The Biblical Hebrew Beth Essentiae: Predicate Marker
Keywords:syntax, predication, Biblical Hebrew, optional phrase heads, secondary predicates, beth essentiae
The Biblical Hebrew preposition b has many functions, including one traditionally called the beth essentiae. The standard example is Exod 18:4: ki ’elohe avi b‘ezri, “for the God of my father (is) my help.” Most scholars agree that this usage of beth marks an equivalence or predication, the notable exception being Whitley (1972). The goal of this paper is to provide a generative syntactic analysis that supports the majority view and to respond to Whitley’s two most important counterarguments, namely that beth is unnecessary as marker of predication, since Biblical Hebrew allows null copula clauses, and that the occurrence of beth with the verb hayah shows that beth must have some other function or else be pleonastic. I propose that the beth essentiae is an (optional) overt marker of predication and that it is the overt realisation of the functional predication head Pr. This syntactic argument is supported by cross?linguistic data.
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