Constituent Postponement in Biblical Hebrew Verse.

Author:Korchin, Paul
Position:Book review

Constituent Postponement in Biblical Hebrew Verse. By JOHN SCOTT REDD. Abhandlungen fur die Kunde des Morgenlandes, vol. 90. Wiesbaden: HARRASSOWITZ VERLAG, 2014. Pp. xii + 155. [euro]68 (paper).

What makes Biblical Hebrew (BH) poetry poetic"! This simple yet formidable question has long vexed Hebraists, and the present work enters the fray by exploring how "syntactic relaxation" can contribute to the formulation of BH verse. The author's monograph stems from his 2012 Catholic University of America dissertation directed by Edward M. Cook, and it acknowledges the impact of the seminal work on Hebrew verse structure by Michael P. O'Connor. Redd strikes a generativist tone at the outset, contending "that a description of BH verse that generates only and all lines of BH verse ... is a legitimate and worthwhile pursuit" (p. xi). His constituent-based analyses reinforce this, but he also makes efforts to incorporate useful structuralist and functionalist approaches in accounting for poetic word order variations. He grants due recognition in chapter one to Prague Linguistic Circle co-founder Roman Jakobson, whose astutely succinct characterization of the "poetic function as that which 'projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of [paradigmatic] selection into the axis of [syntagmatic] combination'" (pp. 7-8), remains influential for studies of BH parallelism.

Yet Redd ascribes even more significance to Jakobson's early colleague, Russian Formalist Victor Shklovsky, and his notion of "defamiliarization" (pp. 9-17), whereby language is deliberately rendered more opaque to challenge and engage the recipient more deeply in the communicative event. This can be accomplished through a variety of devices, including syntactic alterations of conventional word order patterns. Redd considers the syntagmatic "postponement" of select paradigmatic constituents to be among such defamiliarizing techniques that can optionally characterize BH verse.

If poetry is, as Shklovsky put it, "attenuated, tortuous speech" (p. 13), then one must, in order to recognize and appreciate poetry, understand the style of language that is being so contorted. Redd accordingly turns his attention in chapter two to the venerable poetry-versus-prose conundrum in order to discern the morphosyntactic baseline from which BH poetry ostensibly diverges. The "linguistic control set" (p. 18) upon which he settles is "Classical Biblical Hebrew [CBH] Prose." The author here dips an...

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