Participant Tracking in Biblical Hebrew and Obligatory Explicitation of Anaphors in Translation

“Theoretical Approaches to Anaphora and Pronouns in Biblical Hebrew”: Papers forming part of the 2017 SBL Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew Seminar (Boston, USA)

  • Lénart J. de Regt University of the Free State, Bloemfontein
Keywords: anaphors, participant tracking, cross-clausal syntax, discourse linguistics, contrastive linguistics, explicitation, translation


Bible translators are often reluctant to refer to participants explicitly in their translation when the source text “only” has a pronoun/anaphor. This is because some of these pronouns/anaphors appear “ambiguous” to them (as they would be, according to the rules and regularities of participant reference in their own language), even at points where, based on the rules and regularities of participant reference in Hebrew, the pronoun/anaphor itself already amounts to an explicit participant identification in the Hebrew and is therefore not ambiguous in the text. This article calls the notion of ambiguity into question and argues that instead of treating such references as ambiguous, they should be treated as instances of clear identification of a participant in the Hebrew, and therefore as part of the information in the source text—information that should be preserved in translation (and, for this reason, made more explicit if that is required by the target language). Thus, exegetes and translators should take rules and regularities of participant reference from clause to clause in Hebrew much more into account. This article will compare different language systems and contrast rules of referring to (major) participants in Hebrew with rules of referring to (major) participants in some European languages, and show how translators can keep the participant identifications as clear as they are in the Hebrew by means of such explicitation, so that this information from the source text is not lost.

Themed Section