Verbs in Ps 18 ans 2 Sam 22

Bryan Rocine 596547 at
Fri Sep 4 19:11:33 EDT 1998

Thanks to Camille, Paul, Andrew, Rolf and others for their thoughtful

Rolf Furuli wrote:
>Dear Bryan,


>As your earlier post on Psalm 107 shows, we disagree about the nature of
>the Hebrew aspects. If I understand you correctly, you say that prefix
>forms as well as suffix forms can be perfective or imperfective, and that
>this must be construed on the basis of the context. I claim that
>imperfectivity and perfectivity are connected with the verb form and not
>with the context: all wayyiqtols and yiqtols are imperfective and all
>qatals and weqatals are perfective.
>A language which gives credence to the view that imperfective verbs in
>great numbers can be used in Hebrew narrative is Syriac.  Recently I have
>read "The Teachings of Addai" and the narrative parts of the gospel of
>in that  language. The narrative "tense" often used is a compound of a
>participle and the perfect of hwa " to be" (e.g. Mark 14:1 ba)en waw),
>which the grammars define as "durative past". This is  closer to, or even
>is* the imperfective aspect. I have no statistics about the use of this
>compound form in other texts in Syriac, but its widespread use alone in
>mentioned texts is problematic for those demanding that the perfective
>aspect alone be used in narratives.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  The numbers in which the
forms are used is not the important thing.  Does the form move narrative
time forward?  Then it is perfective by definition no matter what you call
it.  Paul Hopper: "The fundamental notion of aspect is not a local-semantic
one but is discourse pragmatic, and is characterizable as _completed event
in the discourse_" (_Tense-Aspect: Between Semantics and Pragmatics_, 1982.
p. 10.  I think the italics are original.) Carlota Smith: "Sentences in the
perfective viewpoint present activities as implicitly bounded with
arbitrary endpoints...Kamp and Rohrer(1983) show that bounded events move
narrative time whereas unbounded do not" (_The Parameter of Aspect_,1997?
pp. 25-36).

A test for the perfectivity of the Syriac narrative tense as you describe
it:  If you can add a Syriac equivalent of something like "...but he didn't
finish" to a Syriac clause and the clause still can make perfect(excuse the
pun! I couldn't resist) sense, then the clause is imperfective.  If the
additional phrase is illogical, it would be because the clause to which you
attach it is perfective.  

In English:
Bill ate a piece of pie, but he didn't finish it. (Doesn't make sense
because "Bill ate a piece of pie" is perfective.)
Bill was eating apiece of pie, but he didn't finish it. (Makes sense
because "Bill was eating a piece of pie" is imperfective.)

Perhaps you can try the test on Mark 14:3 where the Gk has _SUNTRIYASA_. 
If the addition of such a phrase does not make sense, I would suggest the
Syriac is perfective no matter what the grammars call it.

To further stress the similarity between your view and mine, we both see
the prefixed and affixed verb forms as communicating different
writer/speaker subjective viewpoints.  The question is whether to call
subjective viewpoints "aspect."


B. M. Rocine
Associate Pastor
Living Word Church
6101 Court St. Rd.
Syracuse, NY 13208


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