Alviero: tense and time
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum
sbfnet at netvision.net.il
Thu Feb 25 06:05:32 EST 1999
Thank you for your valuable explanations. I am afraid, though, that I do
not easily follow your argument, but I promise to read the book you mention
by Mari Broman Olsen as soon as I have the opportunity.
In my previous exchange, I mentioned stative verbs in BH simply because the
qatal of that root has the meaning of present--yada'tî, as have oida, and
novi. I also mentioned the verbs of motion in Egyptian because they show
specific grammatical constructions, e.g. 'H'.n.f pr.w, instead of 'H'.n
sDm.n.f. This is the result of analysis of texts, and has nothing to do
with the semantic meaning of the verbforms as such. I may need to stress
that I do not intend to prove anything concerning wayyiqtol. I simply try
to understand its functions by interpreting its textual connections.
I allow me some doubt about the principle that "one example of a wayyiqtol
with non-past meaning [could] falsify the view that wayyiqtol is (+past)".
Further, the comparison with other Semitic languages is important but each
language needs to be analized in its own terms.
I am unable to "account for all the wayyiqtols in the whole Bible at the
same time". From the beginning I followed a pragmatic, step-by-step
approach from the more simple to the more complicated.
In any case, it does seem rasonable to me to doubt of the evidence that
narrative wayyiqtol is a past tense--even the only past tense of BH. Until
a definite proof to the contrary, I stick to what I think is solid
I would approach your "several hundreds passages [of wayyiqtol] with
non-past meaning" with the convictions I gained from the analysis of clear
texts and try first to interpret them in the light of those convictions
until this proves impossible. In the meantime, I would keep an open mind to
consider different syntactic settings and functions if needed. In any case,
I would not rush to quick solutions. I think we do not know enough and we
must learn more from the texts. This may be the only way for our knowledge
to make any progress. Besides, however hard we try, we may not find a
solution to every problem--even if we analyzed a modern language.
Now I come to your five examples of wayyiqtol:
- Ex. 20:25 "(...) because if you have wielded your tool upon it, you have
profaned it". Instead of "you have wielded" one could translate "you shall
have wielded" since in a future context qatal may indicate an event prior
to the future mainline.
- 1Sam. 2:6,7--Participles are connected to qatals in the previous context
(vv. 3-5), to yiqtols in the following context (vv. 7-8a), again to qatal
(v. 8b) and again to yiqtols (vv. 9-10). Indeed participles can function in
past as well as in future environments. Besides, descriptions of customary
behavior as here and, e.g., in the sayings of Proverbs may follow special
linguistic comventions that still need clarification. In any case, the text
is too difficult in order to draw any conclusion.--Concerning linguistic
conventions: In Italian we use in proverbs, besides the present tense, also
the past tense as well as the future tense; however I suppose nobody would
conclude that these are not tenses.
- 1Chr. 23:25 " (...) and [He] made His dwelling in Jerusalem forever" (JPS).
- Psa. 55:17 "To God I want to call, / that the Lord may deliver me. / (18)
Evening, morning, and noon I want to complain and moan. / (In the past) He
heard my voice, (19) He redeemed in peace my life from the battle against
me / (?) as though many were on my side. (20) (Now) may God hear an
answer/humiliate them..." --Here, as not infrequently in the Psalms, we
would better not neutralize the tension between past experience and present
prayer or hope for future deliverance. Let us try and take the verbforms
seriously and not to do of them whatever we like.
- Jer. 38:9 "(...) (?) He has already died on the spot because of hunger
since there is no bread in the city".--The clause "since there is no bread
in the city" is hardly a fitting reason for affirming that Jeremiah was
going to die in the cistern. The meaning may be that he would die anyway
because in the city there was no food. Thus Rashi, if I understand him
Note that in Psa. 55:18 as well as in Jer. 38:9 some scholars read a
weyiqtol form instead of a wayyiqtol. This reading would make good sense in
both cases: "I want to complain and moan IN ORDER THAT He may hear my
voice" (Psa. 55:18); "... by casting him into the cistern IN ORDER TO let
him die" (Jer. 38:9).--BTW weyiqtol is a volitive form, differently from
weqatal which is non-volitive.-- However, this solution would disregard the
fact that the Masoretes read a wayyiqtol in both cases, and I assume that
they were much more conversant with BH than we are today despite our larger
knowledge of the Semitic languages.
Peace and all good.
On 02/24/99 (Re: Alviero: tense and time) Rolf Furuli wrote:
> Dear Alviero,
> 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
> without redundancy.
> 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
> raises up.
> The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts
> 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."
> Rolf Furuli
> Lecturer in Semitic languages
> University of Oslo
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