Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Stress Placement as a Morphological and Semantic Marker in Israeli Hebrew

Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Stress Placement as a Morphological and Semantic Marker in Israeli Hebrew

Article excerpt

It is shown that in Israeli Hebrew, as well as in biblical Hebrew, the location of stress may have a "phonemic" function, in that it distinguishes between otherwise identical morpho-phonological patterns. Stress location can determine syntactic, temporal, and similar categorial differences as well as semantic nuances.

This study presents a general description of 'mobile' versus 'fixed' stress in Israeli Hebrew followed by a brief discussion of stress as tense marker in biblical Hebrew, and by a more detailed examination of three instances in Israeli Hebrew in which stress has a phonemic function: the maCCuC pattern versus the identical native Hebrew pattern; the non-ultimately-stressed 'Yiddish/ English type' +er versus ultimately-stressed 'French type' +erl +(y)oner; and +i versus related +ai among gentilic nouns and residents of geographical places.


The verb component of Hebrew is more closed than the noun/adjective system. Norms are borrowed relatively freely and are often adopted intact, while borrowed verbs are absorbed more selectively and undergo considerable morpho-phonological change in the transition. Even though stress assignment in verbs varies according to the type of stem or suffix involved (see below), once a new verb is incorporated, all its various realizations conform to the stress assignment principles applying to the verb system as a whole. (1) The noun/adjective system, in contrast, is relatively open, and the distribution of stress is consequently more complex and more variable, requiring considerable lexical marking. This article begins with a discussion of the complexity of stress assignment in nouns and adjectives, and pro'ceeds to show how the location of stress may even serve a "phonemic" function, systematically distinguishing between segmentally similar forms that serve different semantic or syntactic functions. To a limited extent, this phonemic role may be argued to have a precursor in the biblical Hebrew verb system as well.


Podolsky, (2) following Rosen, (3) classifies Hebrew nouns for stress purposes as having either 'mobile' or 'stable' stress. The classification is largely dependent on the type of suffix involved. A derivational suffix is one that in creating a new word also changes the major syntactic category (e.g., noun to adjective or vice versa, noun to verb or vice versa) or the semantic feature composition (e.g., a stative verb to a causative one) of the base to which it is appended; when attached to the base, it forms a new lexical item, and is independent of sentence structure. An inflectional suffix does not change the major syntactic category or the basic semantics of the base, but specifies its gender, number, case, person, tense, mood, voice, etc. Its realization is determined by sentence structure, and it does not forni a new lexical item. Formation of new words by inflection is thus more predictable and more regular than formation by derivation. In the majority of Hebrew nouns, stress shifts to an appended derivational suffix, even when the noun-stem is borrowed, as in:

(1) Stress Shift in Borrowed Nouns with
Native Derivational Suffixes

           Base              Gloss             Base+
Native     dot               religion          dati
Stem       matir             permit            matiran
           iton              paper,            itonai
Borrowed   bank              bank              bankai
Stem       xelem             Chelmno           xelmai
           celo              cello             celan
           viola             viola             violan
           xora              shit              xarai
           estetika          aesthetics        estetikan

           Gloss             Base+ut           Gloss

Native     relious           datiyut           being religious
Stem       permissive        matiranur         permissiveness

           journalist(ic)    itonaut           journalism
                             itonut            (the) press
Borrowed   banker            bankaut           banking
Stem       simpleton         xelmaut           simple-
           viola player
           shitty person
           one with a sense of aesthetics;
           scholar of aesthetics

The shift may even apply when a borrowed derivational suffix is
appended, as in the case of +ist and + ali:


Form       Gloss             Derived Form      Gloss

tank       tank              tankist           member of tank crew
balagan    mess, disorder    balaganist        disorderly person
muzika     music             muzikali          musical
fizika     physics           fizikali          physical, of physics
student    student           studentyali       of student

Cases like +ist and +ali, however, do not represent an actual stress shift from the base. …

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