f a man 's monster. He further treats other structural aspects of the pattern, such as definiteness, number, etc.
Marcel Erdal discusses cases where 1st and 2nd predicates have nominal subjects, which normally occur with 3rd person predicates, as in the well-known Biblical Hebrew example, cad saq-qamtî Datara (Judg. 5:7) "until Deborah arose (lcs.pf)." Erdal supplies a trove of examples from Turkish, Greek, and English and considers various aspects of deixis. Pablo Kirchuk-Halevi offers his view on the nature of linguistics in a long treatise, which on occasion is baffling and sometimes blatantly wrong (see his discussion on bi-radicals on pp. 474ff.).
Four papers dealing with syntactic and morphologic aspects of Modern Hebrew (ModH) and one with Biblical Hebrew are also included. Shlomo Izre'el discusses the verbal morphology of ModH and its relation to the Semitic system (represented by Akkadian). Ora Schwarzwald discusses word formation and roots in ModH, topics about which she has written extensively in the past. Dana Taube reviews the functions of the passive participle in ModH, primarily as part of the verbal system. She aptly discusses the differences and similarities between participles and inflected verbs with many illuminating examples. Tali Bar discusses cleft sentences in ModH. The latter two papers employ a peculiar transliteration system, which conectly ignores vowel length but marks gemination (though not consistently) and consonants no longer distinguished in Modern Hebrew. Tamar Zewi's paper on content clauses and expressions is largely descriptive. Zewi notes the scarcity of discussions on the topic, a comment that ignores relevant studies by Cynthia Miller and Robert Holmstedt among others.
The book is beautifully set and bound; however, this collection could have benefitted from a sterner editorial hand. Nevertheless, it contains enough important contributions and new data that one regrets that seven years passed from its initiation to its publication. It would also have been appropriate to recognize the contributors who died before the collection was published, Talmon and Rauret Domčnech, both linguists of the first order and a great loss to the field.
Na' ama Pat-El
University of Texas