the English perfect. (Was Re: maz-zot `asita)
peter_kirk at sil.org
peter_kirk at sil.org
Thu Aug 5 01:25:07 EDT 1999
Thank you for your helpful explanation of the English perfect. I agree
that in English, if the reference time is present we use the present
perfect, if past the past perfect, and if future the future perfect.
Hebrew seems to work similarly except that it does not distinguish
between these three different perfects but uses X-QATAL for all three.
For Hebrew X-QATAL with future perfect meaning, see the recent thread
on "The form of weqatal", and especially my posting of 25 July "Re:
The form of weqatal". But then I am not claiming that the
correspondence between English perfect and X-QATAL is exact, merely
that it is sometimes a helpful starting point for understanding the
Hebrew. There are likely to be some differences in cases like stative
verbs and the anomalous English use of the perfect with the
X-QATAL indeed usually refers to a previously defined deictic
reference time, which is by default (at least when linked with the
conjunction WE-) immediately AFTER the reference time of the previous
sentence (so that an event simultaneous with the previous sentence is
treated as a flashback and uses WE-X-QATAL). X-QATAL is I think rare
at the beginning of a discourse where a deictic reference has not yet
been established. Of course Genesis 1:1 is probably X-QATAL, but
BERE'SHIT is enough in itself to establish a reference time (but that
might mean that God created the heavens and the earth BEFORE the
beginning? Interesting! Or perhaps the meaning is "In the beginning of
God's creating of...") In some cases X-QATAL may be used for
background before the actual deictic reference time has been
established, but it is certainly not an absolute rule that deictic
reference must be established before it is used, as in sentences like
"As he told us before, Peter thinks that..." or in this temporal
context "Where is he? - He had been away, but yesterday he came home",
which may be slightly odd English but is certainly not impossible in
I see your example of "the progress in English from the present
perfect to the past" as a case of shift of deictic reference time,
from the present (my present situation, here but just returned from
the Bahamas) to the past (my time in the Bahamas). As for "I've been
searching for the dog", well, the search may not have been successful,
but this implies that I am not at present searching and in that sense
my period of continuous searching is complete. I don't know how Hebrew
would handle this kind of situation, perhaps X HAYA QOTEL?
As for "stative", I am not sure of the correct terminology here. But
(in general) a state is the result of some action, and the distinction
between them is surely grammatical at least in a broad sense. Thus the
form YIQTOL is fientive "he slays", but the form QATAL (which actually
does not occur in BH) would refer to the state "he has slain" or
equivalently "he is a murderer" (Arabic "qaatil" = "murderer"). Thus
this very fientive verb appears to have a stative sense in the QATAL
form. So a (hypothetical) sentence WEQAYIN QATAL )ET-HEBEL means not
so much "Cain murdered Abel" as "Cain is/was/will be (in the state of)
having murdered Abel" or "Cain is/was/will be Abel's murderer". Not
quite the same as WEQAYIN QOTEL )ET-HEBEL which means "Cain
is/was/will be murdering Abel". With so-called "stative verbs", the
semantic distinction between QATAL and QOTEL partially breaks down,
and so also does the morphological distinction, this is probably not
coincidental. I hope that at least clarifies what I am thinking. Any
other comments on this idea?
______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: the English perfect. (Was Re: maz-zot `asita)
Author: mc2499 at mclink.it at internet
Date: 04/08/1999 06:29
Forgive this interjection. It's summer!
>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.
To give yours truly's understanding of the English perfect, the aspect
deals specifically with events/situations prior to the deictic point of
This of course means that one has to establish the deictic reference,
though with the present this is understood. Yet, once the deictic reference
is shifted to the time implied by the perfect, it is no longer appropriate
to use the perfect, because, naturally you want to talk about the deictic
reference point, not before it.
Hence you find the progress in English from the present perfect to the past,
I've just come back from the Bahamas. It was awful hot.
from the past to the past perfect and then once again to the past (after
all the reference point is in the past and you're then talking about that
point in time),
I was down in the dumps at that time. My wife had left me. She just
packed her bags and went and joined the circus.
and from a future to a future perfect (though the future perfect is rarely
used for establishing a deictic point)
Next year I'm going to Iceland. I will have bought a fishing boat
Hopefully the prior nature of the perfect is clear. The perfect has nothing
in itself to do with the completeness of an action -- the simple English
verb deals with a complete action -- for it can be combined with the
How come your clothes are torn? I've been searching for the
dog out in the woods.
You say that you "see the X-QATAL as corresponding roughly to the English
perfect". Is my interpretation roughly that English perfect you were
referring to? If not, what exactly is the content of your use of the term?
>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.
Is "stative" really grammatical as the above seems to imply or is it more a
semantic or morphological notion?
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