Different verb forms - same meaning?
furuli at online.no
Sun Jan 31 18:25:26 EST 1999
Paul Zellmer wrote:
>Rolf Furuli wrote:
>> Look at Joshua 16 and 17.
>> 16:1 : One wayyiqtol and one participle
>> 16: 2-3: four weqatals
>> 16:5: Two wayyiqtols
>> 16: 8: One yiqtol and one weqatal
>> 17:10: One wayyiqtol and one yiqtol
>> Do you see any difference in tense or aspect in these verbs?
>What we have in these descriptions of the borders of the tribal
>imbedding of a genre rarely found in the Tanakh, a purely descriptive text
>non-sequential, non-agent oriented, and non-future (in fact, non-time
>is imbedded in a historical narrative, which has almost the exact opposite
>characteristics (sequential, agent oriented, and, while non-future,
>In English, if I recall correctly, this type description is given without
>descriptions use nouns, adjectives, and prepositions only. However we are
>about English structure. We are trying to describe the Hebrew.
>Because the description is imbedded in historical narrative, it starts off
>section with historical narrative-type features. The difference between
>and the other non-historical narrative genres is that this genre is *not*
>quotation. Therefore it does not use a distinct historical narrative
>marker, like the
>wayyiqtol of )MR. Rather, it uses a distinctly historical narrative form
>in the first
>clause of each section After that, it returns to the form that is
>its genre, in this case, a weqatal and its companion, X-yiqtol. (Rolf,
>something that you have not acknowledged in the past. For some reason, BH
>make a distinction between the forms of verbs found clause initially and
>postpositively in clauses. I have noted in many of your posts that you
>or qatals and question about their "time" without indicating that you
>they are clausally postpositive.)
>So, to go down your list, which I'll repeat:
>16:1 : One wayyiqtol and one participle
>Wayyiqtol because this is the start of a section, so the broader
>"overpowers" the descriptive genre.
>The participle is describing MDBR.
>16: 2-3: four weqatals
>Characteristic form for the descriptive genre. I would suggest
>translating it into
>English using the simple present, since time is not of significance in
>16:5: Two wayyiqtols
>The first is part of a section clause for historical narrative. It's not
>even part of
>the imbedded description, just like the wayyiqtol which you conveniently
>mention in verse 4. The second marks the section beginning for an imbedded
>description. Also, please note that both of these are not just
>wayyiqtols, but they
>are wayyiqtols of HYH, which is normally used to introduce new sections in
>16: 8: One yiqtol and one weqatal
>Actually an X-yiqtol and a weqatal, which are characteristic forms for the
>17:10: One wayyiqtol and one yiqtol
>Again, the section/"paragraph" beginning for an imbedded description. (And
>wayyiqtol of HYH.) And the yiqtol is X-yiqtol again.
>Bottom line: English may translate all these the same way, but I see the
>choice of the
>verb forms in the Hebrew to be both significant, non-interchangable, and
>given the overall genre and the imbedded genre.
>All the above is IMHO.
As a professional Bible translator you know that both writing a text and
translating it is commmunication. Words and word forms are used to give a
subjective description of a particular objective situation, often with a
certain stress. The translator's task is to analyse the text in order to
isolate the different semantic and pragmatic parts of the communication so
s/he both can understand what is communicated and how it is done.
Your discourse analysis above is interesting, but it fails to take into
account one of the most basic distinctions both in English and Hebrew,
namely, the difference between static and fientic verbs. The importance of
starting with this, is that stative verbs are substantially more restricted
than fientive verbs, as far as communication is concerned. According to
Carlota Smith, 1991, "The Parameter of Aspect", p 44 only one viewpoint
aspect may be available for statives in many languages, e.g. the perfective
in English and the imperfective in Russian. A state is defined as a stable
situation which continues without any input of energy. Any moment of a
state is similar to any other moment or to the state as a whole. Of the
three semantic properties of Aktionsart or lexical meaning, states are
durative, but neither dynamic nor telic (except states of the type "she is
pregnant", which are also telic).
There are two primary notions which are communicated by states: (1) The
state holds/held at time x ( "David reigned." MFLAK DAWID), (2) The state
started at time x ("David started to reign." MFLAK DAWID). Fientive verbs,
on the other hand, are able to communicate several more notions. Now, the
four wayyiqtols, five weqatals, two yiqtols and the one participle we are
discussing, are they fientive or stative? The normal test used in
linguistics to differentiate between the two, is to use the verbs "to do"
or "to happen". Verbs which can be used in the following sentences: "What
John did, was to..", What happened, was ..." are dynamic (fientive). Verbs
that does not fit these sentences are statives. Let us apply this to our
Joshua 16:1: "What the lot of the sons of Joseph did, was to go out from
the Jordan." "What happened, was that the lot the sons of Joseph, went out
(wayyiqtol) from the Jordan."
16:2 "What it (the border) did was to go down from Bethel to Luz." "What
happened was that it (the border) went down (qatal) from Bethel to Luz."
16:8 "What the border did, was to go (yiqtol) westward from Tapuah." "What
happened was that the border went westward from Tapuah." (And similarly
with all the verbs.)
If we use "did" and "happened" in a dynamic sense (=indicating change) none
of the sentences above are valid, even though the verbs in other contexts
may be fientive. This means that all the mentioned verbs and the participle
are static. There is not any indication that any of the verbs is ingressive
(=entrance into the state), and neither is there any indication of an end.
There is no difference in the time the verbs refer to, it is either past or
present. What is communicated in all the verbs, is therefore exactly the
same: The state held/holds at time x, yet three different verb forms and
one participle are used.
Your discourse analysis does not tell *why* all these different forms are
used; the fundamental principle that a difference in morphology indicates a
difference in meaning is completely ignored. And because you refuse to
answer my question about your assumptions, whether semantic meaning
exclusively is connected with the word form or whether it can be changed by
the genre (thus not being semantic at all), any meaningful communication
between us in this case is impossible. For those who realize that a
discussion of theory is mandatory for a good practical result, I will take
the subject a little further.
The focus of all the verbs (and the participle) is on a state, after its
beginning and before its end. Because any moment of a state is similar to
any other moment, the focus in all cases is exactly the same. When
different verb forms are used to communicate exactly the same information
inside the same time frame, there are two possibilities as to the meaning
of the verbs: (1) All the verb forms have exactly the same meaning, or (2)
The verb forms have different meaning, but the meanings are not mutually
exclusive, but there may be some similarities. This means that together
with particular pragmatic factors will verb forms with different meanings
give the same kind of information, in other contexts will the verb forms
give opposite information.
Because of the nature of states, a difference in aspect will not
necessarily be visible for the receptor.
Let us use (MD as an example: In Ezek 10:17 we find a yiqtol, in 10: 19 a
wayyiqtol and in 33:26 a qatal (we may also add the qatal with
present/future meaning in 21:26). All these are probably stative, but
because the state is homogenous and similar all through, they all signal
the same - someone standing. if you will argue that one or more of the
passages are not static, there are many other examples in the MT of stative
verbs where different forms signal the same: the state holds at time x.
A detailed understanding of the nature and definition of Hebrew aspects
together with a realization of whether or not Hebrew aspect is related to
"the internal temporal constituency" of an event or state, can help us
solve all the problems of anomalous verb forms in the Bible. But that is
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo
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