The form of weqatal (really wayyiqtol)

Dave Washburn dwashbur at
Sun Aug 15 21:48:13 EDT 1999

Henry wrote:
> > 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) -- 

Of course, and upon rereading what I wrote I realize it may have 
sounded as though I was suggesting plagiarism or some such.  
That was not my intention, and if it came across that way I 
apologize, to Henry and to everyone else.  What I was trying to 
indicate was that, at least in those particular comments, I didn't 
see anything new that hadn't already been stated.  Sorry if that 
wasn't clear.

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.  

I'm still in the process of reading through that chapter, so I can't 
comment at this point.  It's somewhat slow going since I'm not 
primarily a phonologist.

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.

I would have to suggest that it is virtually impossible to "disprove" 
most any hypothesis of this type.  The goal, as I see it, is to find 
the approach that best fits the data with the smallest number of 
problems.  Your idea may fit that, and if it does I will stand 
corrected.  Nothing in my view of the syntax of wayyiqtol rises or 
falls on the question of diachronic origin, so I'm willing to be taught 
on this point.  Perhaps I can contact you off-list when I finish 
reading the chapter and we can discuss whether we have anything 
to kick around on-list, if that's agreeable to you.

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

WP = "Waw-Prefix-form," an abbreviation I borrowed from F. I. 
Andersen, "The Sentence in Biblical Hebrew."  In most settings I 
prefer to use his abbreviations since "WP" is much easier to type 
than "wayyiqtol".  He uses WP for wayyiqtol, WS for weqatal (waw-
suffix), VS for qatal (verb suffixed) and VP for yiqtol (verb prefixed).  
To avoid confusion with the standard transformational-grammar 
abbreviation for "verb phrase" I change the last one to PV (prefixed 

> > 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.  

????  Can you give a few actual biblical examples?  From what I 
can dig out of that, um, prodigious example, u = conjunction, b = 
preposition, h = article, the rest I won't bother with.  Again, my 
approach wouldn't predict that any of these would result in a 
tendency toward shortening of words, because syntactically and 
semantically, each has the characteristics of a word in its own 
right, whereas the waC prefix on the wayyiqtol (and the w: prefix on 
the weqatal) has characteristics more like a specified grammatical 
formative, an actual verbal formative and not a separate word with 
its own "meaning."  It shouldn't be surprising that there would be a 
sharp difference in their phonological behavior.

If your explanation only applies in a
> small number of morphologically-defined situations, then it isn't
> really a phonological explanation.  

At this point I'm going to snip for the sake of bandwidth, because I 
need to study what follows - as well as chapter 4 - in order to 
adequately follow what Henry is saying here.  I will just address 
this comment:

> >>> 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.

I wouldn't say asyndetic, but rather simple declarative clauses.  I 
suggest that the syntactic "meaning" of wayyiqtol chains is "X 
happened.  Y happened.  Z happened."  Syntactically, it gives no 
indications about sequence.  This is derived from semantic and 
pragmatic factors, not from the syntactic force of the wayyiqtol.  
We've seen several examples on this list that show the idea "First 
X, then Y etc." cannot be an uncancellable meaning of the 
wayyiqtol, so I would have to disagree that sequence is the "main 
default meaning" (an expression I haven't seen elsewhere so far).

As for "semantic ignorance," while my field is syntax, not 
semantics, I figure if I can tread into your area of phonology, you 
certainly have the right to tread into my area of synax :-)

> >> 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.

Once again, you're talking words.  I'm talking specified grammatical 
formatives, which obviously don't appear in the lexicon.  I suspect, 
though I'm far over my head here, that the main reason the 
conjunction didn't undergo this change is because it is a one-letter 
word, and the sort of change you describe might have rendered it 
unrecognizable.  Again, not being a phonologist, I really couldn't 
say.  But a grammatical formative of the type I describe probably 
wouldn't fall into the kind of sound-change category you describe, 
since it's a fixed form that signals a particular syntactic feature as 
part of the verb's inflection.

I also suspect that we've got two distinct topics going here.  If you 
want to pursue this part of it, I'm game.  However, I'm going to drop 
the historical phonology part until I finish reading your material.

Dave Washburn
"Oh, no!  They've all become giant Swiss lederhosen-clad
dancing yodelers!"  "Talk about unpredictable!" - P&B

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