The form of weqatal (really wayyiqtol)

Henry Churchyard churchyh at
Sat Aug 14 03:08:38 EDT 1999

> Subject: Re: Re[9]: The form of weqatal (long)
> From: "Dave Washburn" <dwashbur at>
> Date: Fri, 13 Aug 1999 13:11:28 -0700

> Peter wrote:

>> I think that Henry clearly demonstrated (from evidence within
>> Hebrew only, not from comparison with other languages) that there
>> are two originally separate YIQTOL conjugations.  If you have a
>> clear counter-argument to this phonological one, I would be
>> interested to see it - preferably on this list as I do not have
>> immediate access to your article.  I think Henry's argument would
>> also show that WAYYIQTOL cannot be derived from any prefix added to
>> the LONG form of YIQTOL. Thus, a fortiori, there is an even greater
>> difference between X+YIQTOL (long form) and WAYYIQTOL.

> What Henry wrote, as well as his most recent post in response to 
> me, is almost verbatim what appears in Waltke and O'Connor and 
> other writings, especially those of A. Rainey that he cited.

This is more or less true as far as comparative Semitic morphology is
concerned (though I was summarizing from general knowledge, rather
than quoting any one source verbatim directly) -- but comparative
Semitic morphology is not the main focus of my dissertation chapter
anyway.  My somewhat original contribution is actually the compiling
and working out in detail of the _phonological evidence internal to
Biblical Hebrew_ that shows that some Biblical Hebrew conjugations go
back to second millennium B.C. *yaqtulu and others to 2nd. millennium
B.C. *yaqtul.  The evidence from word-final closed-syllable shortening
(i.e. -CVVC# becomes -CVC#) had been known before, and Blau had
already intuited more or less correctly the diachronic sequence of
changes in surface stress position involved in the history of the
consecutive perfect -- but in chapter 4 of my dissertation I explore
all this systematically within the context of synchronic phonology and
a theory of grammar change, to show that in particular the existence
of the consecutive imperfect stress shift in Biblical Hebrew is very
strong evidence for a *yaqtul vs. *yaqtulu contrast in the 2nd
millennium B.C.  No amount of general speculating in the areas of
morphology and/or semantics will ever disprove my hypothesis of the
original phonological distinctness of the stems of unsuffixed forms of
wayyiqtol vs. yiqtol; this is a (diachronic) phonological theory,
which will be refuted on specific phonological grounds or not at all.

[Washburn's earlier paper, de-richtexted and excerpted; by the way,
what does "WP" stand for? --]

> Many, such as Waltke-O'Connor and Finley, hold to the view set out
> by Bauer: somewhere in its development, Hebrew had two prefix
> conjugations, a short one and a long one (Waltke & O'Connor 1990; cf
> Finley 1981).  The long one became the imperfect as we know it in
> the OT; the other attached itself to _waw_ and became the WP.
> [However, Washburn rejects this.]  Silverman offered an implicitly
> transformational description of formation of the WP: the verb is
> moved to the head of the clause, and the WA. attaches to it.  After
> that, certain phonological changes occur to ensure that the word is
> still phonologically "balanced" (Silverman 1973).  Among these
> phonological changes, we submit, is the shortening of certain
> classes of verbs.  The _hip`il_ is the only stem that adds extra
> "weight" to the interior of a verb, and it adds it near the end of
> the word.  A simple prefix is not heavy enough to upset the word's
> balance, since it replaces the offsetting _he_ of the stem with
> another full, closed syllable.  However, when the WP transformation
> adds yet another closed syllable, this one with a doubled
> prefix-consonant, the word becomes "top-heavy"; it now has twice the
> extra weight at the front that it has at the back.  There are two
> possible solutions to this dilemma: either add yet another letter
> toward the end of the word, or shift the center of gravity.  In
> general, Hebrew opted for the former in the first person, and the
> latter in the second and third persons.  In the second and third
> person forms, the _yod_ drops out, the corresponding vowel shortens,
> and the accent shifts back toward the prefix as far as it can go,
> restoring the word's "balance."  Thus, the shortened form of the
> _hip`il_ WP is not evidence of a separate short conjugation at all;
> it is a case of phonological conditioning after the addition of an
> inflectional morpheme.  This explanation is much less complex than
> the two-conjugation hyopthesis.  The phonetic conditioning that the
> addition of the "heavy" prefixed _waw_ effects on the verb simply
> produces a form that happens to resemble the jussive. We conclude,
> then, that the verbal portion of the WP is a true prefix form that
> is sometimes phonologically altered upon the attachment of the _waw_
> and its accompanying features.

I have to say that as a phonologist, I'm not overly impressed with
this analysis.  Hebrew often adds long strings of prefixes to words
(ubhk at shemeha'ah.ashdarpanim, to quote a facetious and not entirely
Biblical example mentioned once by one of my Hebrew teachers), and
this never results in any general observable phonological tendency to
shorten the ends of words.  If your explanation only applies in a
small number of morphologically-defined situations, then it isn't
really a phonological explanation.  It is true that shifting of stress
from the word-final syllable to the penultimate syllable _does_ often
result in the phonological shortening of ends of words, but vowel
shortening in the Hiph`il wayyiqtol occurs even when there is no
synchronic Biblical Hebrew stress shift, and you haven't really
offered any detailed and convincing explanation (diachronic or
synchronic) as to why stress-shift occurs in the particular contexts
it does -- in fact, if I've followed your account, your theory wrongly
predicts that stress should shift onto the penultimate syllables of
unsuffixed Hiph`ils formed from "strong" triconsonantal roots
(i.e. roots without any weak consonants).  Also, your explanation is
somewhat disunified, in that the _s.ere_ vowel in the Tiberian hiph`il
jussive yaqtel presumably still receives a standard diachronic
*yaqtiil -> *yaqtil closed-syllable shortening explanation, while the
s.ere vowel in the Tiberian hiph`il wayyaqtel now receives a separate
"prefixed-triggered end-shortening" explanation.  I would like to see
some purely phonological evidence for the disparity in the analyses of
these two types of forms, but I don't really think there is any.
Also, the 1st. person "cohortative" suffix is not restricted to
wayyiqtols, nor does it always accompany 1st person wayyiqtols.

The "one-conjugation-origin" hypothesis of the development of Biblical
Hebrew wayyiqtol and yiqtol has a certain abstract conceptual appeal
on the grounds of _a priori_ simplicity, but it just doesn't
adequately explain all the details of Hebrew phonology -- and when the
results of historical reconstruction on the basis of Hebrew phonology
are correlated with comparative Semitic morphology, then the competing
"two-conjugations-origin" hypothesis seems to be quite strongly

>>> 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.  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

>> 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)?

> My approach predicts that this would be the case, because
> conjunction/coordination would suggest a syntactic connection.  If,
> as I submit, the wayyiqtol indicates a syntactic break, it wouldn't
> be expected to take a conjunction.

So are wayyiqtol-chains sequences of asyndetical clauses?  Forgive the
semantic ignorance of a phonologist, but if the main default meaning
of simple wayyiqtol chains is "First X happened, then Y, then Z" etc.
(Genesis 25:34), I don't see how this is incompatible with a
conjunctive element in the meaning of wayyiqtol.

>> 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'm not sure what you mean here.

Look in your lexicon under the letter _waw_ and you won't find too
many entries.  This is not an accident -- historically, *w normally
becomes attested Biblical Hebrew y in word-initial position, so that
earlier *wald becomes *yald, Biblical Hebrew unsuffixed segholate
yeledh "child".  There are a few aberrant forms which do have
word-initial w-, generally because they have come into the Biblical
dialect after this change (i.e. loanwords or dialectical borrowings
such as waladh "child" in Genesis 11:30, and foreign proper names such
as "Vashti"), but the main systematic native exception to this w- -> y-
change within the Biblical dialect is the conjunction.  If the waC-
prefix of the wayyiqtol has no relationship to the conjunction, then
it will be a second and independent exception to the historical Hebrew
w- -> y- change, which looks a little coincidental.

Henry Churchyard   churchyh at

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