Hebrew Cantillation Marks And Their Encoding

by Helmut Richter

Table of Contents

II. Syntax

The introduction, in particular the section about the hierarchy of distinctive marks, contains an explanation how the marks of the different ranks work together to structure each Bible verse. There, no information was given which concrete mark has which rank, or which of several marks of equal rank is actually used in a given context. It is the purpose of this chapter to fill this gap. The exposition follows Breuer's book on cantillation marks (Mordekhai Broyer (Breuer): Taamey hammiqra be-21 sfarim uvesifrey eme"t; Jerusalem, TShM"B (=1981)) for the coarse structure of the syntax, of course leaving away nearly all detail and all discussion of sophisticated end cases.

Conjunctive marks do not take part in the business of dividing a verse into logical units. After a verse has been divided into pieces by the distinctive marks, these pieces can each consist of one or more words that are connected with either conjunctive marks or with Maqqef, and this irrespective of the rank of the distinctive mark at the last word of the piece in question. We can also say that in terms of the hierarchy: a distinctive mark of any rank may be "served" by a conjunctive mark (a "servant"), whereas among the distinctive marks, only the immediately lower rank may serve. A sequence like

officer   servant   duke   king   duke   servant   king   servant   emperor

is fully permissible: the servants always serve the next following distinctive mark, and these serve each other in the same way as if the servants had not been present.

Thus, the placement of distinctive and of conjunctive marks are two entirely separate processes which are described in the sequel in separate sections. For the description of the placement of distinctive marks, the units we talk about are sequences of one or more words, only the last of which carries a distinctive mark, whereas the others, if at all present, carry either a conjunctive mark or Maqqef.

Distinctive Marks In The 21 Books

Which distinctive mark is to be placed in a given context, depends

Hence, not considering the last of these points, we know which marks to use when we know the entire chain of marks that serve the same superior mark. As a consequence, each of the rules to be set up in the sequel will tell us about one higher distinctive mark and all the immediately lower distinctive marks serving it. Note that the marks of equal rank in the same rule have different nesting depths as explained in the section about the hierarchy of distinctive marks.

The rules are given as charts with coloured boxes where each box stands for the realm of a distinctive mark (for nit-pickers: the last box, showing the mark of higher rank, stands only for the final portion of its realm, that is, for the portion that is not already depicted by the other boxes in the same chart). The exact semantics of the charts is explained as needed when we proceed through the charts.

We start with a very simple chart.

An entire verse and its emperors (21 books)

This chart tells us that a verse in the 21 books contains two emperors: the Atnach in the middle, and the Sof Pasuq at the end. From this example, we learn some notation in the charts:

Now we proceed to a slightly more complex chart.

An emperor and its kings (21 books)

Here, some more notation is introduced:

In plain words, the chart says: The last king before Atnach or Sof Pasuq is always Tipcha (Tip1), and all preceding kings are Zaqef Qatan (ZqQ1) when their realm is more than one word long, and Zaqef Gadol (ZqG1) when it is only one word long. As an infrequent alternative, the chain may also begin with a single Segol (Sgl1) or, when that would be on the very first word of the verse, a Shalshelet (Sha1) instead.

There is a detail which is not depicted in the chart: Sgl1 or Sha1 can only occur in the first half of the verse, that is, in the realm of the Atnach.

As a very infrequent exception, Tipcha may occur in the same word or Maqqef-connected chain as the emperor, so that the last king is Zaqef if one is present. Such a Tipcha is then called Meayla and regarded as a conjunctive accent.

A king and its dukes (21 books)

We have now nearly all rules for the interpretation of this chart in place, except one:

This rule says that the final duke depends on the king it serves whereas the preceding dukes are always Revia (Rvi2).

Note that the marks appearing at the bottoms of the braces in the preceding chart (e.g. ZqG1) do not show up here: when a king is served by a duke, the realm of the king must be longer than one word as it contains at least the two words where the king and where the duke is placed.

A duke and its officers (21 books)

Remember that for the officers the choice of one of the marks in a brace is not as directly connected to the length of the realm as for kings and dukes.

Conjunctive Marks In The 21 Books

There are many patterns how a chain of conjunctive marks may serve a distinctive one. The rules given below yield only the most frequent such patterns. The distinction between final marks (i.e. the last of their rank before the next higher; in the charts the boxes with the pale colours) and non-final ones is important in this context.

Distinctive Marks In The 3 Books

The basic rules for the placement of distinctive marks in the 3 books resemble those in the 21 books. The same notation will be used for the rules, and will not be explained here again.

The rules given in this section are less reliable than those for the 21 books, i.e. there are much more exceptions. Moreover, they are more possibilities that the same verse with given marks can have more than one interpretation which is conformant to the rules. Some hints how to proceed is such cases are given at the end of this page.

In the 3 books, each verse contains only one emperor: the Sof Pasuq at the end. A separate chart showing that is not necessary.

Now, it was a feature of the emperors in the 21 books that they are very few, in fact only one in the interior of the verse, and cannot be repeated so that their high importance is always the same. The kings in the 3 books have a similar behaviour, albeit more complex rules. In some sense, they fulfil the same task as the emperors in the 21 books, to wit providing the topmost division of the verse.

The most frequent pattern of kings in the 3 books has either Atnach as strongest king or Ole We-Yored as strongest and Atnach as second strongest king; in these two cases the portion after the Atnach may be subdivided only by special marks not appearing elsewhere. An alternative suited only for short verses has Revia in the place of Atnach: then the portion after Revia cannot be divided at all by means of distinctive marks. In both patterns, only the portion before the Atnach or the Revia acting as a king is subject to the ordinary hierarchy of marks. The special marks used after Atnach do therefore not appear in any later chart.

Revia is not always a king in the 3 books. In the vast majority of cases, it is a non-final duke, just as in the 21 books. Only sometimes it appears as a king or as a final duke. Such ambiguities in significance occur with many marks in the 3 books and render the distinction of marks rather intricate.

We present the two top-level patterns by two separate charts.

An entire verse and its kings, with Atnach or Pazer as king (3 books)

The distinctive marks after the Atnach or Pazer occur only there. They have a formal status as kings but cannot have any other distinctive marks serving them.

Note the replacements of both Ole We-Yored and Atnach when their realms consist of only one word. The replacements, Azla Legarmeh and Pazer, appear in the 3 books normally as officers. Especially the two meanings of the former are not easy to discern, often only by considering the meaning of the words. Moreover, Ole We-Yored loses its first part, Ole, when there is no syllable to put it on, and the remaining orphan Yored looks exactly like a conjunctive Merkha.

An entire verse and its kings, with Revia as king (3 books)

This pattern is easy to recognise: it applies when there is neither an Atnach nor a Pazer that does not serve a duke.

Ole We-Yored and its dukes (3 books)

Note that Revia appears here both as a non-final duke, then called Revia Gadol, and as a final duke, then called Revia Qatan. Infrequently, Tsinnor and Revia Qatan appear both serving the same Ole We-Yored, then in this sequence.

A king (other than Ole We-Yored) and its dukes (3 books)

Infrequently, Atnach is served by a Revia with no intervening Dechi or Mahpakh Legarmeh.

Mahpakh Legarmeh, which was already a king in the first chart, appears here as a duke, and will appear as an officer in the next one.

A duke and its officers (3 books)

AzL3 is not always replaced by MpL3 if its realm is only one word long: If the word (or maqqef-connected chain of words) is long enough to have its stress at the fourth syllable or later, AzL3 will be used. For this rule, a moving Schwa (Schwa na) counts also as a syllable.

There are not too many opportunities to apply this chart: in the 3 books, verses tend to be shorter than in the 21 books, and the nesting is therefore generally shallower.

Conjunctive Marks In The 3 Books

As in the 21 books, there are in the 3 books as well many patterns how a chain of conjunctive marks may serve a distinctive one. Here, given a distinctive mark, it is less predictable which conjunctive mark will serve it, so that the rules below, although fuzzier than the rules for the 21 books, cover a smaller portion of the occurrences of conjunctive marks. The distinction between final and non-final marks is less important in the 3 book than it was in the 21 books. Some observations are:

Resolving Ambiguities

Not all of the above rules are sufficient to unambiguously decide on the significance of a cantillation mark found in a Bible verse. This is aggravated by numerous occasions where the rules are not followed as strictly as they are stated here. Here are some hints that might help in discerning the marks.

In all books

In the 21 books

In the 3 books

© Helmut Richter      published 2001-04-09; last update 2002-02-26