The Communicative Functions Of Content (“WH”) Questions In Classical Biblical Hebrew Prose

A. Moshavi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study presents a comprehensive pragmatic analysis of content (“wh”) questions in Biblical prose. The corpus for the study is the standard classical prose corpus, comprising the prose portions of Genesis-2 Kings. A variety of functional types of content questions were identified, each differing from the prototypical information-seeking question with regard to pragmatic parameters concerning answer type, speaker knowledge, and/or immediate and higher-level goals. Biblical Hebrew appears to have an unusually high frequency of rhetorical questions and “why” questions as compared to everyday speech in modern languages. Correlations were found to exist between the communicative function of the question and semantic category, as well as to grammatical person and the time reference. Almost all of the functional types were found to occur between speakers of varying social rank, apparently indicating relatively informal speech conventions in Biblical Hebrew.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)69-87
JournalJournal of Northwest Semitic Languages
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013


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