The "times" of Isaiah

Bryan Rocine brocine at
Fri Aug 27 09:55:58 EDT 1999

Hi Rolf,

I have not been silent during this long thread for any other
reason than my busy schedule.  I applaud your diligence in
studying theBH verb system.  I agree with you that the
grammars and monographs can say what they want to and find
ample proof texts for their theses, but they usually tend to
the same fault, that is, ignoring the texts that blow their
theories out of the water!  Thankfully, modern linguistics
is pushing researchers in the direction of statistical
analysis of entire bodies of text in support of their
theses, so it becomes harder to hide behind a handful of
convenient proof-texts.  Still, huge bodies of text such as
Isaiah, as you rightly point
out, are being left out of the studies.  Along with you, I
ask, Are we to believe that Isaiah, for eaxample, is not BH?
Or that the
verb system of Isaiah is so different from that of
"Standard" BH in Gen - Kings that Isaiah requires a
different grammar?  I don't buy that, so I appreciate your
effort to falsify traditionally held theories
(Although I may not share your degree of cynicism toward
toward "traditional" Hebraists).
In this post I would like perhaps to clarify the
relationship, as I understand it, between discourse analysis
and the quest for the verbal semantics of BH.  I think you
have a misunderstanding.  You wrote:

<noted and snipped>

> I am also very much concerned with the system of Harald
Weinreich (meaning
> found by discourse analysis), and the way it is applied to
Hebrew. Once it
> was claimed on the list that there always was a conscution
in a sequence of
> WAYYIQTOLs  used in narratives. However, many linguists,
including Comrie
> (I recently brought a qoute from him) believe that the
consecution is a
> function of the narrative and not of the verbs used, and
consecution is not
> allways the case. What concerns me, is that a very fixed
system is built up
> (by induction) around the use of verbs in narrative
(mainline with this
> form, background with that form, this with this and that
with that) -a
> system which does not actually express semantic meaning
but is not far from
> it. The problem, as I see it, is that the mere occurrence
of a particular
> verb (be it  QATAL, WE+QATAL, YIQTOL etc) in narrative
causes a particular
> interpretation to its environment. By this system it seems
to me that a
> host of nuances are read into the text, something never
intended by the
> author. Even a quite evident temporal meaning of
particular verbs
> (construed from the context without the discourse system)
is often denied.

<noted and snipped>

The Hebraist that I know of who most subscribes to Weinrich
is Niccacci (I don't know if Alviero is on-list right now).
Niccacci admits that his model of the BH verb system
describes verb function rather than semantics, and that his
description is not nearly so theoretical as it is
descriptive of facts (facts that, I might add, are a result
of his very keen observation of BH).  Niccacci comes very
close in some of his writings to disavowing the value of
theoretical BH verbal semantics at all.  Yes, he does call
the forms "tenses," but I believe this is his own special
use of the word (perhaps the result of translation from
Italian to English?) which means that they represent a
time when in a given context (genre) rather than that they
have basic, uncancellable meaning as tenses.  In short, you
wasting your time taking swings at a Weinrichian discourse
analyst like Niccacci because they are not even in the ring
with you!

Another influential discourse analyst is Longacre.  *He also
has not sought to determine any meaning for the verb forms.*
Right or wrong, he has assumed a rather mainstream meaning
for the forms as if they have already been studied enough,
but has focused, in his work, on how the forms function in
prose, like Niccacci.  I think his ignoring of the verbal
semantics of the forms is now coming back to haunt him.  Now
that he is turning to the study
of BH poetry, I find that he is having to sort of back-track
and fill in a gap in his model, that gap being a firm grasp
on the basic meaning of the forms.  He cannot proceed in
poetry as he did in prose without giving much attention to
the basic verbal semantics of BH.  He has yet to publish on

I am one person who seeks a marraige of studies in BH verbal
semantics with discourse analysis.  It is my contention that
an accurate description of the way
the forms function should complement an accurate description
of what the forms mean and vice versa.  When the two are at
odds, I go
looking for which, if not both, descriptions is inaccurate.
I think the two disciplines serve as helpful checks and
balances for each other.  But I am not a real scholar, and
my work is addressed to only Hebrew studies for the
beginner.  You have nothing to fear from me or discourse
analysis.  BTW, have you read Hopper, Givon and their group
on the subject of TAM and discourse functions?  I think you
would find it very helpful.  They even talk about BH once in

To my knowledge, the real scholar who does the most to marry
study of BH verbal semantics and BH verbal functions is
Eskhult out of Uppsala.  Are you familiar with his work?  I
don't know why he has not received more attention, but this
non-scholar, for one,
thinks his work is significant.


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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