The role of prosody in the grammaticization of Hebrew naxon ('right/true'): Synchronic and diachronic aspects

Yael Maschler, Carmit Miller Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Based on a synchronic analysis of all naxon ('right/true') tokens found throughout a corpus of casual spoken Hebrew discourse, we outline two continua of synchronic usage suggesting two functional itineraries for naxon. We show that naxon employed in non-appeal (Du Bois et al., 1992) intonation contours first evolved from a verb to an adjective and then to a prototypical discourse marker employed to agree with or confirm an interlocutor's utterance while expressing epistemic stance of certainty. Taking another grammaticization (. Hopper, 1987) path, independent of the former one, naxon employed in appeal intonation contours evolved beyond the adjective into the widely-debated xagam ('lacking person, gender, and number', Rosén, 1963) fossilized impersonal form. It then continued to evolve into a 'quasi-. xagam' form constituting a projecting (. Auer, 2005) construction, the function of which is to foreshadow an assertion requiring agreement/confirmation. Diachronic evidence from Biblical, Mishnaic, Medieval, and early Modern Hebrew is then added as further support for these grammaticization paths. The two different paths underscore the importance of considering prosody in determining the functional itinerary of a linguistic form. We provide counter-evidence from a Semitic language for the asymmetric hypothesis concerning the left and right peripheries (. Degand and Fagard, 2011; Beeching and Detges, 2014). Finally, we contribute a discourse-functional perspective on the xagam debate, showing the mechanisms by which a particular syntactic category may have come about and how it continues to evolve in the language.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-73
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors have contributed equally to this study. Yael Maschler would like to acknowledge Grant # 887/12 from the Israel Science Foundation and a Visiting Professorship at the Finnish Center of Excellence in Research on Intersubjectivity in Interaction at the Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian, and Scandinavian Studies, University of Helsinki , which have both enabled completion of this study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier B.V.


  • Agreement/confirmation tokens
  • Discourse markers
  • Epistemicity
  • Grammaticalization and prosody
  • Hebrew xagam
  • Left/right peripheries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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