maz-zot `asita

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Tue Aug 3 22:29:33 EDT 1999

Thanks for agreeing with my "so obvious it's embarrassing" linguistic 
insights on long vowels.

On this issue, again perhaps to state the obvious, in very many 
languages including English question words are fronted, and so the 
regular word order is not followed. So questions, with their marked 
word order, are not suitable for determining the default or unmarked 
word order for a language.

I continue to support a verb first unmarked word order for Hebrew. The 
reason that QATAL is rarely found at the beginning of a sentence is 
simply that most sentences start with a conjunction, perhaps one 
should describe the unmarked word order as 
conjunction-verb-subject-object. Thus strictly sentence initial QATAL 
is only found in rare situations where the conjunction is omitted e.g. 
the beginning of direct speech. Of course the commonest conjunction is 
WE- (conventionally written together with the following word, whether 
noun, verb or anything else). So, as expected on the theory of that 
the unmarked form is verb first, we commonly see in unmarked text the 
sentence initial form WEQATAL.

Now for some quite different reasons (not properly explained) WEQATAL 
has a meaning, or at least a distribution among discourse types, 
different from that of WE- plus QATAL. But I don't see that semantic 
issue as relevant to the syntactic question of basic word order.

To say as you do that X-QATAL is not verb first is simply tautologous! 
On my theory this is a marked form giving prominence to the subject, 
and to the state it is in as a result of the past action of the verb, 
i.e. I see X-QATAL as corresponding roughly to the English perfect. 
This of course nicely fits your Jonah example: "What have you done 
[which has these present consequences]?" Or perhaps X-QATAL can be 
considered analogous to a non-verbal sentence with a past (active) 
participle: "X is having-QTL'ed", which goes somewhat towards Bryan's 
idea of QATAL as stative.

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: maz-zot `asita
Author:  decaen at at internet
Date:    03/08/1999 11:18

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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