maz-zot `asita

Bryan Rocine brocine at
Wed Aug 4 16:26:31 EDT 1999

Hi Vince,
you wrote:

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

My rule is *always* stop at the mighty Falls when crossing
the US/Canadian least use the Rainbow Bridge.
The sight of the Falls never gets old for me.   :-)

> 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?
> if so, some further questions.

can't agree here.  mah zo't is the main clause, and is a
reference to Jonah's present (at speaker's time) fleeing.
That makes `asita a dependent clause, "...that you have
done" or using my idiosyncratic translation method, "...that
you are a doer."

> (b) if standard hebrew syntax is verb-initial, why should
> interrogatives always be non-verb-initial?

Isn't switching the standard order of subject and verb a
common transformation for generating questions?  I.e.
standard for BH simple declarative clause is V-S, and S-V
can be used for questions.

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
> verb-initial, but that 100% of the time it's X-qatal.
something not
> quite right about received wisdom at this point.

good point.  I think, by saying that Bh is basically
verb-initial, texts may cause their students to dismiss the
issue of verb placement too easily, unthinkingly.  I tnink
the ancients had *two basic locations* for the verb,
clause-initial and non-clause-initial.  Manipulation of the
location of the verb plays heavily both pragmatically and

BTW, in prose there is one discourse slot in which the
clause-initial qatal is very common: the first clause of a
direct speech (or oral or "within quotation marks")
narrative (many of which are only one clause long; they
would be hard to call "narratives" technically).  Would you
comment on this phenomenon?

> (c) notice that a direct question in speech forces the
> 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
> 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.

If qatal means the state the subject is in at the time being
talked about, that's going to read like a past most of the
time because the subject entered the state at some point in
the past.  Nevertheless, the form, IMO, refers to the
subject's *being in the state* rather than his entrance into
it.  In a dependent clause, qatal necessarily refers to what
is past relative to the time of the main clause.

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

How about Gen 4:6 lammah noplu paneyka or Exo 10:3 `ad matay
me'anta le`anot mipanay ?  --one a pretty clear reference of
qatal to the speaker's present and one to the speaker's


B. M. Rocine
Associate Pastor
Living Word Church
6101 Court St. Rd.
Syracuse, NY 13206

(office) 315.437.6744
(home) 315.479.8267

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