maz-zot `asita

Dave Washburn dwashbur at
Tue Aug 3 12:46:24 EDT 1999

> 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?
> questions.
> (a) can we agree that (2) and (3) are really the only translations of `asita?

I can agree with this...

> 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.

Exactly the sort of thing I've been arguing for years.

> (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.

My question would be how much the particles and other 
peripherals in such clauses force the issue of temporality.  E.g. in 
the example above there seems to be an implied 'asher just as in 
Gen 3:13, thus making `asita a subordinate clause.  This may be 
what forces the temporal reference as you describe.  mah-zot is a 
complete clause in itself, as in Exod 13:14; at the same time, mah-
zot + `asah appears to be somewhat of a fixed form without 'asher 
(Gen 12:18; 26:10; 29:25; 42:28; Exod 14:5, 11; Judg 2:2).  I'm 
thinking that the qatal form is time-neutral, and temporal matters 
are encoded in the particles, phrases etc. (if any) that condition the 
clauses in which it appears.  It's still fairly preliminary, but it's an 
idea I toss out to kick around alongside yours :-)

Dave Washburn
A Bible that's falling apart means a life that isn't.

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