Jewish Babylonian Aramaic נוולא (B. Bava Meṣiʿa 67a, etc.) Its Meaning and Etymology

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Gary A. Rendsburg



This article treats the Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (JBA) 3rd person singular pronoun נוולא nawla, attested four times in the vast rabbinic corpus: three times in the Babylonian Talmud and one time in Tractate Sofrim. First, it is shown that the form is epicene, as it can have both masculine and feminine antecedents. Second, the four attestations reveal a specialized meaning for the form, to wit, ‘this-one’ or ‘that-one’ (as opposed to the other one) when there are specifically two items under discussion. Which is to say, the form נוולא nawla is not used for simple ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘this’ or ‘that’, for which JBA and other Aramaic dialects have familiar and widely attested forms. Third, the article proposes that the form is borrowed from the Hurro-Urartian family, well known for its epicene pronouns. See, for example, Hurrian anni=lla, ani=lla, etc., Urartian i=ne=lə, ina=ne=lə, etc. Even though these forms are plural forms, while נוולא nawla is a singular form, comparative evidence demonstrates that when pronouns are borrowed from one language to another, they at times may jump person and number.

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