A study of imperative usage in biblical hebrew and English

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This paper reports the results of a detailed text-based study of the use of Imperative constructions in Biblical Hebrew and English, and shows that the two languages differ significantly in this regard. The use of the English Imperative in the database is conditioned largely by social and interactive factors, e.g. the relationship between the speaker and the listener, their relative social status, the sensitivity of the action of giving the command, the setting of the interaction, who will benefit from the action, etc.; on the other hand, the usage of the Imperative in the Hebrew database is mainly determined by semantic and structural factors, e.g. the point in time when the commanded action is to take place, the linguistic form of the preceding clause, whether the command is the first in a conversation, etc. The clear differences here show that there cannot be any uniform explanation about why Imperatives in general are used, as have been proposed in speech act theory (e.g. Searle 1975); on the other hand, these differences are sufficiently complex that they also cannot be accounted for with simple statements regarding cultural differences (e.g. Blum-Kulka 1991). The results of this study suggest that theories about speech acts should be based not upon philosophical speculations using data from a single language, or upon limited linguistic and cultural data carefully selected to support a particular theory, but upon extensive, detailed, and exhaustive linguistic analysis which will clearly establish the descriptive facts of speech act usage in a variety of languages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-446
Number of pages56
JournalStudies in Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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