Alviero: tense and time
furuli at online.no
Wed Feb 24 06:29:59 EST 1999
Alviero Niccacci wrote:
> Thanks for your comment.
> 1) I do not think that I need or can prove that wayyiqtol is the
>narrative form in BH--as is simple past in English. In my view narrative
>wayyiqtol is a real TENSE. It places an event in the axis of the past
>(TIME); it further indicates that the information it conveys is a single
> Is this what you call "a grammaticalized past tense"? If so, my reply to
>your first question is yes.
> 2) Yes, NARRATIVE wayyiqtol has past meaning in any context. I found it
>necessary to distinguish NARRATIVE wayyiqtol from CONTINUATION wayyiqtol.
> Narrative wayyiqtol is the one which both begins the mainline of
>communication and also carries it on in a chain until the writer decides
>to shift to a secondary level of communication. The reasons for that shift
>are various. As I mentioned previously, both Joüon and gave a listof
>different cases and motifs for that shift.
> Continuation wayyiqtol, on the other hand, is the one which carries on a
>non-wayyiqtol verbform or even a non-verbal sentence. Continuative
>wayyiqtol is not a tense in the sense that it does not have a definite
>time value by its own but assumes the one of the preceding verbform.
> An example may explain this difference. Let us compare 1 Sam. 25:1 and 28:3.
> 1 Sam. 25:1 gives the historical information with a chain of NARRATIVE
> "(a) Afterwards Samuel died [WAYYIQTOL],
> (b) and all Israel gathered (IDEM]
> (c) and made lament [IDEM] for him;
> (d) and they buried him [IDEM] in Ramah, his home."
> 1 Sam. 28:3 retrieves the first piece of information with a non-narrative
>construction; then it goes with CONTINUATION wayyiqtol:
> "(a) Now [THE READER SHOULD REMEMBER THAT] Samuel had died [WAW-X-QATAL]
> (b) and all Israel had made lament [WAYYIQTOL] for him;
> (c) and they had buried him [IDEM] in his own town of Ramah."
> It is clear to me 1 Sam 28:3 contains "recovered information", i.e. goes
>back to something that happend before the main line of narrative expressed
>bu wayyiqtol. The two wayyiqtol's in this passage carry on the same time
>value as the preceding waw-x-qatal.
> 3) My reply to your third question is implied in what I said above.
>Again, I prefer not to engage in theory unless theory is directly drawn
>from texts. Not to make things too long, I invite you to consider three
>syntactic settings that in my opinion are capable of showing the function
>of wayyiqtol in contrast with other verbforms:
> - a) Parallel passages in Exodus containing God's instructions and then
>their realization by Moses and collaborators. Take e.g. 26:1 ff. versus
>36:8 ff. Put the texts in paralel columns and see how the verbforms
>correspond from one column (direct speech, instructions) to the other
>(historical narrative, realization of the instructions). May I refer to my
> - b) Passages containing historical narrative versus passages containing
>oral narrative (in direct speech) concerning the same event, e.g. 2 Sam
>12:26 (historical narrative) versus 12:27 (oral report), and other pasages
>discussed in _Syntax_ ##22-23.
> - c) Cases of wayyiqtol versus x-qatal of the same root referring to the
>same event, e.g. Gen 1:27; Job 32:2-3 etc., see _Syntax_ #48.
Thank you very much for your answer, both for your friendly tone and for
your attempt to answer every question thoroughly.
Regarding the importance of semantics in the study of verbs, I suggest that
you read the doctoral work of Mari Broman Olsen: "A Semantic and Pragmatic
Model of Lexical and Grammatical Aspect", 1997, New York: Garland
Publishing Inc. On the basis of the work of H.P. Grice she differentiates
between "semantic meaning" and "conversational pragmatic implicature" -
"semantic meanings may not be cancalled without contradiction or reinforced
You mention stative and fientive verbs, and we can use this as an example
of the approach. Both stative verbs and fientive verbs are (+durative), but
only fientive verbs are (+dynamic) (dynamicity= change). If we place verbs
in groups of statives and fientives, we find a certain assymetry. While
verbs marked as fientive *allways* are fientive, this is not the case with
those which we view as stative. But "stative" verbs can in different
situations both be interpreted as stative (+durative) and as fientive
(+durative and +dynamic). This means that verbes marked for
durative/dynamic action such as $ir can never be given a stative
interpretation while verbs unmarked for durative/dynamic action, such as
(md and ml', can either be interpreted as stative or fientive. This shows
that staticity and fienticity (if such a word exists) do not carry equal
semantic weight, because fienticity is semantic while stativity is
In the verbal system, (+past) and (+future) are semantic features, while I
am not aware of any language where we find (+present) forms (verbs marked
for present tense). The features (+past) and (+future) indicate that there
is a *semantic* relationship between the action/state expressed by the
verbs (RT= reference time) and a particular deictic point (C). Past tense
indicates that the event/state is prior to the deictic point (RT>C).
Present tense indicates that the event/state coincides with the deictic
point (RT=C). Future tense indicates that the state/event is posterior to
the deictic point (C>RT). While verbs unmarked for (+past) or (+future) can
have past, present and future meaning, verbs marked (+past) and (+future)
can *only* have past and future meaning respectively, because their
features represent uncancelable semantic meaning.
In particular syntactic environments, such as irreal conditional clauses
(and others), (+past) verbs may be used in a present or future setting, but
still they are past tense (the English verbs "went" and "thought" will for
instance never change their past meaning). To prove that wayyiqtol is
preterite (+past), it is necessary to demonstrate that this form *always*
has a past meaning, and when this does not seem to be the case, it must be
demonstrated that the seemingly non-past meaning is due to the particular
construction in which it occurs (but also in this context *has* it past
meaning). In principle would just one example of a wayyiqtol with non-past
meaning falsify the view that wayyiqtol is (+past), but to be sure, we of
course would need a reasonable number of wayyiqtols with non-past meaning.
It appears that you have stricter requirements for what is "past tense"
than I, because you require that the next event in a chain must represent
the deictic point for the previous event and so on. Therefore you have the
category "continuation wayyiqtol" where this is not the case. And you say
that this form "does not have a definite time value of its own". If this
was the case, wayyiqtol would not represent (+past), because such a feature
cannot be cancelled. However, your "continual wayyiqtols" fits my view of
past meaning, because the deictic center in 1 Sam 28:3 can be viewed as the
time of writing, and then we get (RT>C). My problem is not such cases, but
all the examples where wayyiqtols have a true non-past meaning, and there
is nothing in the context which can defend a past meaning. Because of this,
I view the past meaning of almost all wayyiqtols in narratives to be
"conversational pragmatic implicature" rather than "semantic meaning".
All can see there is a fixed pattern in how narratives are formed, and I
find both your grammar and your comments regarding the meaning of this
structure very instructive. They betray an exceptional deep knowledge of
the Hebrew text. While your model and your approach are excellent, the
premises can be questioned. In Biblical Aramaic, for instance we often find
the words "and he answered and said" being expressed by qatal/ participle
or by two participles. I saw a couple of similar examples in a Mari letter
which we read in class last week, two examples of iparras (supposed to be
similar to yiqtol) in a past context with several statives and iprus
(supposed to be similar to wayyiqtol). So how can we know that just as
there is a linguistic convention in Aramaic of using participles (which can
be compared to imperfective verbs) about speaking and answering, in past
contexts, similarly was there a linguistic cenvention in Hebrew about using
imperfective verbs as those carrying the chain of events forward? If there
is no form marked for (+past) in Hebrew, this is exactly what we would
expect to see as a signal of past meaning: several verbs in a chain
connected with the simple conjunction waw.
My point is that narratives alone can tell us little about the *semantic
meaning* of the verb forms because linguistic convention does have such a
strong influence on narratives. This is the reason why I suggest that we
must account for all the wayyiqtols in the whole Bible at the same time to
find their meaning, and that there is no difference in the semantic meaning
of verbs in any context, prose or poetry.
True poetry is different from prose, but I have never seen it demonstrated
that *verb meaning* is different in poetry.
Regarding your comments on 3) in connection with the different patterns of
verb forms used in narratives versus direct speech etc, I agree that this
is the most common pattern, but I am not prepared to draw any conclusion
about "tense", because such conclusions are based on induction and need not
be right. As I said above, the pattern may not show more than linguistic
convention which is pragmatic. However, if we find no examples of
wayyiqtols with non-past meaning in the whole corpus, then I am prepared to
conclude that the form is (+past).
Lastly, five examples of wayyiqtol from my list of several hundred passages
with non-past meaning, for your comments:
Ex. 20:25 And if you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of
hewn stones; for if you wield your tool upon it you profane (wayyiqtol) it.
1Sam. 2:6,7 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and
The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts (wayyiqtol).
1Chr. 23:25 For David said, "The LORD, the God of Israel, has given peace
to his people; and he dwells (wayyiqtol) in Jerusalem for ever.
Psa. 55:17 Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan,
and he will hear (wayyiqtol) my voice.
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
(wayyiqtol) there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city."
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo
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