Topicality and Functional Voice in Hebrew and Moronene, with Application to Translation

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Andersen, T. David
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SIL International
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Dallas, Texas
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SIL e-Books 56
381 pages

This dissertation aims to show that an analysis of Biblical Hebrew clause types in terms of topicality and functional voice will make a contribution to the task of translating Hebrew into other languages. Hebrew has only two syntactic voice categories. But many other languages, including Austronesian languages, have a richer system of voice distinctions, with perhaps four main voices. It will be helpful to translators to clarify whether the topicality patterns behind such voice distinctions are signaled by Hebrew syntax.

The analysis is carried out on a Hebrew corpus of 1917 semantically transitive clauses, as well as 640 clauses from Moronene, an Austronesian language of Sulawesi, Indonesia. These are categorized into clause types based on features including verb conjugation, constituent order, and object marking. For each clause, the topicality of the actor and undergoer is quantified by the variables anaphoric continuity and topic persistence. After undergoing principal component analysis, common clause types are plotted, clustered, and classified in terms of functional voice categories.

For Hebrew narrative and directive discourse, infrequent and common clause types are grouped to form amalgamated clause types based on (1) type of object marking, (2) constituent order, (3) verb conjugation. Their topicality patterns are described and classified.

Subsequently, common Hebrew narrative clause types are matched with Moronene narrative clause types having similar functional voice categorization. Biblical portions translated into Moronene are examined to see to what extent particular Hebrew clause types have been translated by matching Moronene clause types. Non-matching and rare clause types found in the Moronene translation were evaluated for naturalness, and some of them were revised.

Some conclusions are:

  • Although Hebrew has only two syntactic voice categories, its clause types form a large set of functional voice categories, including antipassive, active, semi-active, inverse, passive, low topicality active, and low topicality passive.
  • Moronene clause types form a similar set of functional voice categories.
  • The topicality patterns of qatal match those of yiqtol, and those of wayyiqtol match those of weqatal.
  • Comparison of source language functional voice categories with those of the target language can increase the naturalness of a translation.
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Work Type:
verb conjugation (Hebrew and Moronene)
type of object marking
translation equivalents
transitive clauses
Hebrew narrative
functional voice
Constituent Order
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