furuli at online.no
Sat Feb 13 13:48:10 EST 1999
Bryan rocine wrote:
>> A methodological question - how can we determine which of us
>> is right, if we both think we have models which can explain
>> the data? Can we propose a hypothetical sentence or a
>> paragraph or comparison of two descriptions of the same
>> event that, if we found it in BH, we could answer this
>> question? Can anyone else help us on this?
>An idea: Sequence and perfectivity are inseperable. A verb form's
>perfectivity creates sequence because perfectivity makes visible an entire
>situation, beginning, duration, and most significantly, END. In order to
>create a sequence of events, each successive event's end must be visible.
>The following sentence is perfective: John ate a piece of pie. The
>following is imperfective: John was eating a piece of pie. The first
>sentence includes the completion of the situation, and the second only
>provides an unbounded (at the end) duration. We can test the two sentences
>for perfectivity by adding the phrase, "...but he didn't finish it" and
>judge if it's still English. How do they strike you:
>a. John ate a piece of pie, but he didn't finish it.
>b. John was eating a peice of pie, but he didn't finish it.
>I would think you find (a) problematic, perhaps not even English. Another
>example is John built a house vs. John was building a house. The examples
>work because we know that eating a piece of pie or building a house has a
>end boundary, so that adding "...but he didn't finish it" fights with our
>understanding of the perfectivity of the situation. Another example is
>John walked to the store vs John was walking to the store. The test would
>be to add "...but he didn't arrive." The point is that taking away the end
>point from a perfective clause creates impossible language.
>The problem is with the Hebrew Bible we have only *possible* language. We
>don't have the chance in a dead language to probe for the impossible.
>Here's the hypothetical BH I would put before a native speaker of BH to
>test whether the wayyiqtol is inherently perfective and sequential:
>vayyibneh $lomoh 'et habayit velo' calah 'oto
>and as a control I'd also substitute a participle boneh for the wayyiqtol.
>If this hypothetical native speaker of BH would simply tell me tov o lo'
>tov it would help so much. If my wayyiqtol sentence is good BH, then
>wayyiqtol is neither perfective nor (I imagine) sequential. If the
>sentence sounds stupid to him, then perfectivity must be inherent to the
>form. Personally, I think the wayyiqtol sentence would sound stupid to
>him. What do you think?
>Now look at real BH, 1 Ki 6:9
>vayiben 'et habayit vay:kalehu
>Does it blow away the perfectivity of wayyiqtol or the sequentiality of
>wayyiqtol? Maybe. I think it's counter-evidence. "John built the house,
>and then he finished it" doesn't sound like good English. But the
>counter-example is weakened a bit by the possibility that it is hendiadys.
>Even in English, although "John built and finished the house" sounds a bit
>weird in isolation, it might fly in a context in which one wants to
>emphasize that the end point of the activity is reached. That is just the
>kind of emphasis I think the writer is achieving in 1 Ki 6:9.
In the middle of an extremely busy schedule I could not resist the
temptation to comment on your post.
I beg to differ with your fundamental principle: " Sequence and
perfectivity are inseperable." The principle is valid in English where
aspects are not grammaticalized, but I see no reason why it should be so in
a language where aspects are morphologically marked. There are examples in
Aramaic, Syriac, and Phoenician of perfective and imperfective forms used
in sequences. The last example I saw was in an Accadian letter from Mari
about the king Zimri Lim, which we studied in class last week.
Any meaningful discussion of perfectivity and imperfectivity must be based
on a detailed definition of aspect; and such a definition ought to describe
whether there is a relationship between aspect and time, whether aspect is
subjective or objective etc. Must we abandon the fundamental principle that
differences in Hebrew morphology means differences in meaning? I believe
that all yiqtol/wayyiqtols, regardless of context, are imperfective and all
qatal/weqatals are perfective. But I do not define aspect in the English
Let me use three examples of wayyiqtols which show the imperfectivity of
the form, two of them are conative and the third is future:
Ex. 8:14 "The magicians tried by their secret arts to bring forth gnats,
but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. "
Jer. 37:12 "Jeremiah set out from Jerusalem to go to the land of Benjamin
to receive his portion there among the people." (Jeremiah did not leave
Jer. 38:9 "My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did
to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern; and he will die
there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city." (Jeremiah did not
As far as I know, all examples of conative situations in the Hebrew OT and
Greek NT are described by Greek imperfect/ present (imperfective) and
Hebrew yiqtol/wayyiqtol (imperfective). If my model is correct, an aorist
or a qatal/weqatal would be impossible in such situations.
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo
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