[b-hebrew] no to aspect
furuli at online.no
Mon Feb 7 06:13:17 EST 2011
In the linguistic literature, there are twenty or thirty different
definitions of aspect. How can we know what is the correct
definition, or if any of them is correct? The basic point I have
tried to stress over and over again, is that we cannot start our
study of a dead language with the definition of aspect of our choice.
First we need to test the language for tense (grammaticalized
location in time). This is a simple test. If the language does not
have tenses, we need to find the meaning of the conjugations on the
basis of a study of great parts of the text of the language. In this
way we can find the meaning of the aspects in this language.
It is correct that "all action, no matter how brief, has duration."
This is at least true if we use an atomic clock. However, in order to
find order inside a language, we speak of a conceptually semelfactive
or instantaneous action, such as a cough or a hickup. In my
dissertation I show that durativity, dynamicity, and telicity in
some verbs represent semantic meaning. But supposed semelfactive
events represents conversational pragmatic implicature.
It is important to realize that aspect, just as modality, is not an
objective property; it is a subjective viewpoint; it makes visible a
part of an action or the whole action. Both aspects can be used with
all kinds of Aktionsarts. The combination of aspect and Aktionsart
and other factors make visible particular nuances of meaning. The
verb "knock" is semelfactive, and "work" is durative and dynamic.
The verb in 1) has past tense (it is not an aspect). We learn that
Peter knocked at the door, but it is kept invisible whether he
knocked once or several times. In 2) we see that he knocked several
times. An adverbial and past tense can make visible a particular
nuance that only past tense does not make visible. In example 3) we
see the perfective aspect, and it signals that that the knocking is
completed. But we do not know whether Peter knocked once or several
times (Please remember that English aspects are different from Hebrew
ones). Example 4) is imperfective, The combination of the
imperfective aspect and a semelfactive verb causes an iterative
interpretation. Moreover, we learn that at speech time the knocking
was not completed.
1) Peter knocked at the door.
2) Peter knocked at the door for an hour.
3) Peter has knocked at the door.
4) Peter was knocking at the door.
Example 5) describes a durative and dynamic situation. The past tense
shows that Peter's working occurred before speech time, and that it
was finished. But we are not told how long Peter worked. The
adverbial in 6) tells us how long he worked. Example 7) is
perfective, and we learn that the work was completed. Example 8) is
imperfective. It signals that the event occurred before speech time,
and the focus is on the event in progress; the end is not seen. This
is even more clear in 9). The adverbial shows that the event was
completed, but the focus is on the event in progress, and the end is
not made visible.
Example 9) is used to show that our knowledge of the world also may
contribute to the interpretation of a clause. Because we know that
The New York Times is published every day, the most likely
interpretation is that Peter read the paper every day.
5) Peter worked.
6) Peter worked for an hour.
7) Peter has worked.
8) Peter was working.
9) Yesterday Peter was working in the garden.
10) Last year Peter read the New York Times.
The use of the English aspects are much more restricted than the use
of the Hebrew aspects. But the examples show that also English
aspects make something visible and other things invisible. Both
aspects can be used with verbs in all kinds of Aktionsarts. When I
now discuss your examples, please keep in mind that aspects are not
objective properties. The aspects are more like peepholes, through
which we can see a part of the event or the whole event. Durativity,
on the other hand, is an objective property, and it has nothing to do
with aspect. This means that both aspects can express instantaneous
events and events in progress.
Genesis 1:3 "light came into existence"
The verb HYH can both be stative and fientive, but often it has the
sense "to become" rather than "to be."
The expression "come into existence" is durative, dynamic, and telic.
What is made visible by the imperfective WAYYIQTOL? Please consider
Numbers 3:13. The phrasal verb "strike down" is durative, dynamic,
and telic. The adverbial shows that the event is past and completed.
What is the role of the infinitive? The infinitive with its suffix
"to strike down I" has no time reference and no aspectual meaning. In
the clause it functions as subject and verbal, and alone it only
makes visible a part of the action; the infinitive neither tells us
the time of the action nor whether is was completed or not. An
infinitive is different from a YIQTOL, but the example shows that a
verbal in a clause needs not signal time reference or that the action
was completed. I mentioned in a previous post that in Phoenician the
infinitive absolute is the narrative verb, and this form is timeless
Numbers 3:13 "on the day I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt"
(literally "on day to strike down I all firstborn in land Egypt")
The imperfective aspect in Hebrew makes visible a small part of
progressive action. Applied to Genesis 1:3, the imperfective
WAYYIQTOL simply makes visible a part of the "coming-into-existence"
event (just as did the infinitive in Numbers 3:13), and our
understanding that the event is past and completed is based on the
conjunction WAW, prefixed to HYH, the Aktionsart of HYH, and the
VERY IMPORTANT: Do not confuse Aktionsart and aspect! Do not confuse
the objective nature of the event and what is made visible of it by
the use of the aspect.
Then to your next example.
Exodus 3:7 "I have heard... I have seen... I know"
To" know" is a state, but in this context "to hear" and "to see" must
be taken as fientive verbs. A state is durative, but it is not
dynamic; I am aware of only one state that is telic, namely, "be
pregnant." Any part of a state is similar to any other part, or to
the state as a whole. To "see" and "hear" as fientive verbs are
durative and dynamic. What is made visible by the three perfective
verbs? An imperfective verb tend to make visible a small part of the
action with details visible, while the perfective aspect tend to make
a bigger part of the action visible, or the whole action, but without
details. At speech time God "knew," and after that he did not stop
to know. What is made visible, is a great part of the state of
knowing, up to speech time; his continued knowledge after that is not
made visible. I would take "I have heard" and "I have seen" as making
visible the whole events of hearing and seeing up to speech time. The
perfective aspect does not make visible the details of the hearing
and seeing, but only the broad situations themselves.
AGAIN: Ignore the Aktionsart of the verbs, and ask what is made
visible by the aspects.
I would not be surprised if a graduate student were to do the same
statistical analysis as you did for your dissertation, but instead of
focusing on tense as you did, focus on aspect, that he would find
that aspect is not grammaticalized just as tense is not
The result of such a study would depend of the definition of aspect
chosen. However, there are more than 10 different relationships
between event time and reference time in Hebrew (in English there are
only two differences). By mapping these differences, interesting
patterns will be seen.
>On Sat, Feb 5, 2011 at 1:27 AM, Rolf Furuli
><<mailto:furuli at online.no>furuli at online.no> wrote:
>Nir started this thread by denying that aspect is a part of the
>verbal system of Classical Hebrew. But he does not want to tell us
>the definition of what he rejects.
>Now I am not a professional linguist and Randall often talks in
>terminology that I never heard of in linguistics classes that I
>attended, but I would have to agree with Nir that Biblical Hebrew
>does not grammaticalize for any definition of aspect that I know of.
>At least not in the different conjugations of yiqtol verses qatal.
>The question of duration is a red herring, because all action, no
>matter how brief, has duration. There are too many qatals that refer
>to action to make duration a factor.
>Do other definitions of aspect fit the grammaticalization that we see?
> So, I ask you: What is the definition of the perfective aspect and
>the imperfective aspect? If the perfective definition is
>"complete/whole," as your article seems to suggest, can you please
>elucidate this definition.
>Unless Randall has an idiosyncratic definition of
>completed/incomplete, this too does not fit.
>Genesis 1:3 "and there was light (light came into existence)"
>yiqtol. Unless one subscribes to the theological position that God
>is continuously creating light, this is a one-time, finished event.
>This is a completed action, yet yiqtol.
>Exodus 3:7 "I surely see the humiliation of my people in Egypt and I
>hear their outcry because of those who treat them harshly and I know
>their pain." three qatals referring to incomplete, durative,
>continuing action at the time the statement was made.
>There are many, many more similar examples throughout Tanakh, which
>is why I understand that qatal/yiqtol do not grammaticalize for
>I would not be surprised if a graduate student were to do the same
>statistical analysis as you did for your dissertation, but instead
>of focusing on tense as you did, focus on aspect, that he would find
>that aspect is not grammaticalized just as tense is not
>Karl W. Randolph.
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