The form of weqatal (really wayyiqtol)

Henry Churchyard churchyh at
Fri Aug 13 08:41:49 EDT 1999

> From: "Dave Washburn" <dwashbur at>
> Date: Thu, 12 Aug 1999 09:41:41 -0700

> Peter wrote:

>> But in fact [X+yiqtol and wayyiqtol] have NOTHING in common, except
>> for their superficial form in the Masoretic text.  Not only do they
>> differ in word order and in both of the distinguishing factors
>> which Dave mentions (and in others which he doesn't mention such as
>> aspect and the discourse types they are used in); but also, as
>> Henry has so clearly demonstrated, they are derived from different
>> verb conjugations in early Hebrew which have partly (but only
>> partly) fallen together in the Masoretic pronunciation.

> IMO Henry didn't "demonstrate" anything, he merely stated the usual
> two-prefix-conjugation hypothesis.  I have categorically rejected
> that hypothesis in print, and have shown that a transformational
> approach which sees the WAY prefix as a morpheme instead of a
> conjunction provides a much more complete and unified explanation of
> the differences between YIQTOL and WAYYIQTOL.  I do not believe they
> originated in two conjugations that "have partly (but only partly)
> fallen together in the Masoretic pronunciation".  The only
> "evidence" for two early prefix conjugations comes from Akkadian,
> which may or may not be applicable to Hebrew.  If any of the other
> semitic languages display such a pattern, I haven't heard about it

I don't claim to have shown anything about their semantic and/or
pragmatic meanings within Biblical Hebrew (since this was a subject I
was most earnestly attempting to avoid, as far as possible), but I do
claim to have shown (on purely phonological grounds) that unsuffixed
forms of the ordinary imperfect come from diachronically earlier forms
such as *yaqtulu which originally ended in a word-final short vowel
(before the historical change of word-final short vowel loss), while
unsuffixed forms of the "consecutive imperfect" as well as the jussive
both come from diachronically earlier forms such as *yaqtul, which
were originally consonant-final, and so unaffected by word-final short
vowel loss.

Each of these two different stem shapes *yaqtulu and *yaqtul
(reconstructed strictly on phonological grounds within Hebrew) can then
be correlated with similar forms in a number of related languages, as
briefly discussed in the early footnotes of chapter 4 of my
dissertation, and further in Hetzron's 1969 paper.  Since *yaqtul is an
old Semitic form that has gone out of use in a number of descendent
Semitic languages, while *yaqtulu is an innovation which is only found
in certain Semitic sub-groups, many languages only have one or the
other (not both).  Certainly both are not found in Akkadian -- which
has only a yaqtul preterite and and yaqtul jussive, but no new-fangled
yaqtulu forms.  The existence of a "yaqtul preterite" in Ugaritic is
apparently at least somewhat doubtful (or at least sources disagree,
and I'm not qualified to offer a personal opinion on the matter); while
Phoenician inscriptions are only attested after word-final short vowel
loss (which is basically a late 2nd. Millennium B.C. phenomenon) has
occurred, and are written in a very _h.aser_ ("defective") orthography,
and so can offer no real evidence about different phonological stem
shapes.  But the whole yaqtul (jussive and preterite) vs. yaqtulu
(imperfect) system, which seems to be the precursor to the Biblical
Hebrew system, is claimed to be visible in the Amarna letters (see the
Anson F. Rainey article in the bibliography to my dissertation).
Another interesting case (with some analogies to Hebrew) is Arabic,
where so-called "jussive" forms actually have "preterite" semantics in
certain cases.

So even a cursory glance at this comparative evidence shows that the two
stem-shapes *yaqtulu and *yaqtul phonologically reconstructed from
Hebrew-internal evidence are likely to go back to separate Semitic
conjugations; and it's not too much of a leap to connect the Biblical
Hebrew wayyiqtol, in its default ordinary most-frequently-encountered
meaning, with the yaqtul "preterite" of other Semitic languages.  Not
that I want to claim that the Biblical Hebrew wayyiqtol is a "preterite"
(if the term "preterite" even has a very specific meaning) -- in fact, I
don't want to claim anything whatsoever about the meaning of the Biblical
Hebrew wayyiqtol, except that it's frequently found in a past narrative
function (whether semantic or pragmatic, I don't care), which serves as a
reasonably plausible comparandum with the functions of non-jussive yaqtul
verbal stem forms in other Semitic languages.

> In brief, I do not consider the WAW prefix to be a conjunction, and
> hence I don't consider it to have any "conversive" force in the
> traditional sense that the term has been used.  Rather, I consider
> it to be an inflectional morpheme that is actually part of the
> Hebrew verb system itself, and it is this inflectional morpheme that
> carries the sense of syntactic break.  The fact that it resembles
> the conjunction in its surface form does not make it a conjunction
> any more than the fact that HE- interrogative resembles the definite
> article means it has to be a form of the definite article (an
> analogy I've presented many times here).  We have such homonyms all
> over Hebrew, yet when we get to the WAW prefix we seem to have a
> blind spot.

I don't know if it has "conversive force", but it certainly seems to
have "conjunctive force" -- or why don't we see w at wayyiqtol or
uwayyiqtol (whichever form the conjunction w at - would take on when
attaching to a word already beginning with w-, something which doesn't
occur in the Bible)?  Also, if the waC- prefix of the wayyiqtol has no
relationship with the conjunction, then why did this waC- escape the
phonological change of word-initial w- to y- which basically affected
every word in the Hebrew language except the conjunction w at -?

> I don't consider the WAY prefix to be a separate word along the lines
> of X+YIQTOL, I consider it an inflection of the verb itself.  Thus
> there is a fundamental difference between X+YIQTOL and WAYYIQTOL;
> they are two different inflections/conjugations.

The prefixation of waC- certainly serves to _preserve_ the
distinctness of two conjugations, but the phonological evidence shows
that such prefixation didn't create the difference between the two,
but rather is a device for maintaining the distinction after an
original 2nd. millennium B.C. contrast between *yaqtulu and *yaqtul
was somewhat eroded by later sound changes.

Henry Churchyard   churchyh at

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