I analyze אשר in Biblical Hebrew as a nominalizing particle on the basis of a broad typology of clausal nominalization drawn from recent work on non-Western languages. I argue that the nominalizing function of אשר developed through a grammaticalization process in which the lexical significance of אשר ‘place’ was bleached, forming a light noun. Light nouns often act as the head of nominalized clauses in other languages (meaning, for example, “the one that,” “the time that,” “the reason that,” etc.) and I suggest that a light noun analysis of אשר offers many advantages over previous analyses of אשר as a nominalizer.

Robert Holmstedt, for example, has argued that אשר is a nominalizer based on a Chomskian framework in which covert head nouns alongside אשר are frequently posited, but these covert head nouns are superfluous in my analysis. Moreover, according to Holmstedt’s framework, the use of אשר is limited to two syntactic functions, namely complementizer and relativizer, and the אשר clauses that do not fit into this framework (for example, those that can only be analyzed as matrix clauses) are regarded as ungrammatical. However, the broader typology that I use in this paper emphasizes the close link between clausal nominalization and adverbial clauses as well as stand-alone nominalization (nominalization of a matrix clause). Therefore, I suggest that we include these supposedly ungrammatical examples within a coherent typology of clausal nominalization, gaining a unified picture of the different ways in which אשר functions as a nominalizer in Biblical Hebrew.


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