Exploring the Syntactic, Semantic, and Pragmatic uses of וַיְהִי in Biblical Hebrew

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Statement of Responsibility:
Harmelink, Bryan L
Series Issue:
SIL International
Publisher Place:
Dallas, Texas
Part Of Series:
SIL e-Books 26
512 pages

This dissertation seeks to identify the uses and functions of וַיְהִי in biblical Hebrew. After an introduction to the topic and a review of the treatment of וַיְהִי in the grammars of biblical Hebrew, the theoretical framework of the Functional, Discourse- Pragmatic model of linguistic analysis implemented here is presented. This model focuses on the interaction of linguistic forms and their functions, exploring the choices made by language users and the effects of these choices on their communication.

Before proceeding with the display of the occurrences of וַיְהִי fundamental aspects of the biblical Hebrew verbal system are discussed in order to establish the context within which וַיְהִי is analyzed. After presenting a preliminary distribution of וַיְהִי the occurrences are displayed according to its Verbal and Temporal uses. This detailed classification lays the foundation for consideration of the discourse-pragmatic functions of וַיְהִי which are discussed in the final chapter.

This research was motivated by questions that arose from examples of וַיְהִי encountered in the biblical Hebrew text and from the discussion of its functions in the literature. The analysis of the verbal occurrences, representing 53% of the total instances, demonstrates the syntactic connection of וַיְהִי in these cases. This analysis shows that וַיְהִי has DEICTIC features that indicate its involvement in the systems of personal, spatial, and temporal reference. The identification of these DEICTIC features of the verbal uses provides a significant semantic and cognitive link to its functions in temporal expressions.

The analysis of וַיְהִי in temporal expressions further informs understanding of its syntactic and narrative contexts. In these cases, וַיְהִי occurs in dependent clauses which requires attention to the subsequent clauses, resulting in additional categories of use. This analysis lays the foundation for discussing the discourse-pragmatic functions of וַיְהִי in the final chapter.

The DEICTIC functions of וַיְהִי in its occurrences in temporal expressions are an extension of the features that emerged from the analysis of the verbal occurrences. The identification of these functions provides important evidence for the role וַיְהִי plays in the temporal organization of biblical Hebrew narrative and the need to carefully consider how it is translated.

[In the interest of making this work available without further delay, we are posting it as it was accepted by the institution that granted the degree. It has not been peer reviewed.]

Publication Status:
Subject Languages:
Work Type:
Hebrew verbal system
Discourse-Pragmatic model
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