Biblical Hebrew: An emphatic negative polarity item

Adina Moshavi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The indefinite pronoun, usually rendered 'anything', has been identified by several scholars as belonging to a linguistic category known as the negative polarity item (NPI). NPIs are words or phrases that cannot occur in simple episodic affirmative clauses but are grammatical in negative clauses and certain other non-affirmative contexts. This paper presents a detailed analysis of in biblical and contemporaneous extra-biblical texts, in the light of cross-linguistic research on NPIs, with the aim of elucidating its syntactic properties, contextual restrictions, semantic denotation and rhetorical effects. The results of this study demonstrate that belongs to the group of emphatic NPIs, which express a minimal value on a scale and have the rhetorical function of intensification. shown to occur (with only one possible exception) only in known NPI licensing environments, including negative, interrogative and conditional clauses, as well as in a clause with covert negation. In its semantic denotation expresses a minimal value on a contextually determined scale and involves an implicit 'even'. On the rhetorical level has the characteristic intensifying effect of the emphatic NPI, often involving hyperbole. These results have significance for Bible translation, indicating that the standard rendering of with English anything does not adequately convey the intensifying force of the Hebrew indefinite pronoun.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)67-90
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Semitic Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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© The author. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the University of Manchester. All rights reserved.


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