Pete Bekins is beginning a series of posts which will follow him as he puts together his dissertation on the particle את. (Don’t steal any of his ideas.) Here is the thrust of his discussion, after a brief introduction to the particle as a direct object marker and such:
In Biblical Hebrew, the study of definiteness has been somewhat neglected. The grammars suggest that definiteness in Hebrew is similar to English, and thus scholars only work with only an intuitive notion of definiteness. In my research, I will provide an overview of recent work on definiteness and use the profile of object marking to develop the notion of definiteness as a scalar within BH.
Information structure comes into play in the explanation of DOM. Some have argued that DOM serves to help differentiate the subject from the object, while others have suggested that it is related to the transitivity of a clause. However, the influence of definiteness and animacy on grammatical structures seems to be related to the pragmatic role of topic. Topics must be definite, and topic-worthiness is also related to animacy. Roles such as subject and object seem to grammaticalize the structure of a proposition related to the topic, specifically subjects are overwhelmingly definite and animate and are usually taken to be the topic by default. I will argue, therefore, that the role of DOM is not to differentiate subject from object per se, but to specially mark the grammatical role of object when it might compete with the subject in topic-worthiness.
Should make for an interesting series.