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Bible Lexicons

Gesenius Hebrew Grammer

Part 99

§99. General View.
Brockelmann, Grundriss, i. 492 f.

1. The particles, which in general express the secondary modifications of thought in speech, the closer relation of words to one another, and the mutual connexion of sentences, are for the most part either borrowed or derived from noun-forms, sometimes also from pronouns and verbs (§30s). Primitive particles (apart from a few demonstrative forms, see §100i) can only be so called in the sense defined in §81f.

2. So far as the origin of the particles can be discovered with certainty, they are either (1) borrowed from other parts of speech; i.e. certain forms of the noun, pronoun, or verb, with more or less loss of their original meaning, have come to be employed as particles; cf. in the Indo-Germanic languages, e.g. the Latin certo, falso, partim, verum, causa, the German statt, anstatt, wegen, weg, and the English instead, away; or (2) derived from other parts of speech, either (a) by the addition of formative syllables, as יוֹמִם‎ by day, from יוֹם‎ (cf., however, §100g); or most commonly (b) by abbreviations effected in various ways, the extent of their mutilation being in proportion to the frequency of their use, so that in some cases (see below) the original stem has become wholly unrecognizable.

Cf. in German gen, from gegen, Gegend; seit, from Seite; weil (originally a particle of time, like our while), from Weile.

Still more violent abbreviations occur in Greek, Latin, and the Romance languages, e.g. ἀπό, ab, a; ἐξ, ex, e; ad, Fr. à; aut, Fr. ou, Ital. o; super, Ital. su.[1]

The greatest shortening occurs in those particles which have entirely lost the character of an independent word, by being reduced to a single consonant with its vowel (generally short) or Še. According to the laws of syllable formation in Hebrew (§26m), such particles cannot stand by themselves, but are united, as prefixes, with the following word (§ 102), very much like the preformatives of the imperfect (§a–d).

The view that this shortening of whole words to single letters has actually taken place in the gradual course of linguistic development is rendered highly probable by the fact that similar abbreviations in later Hebrew and in Aramaic, i.e. as the development of the original Semitic speech progresses, become more and more striking and frequent. Thus the Biblical Aramaic דִּי‎ becomes at a later period דְּ‎; in modern Arabic, e.g. hallaq (now) is from halwaqt; lêš (why?) from li-ayyi-šaiĭn, &c. Cf. also the analogous cases mentioned above from the Western languages. Nevertheless, the use of the simplest particles is found already in the earliest periods of the Hebrew language, or, at any rate, in the earliest documents which have come down to us.

3. Less frequently particles are formed by composition; as מַדּוּעַ‎ wherefore? for מַה־יָּדוּעַ‎ quid edoctus? (τί μαθών; ) or quid cognitum?; בִּלְעֲדֵי‎ (from בַּל‎ and עֲדֵי‎) besides; מִלְמַ֫עְלָה‎ (from מִן‎, לְ‎, מַ֫עְלָה‎) from above, above.

More frequent is the combination of two words into one without contraction, e.g. אַֽחֲרֵי־כֵן‎, אַף־כִּי‎, כִּי־אִם‎, כִּֽי־עַל־כֵּן‎; cf. also the compounds of אֵי‎ with demonstrative pronouns, as אֵֽי־מִוֶּה‎ from what?; אֵי לָזֹאת‎ wherefore? [R.V. how]. See the lexicon under אֵי‎.

  1. Even short phrases are contracted into one word: Lat. forsitan, from fors sit an,δηλονότι,δηλαδή, Fr. peut-être, Eng. prithee from I pray thee.—In Chinese most of the particles are verbs or nouns; e.g. (to give), also the sign of the dative; ı̀ (to make use of), to, for; n̈i (the interior), in.
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