maz-zot `asita

Vincent DeCaen decaen at
Tue Aug 3 12:18:11 EDT 1999

for those who celebrated, i hope you had a happy simcoe day. i spent
the day at Niagara Falls: good day for it.

some thoughts on the syntax and semantics of the hebrew verb. from jonah,

(1) maz-zot `asita
(2) what in the world did you do?
(3) what in the world have you done?

(a) can we agree that (2) and (3) are really the only translations of `asita?
if so, some further questions.

(b) if standard hebrew syntax is verb-initial, why should such
interrogatives always be non-verb-initial? further, why should qatal
forms in main clauses also be non-verb-initial? wouldn't it be easier
to say that word order for qatal is consistently verb second in main
clauses? it seems odd to me to say that hebrew is basically
verb-initial, but that 100% of the time it's X-qatal. something not
quite right about received wisdom at this point.

(c) notice that a direct question in speech forces the temporal
reference to the moment of speech. if so, why is `asita and qatals in
similar interrogatives consistently PAST relative to the moment of
speech? to say there is no inherent TEMPORAL DEIXIS in qatal forms,
but then to turn around and say that where reference is fixed, we get
100% of the time a past tense (english simple or composite past
tenses), seems to miss a generalization.  and yet, why can't `asita
have a full spectrum of tense readings, if tense is not part of its
semantics? to invoke pragmatics here seems to be an abuse of such
analytical tools.

(d) the straightforward analysis of qatals in main clauses where the
temporal reference can be assured is that qatal encodes PAST TENSE,
and that it occurs second in the sentence after some full constituent. 

just some thoughts. be interesting to know what kind of responses
there are.

Dr Vincent DeCaen     <decaen at>
c/o Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, 4 Bancroft Ave., 2d floor
University of Toronto, Toronto ON, CANADA, M5S 1A1

Hebrew Syntax Encoding Initiative,

The mind takes to a new idea the way the body takes to microbe:
It rejects it.  --P.D. Medawar

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