The concept of definiteness in Biblical Aramaic is a way of referring to a person(s) or thing(s). Nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and participles can be either definite or indefinite, depending on several factors.
In Biblical Aramaic, nouns and pronouns either can be definite on the basis of their own intrinsic nature or can be made definite by a linguistic marking or grammatical construction. Generally speaking, adjectives and participles (both active and passive) are always intrinsically indefinite, but they can be made definite by the use of the determined ending or a pronominal suffix, or by being connected to a definite noun in a construct relationship.
As a general summary, definiteness in Biblical Aramaic functions in the following ways: 1) to designate a specific person/thing, or a class of person(s)/thing(s) that are intrinsically definite; 2) to match a noun to its accompanying descriptor (often with adjectives or participles); 3) to introduce a relative clause (often with participles); and/or 4) to indicate a superlative or demonstrative (especially in regard to time) referent. However, these are only general designations and do not represent a comprehesive list.
The concept of definiteness works differently in various languages; therefore, definite/indefinite terms should always be translated from Biblical Aramaic into other languages with great sensitivity to the context of each individual use and according to the conventions of definiteness in the target language.
Intrinsically definite terms¶
There are three types of terms that are intrinsically definite: proper nouns, personal pronouns, and demonstrative pronouns.
Terms made definite by linguistic marking or grammatical construction¶
Biblical Aramaic has three ways to make a term definite: by adding the determined ending, by adding a pronominal suffix, or by connecting it to a definite term in a construct relationship.
Function of definiteness¶
Refers to a specific person, thing, or idea¶
Refers to a general class/category of items¶
Sometimes a definite term refers to a general class or category instead to referring to a specific item. This can be a general category of people, a general class of objects, a generic type of material, etc. Usually the meaning is clear from the context.
Sometimes a definite term is used in this way when a person directly addresses another person.
Sometimes a definite term is used to indicate the substance of which a thing is made.
Matches an adjective to a noun¶
In Biblical Aramaic, when a definite common noun is followed by a definite attributive adjective, an adjectival participle, or a noun in apposition, the determined ending on both terms shows that they belong together. In other words, that particular adjective is describing that particular noun.
Introduces a verbal relative clause¶
When the determined ending is used on a verbal form, it refers to the person(s) doing the action described by the verb and is translated very much like a Particle Relative. The determined ending is used in this way usually with participles (active or passive).