What ARE the clues for sequence in BH?

Paul Zellmer zellmer at digitelone.com
Wed Dec 15 05:30:10 EST 1999

Dave Washburn wrote:
> Sequence is inherently semantic and pragmatic.  "He arose and
> went" is sequential because we know that in the normal course of
> things it's necessary to stand up before moving from one place to
> another.  "The meeting was called to order.  The minutes were
> read.  The minutes were approved."  These are sequential, but the
> syntax of the clauses doesn't tell us that.  Our knowledge of the
> normal course of a meeting is what tells us this.  "I went to the
> grocery store.  I went to the post office.  I went to the park.  I
> to the library."  These may or may not be sequential, we can't tell
> without more information.  The speaker may indeed be narrating
> things in sequence, or s/he may be narrating things in order of
> importance, or in no particular order at all.  We don't have enough
> pragmatic information to be sure.  Each clause is a separate
> thought, a simple declarative clause in realis mode.  This is how I
> see the wayyiqtol.  Hence, I guess one could say that in my view,
> sequence is encoded at the level of discourse.

I guess what's interesting, Dave, is that 'way back in the Dark Ages
when I was first starting Hebrew, your list of activities in town is
very close to the case that my instructor at that time gave to
differentiate between strings of wayyiqtols and series of qatals: the
wayyiqtols indicated the report was given in sequence and the qatals
would have been isolated clauses without necessary respect to sequence.
Have I moved on from this explanation?  Sure.  But it still pokes up its
head whenever I think about the subject.

In English, I would have to agree with you about the lack of clues.  But
my agreement in English (and other indo-european languages as well as
the romantic languages) is very much flavored by the realization that
sequences are normally marked by adverbials and sequential conjunctions.
Even the austronesian languages that I am working among right now, which
have many clauses which can be directly translated from the Hebrew
without change of word order or additional words, have sequential
markers.  But BHebrew seems to be notable by its *lack* of such markers
if it is not encoded in the verb.

Ian Hutchesson wrote:

> Does anyone know of a language that codes narrative discourse
> information into the verb rather than coding some aspect which
> incidentally is appropriate for the discourse? I know of none.

Yet, Ian, in the languages that you are drawing from, is there not
normally some clue that the appropriate aspect is being featured so that
sequence is being indicated?  Yet, unless there is no clear case of
sequencial narratives in the corpus of Biblical Hebrew, any encoding is
almost required to lie in the verb form, because there simply are not
other clues.  Have you run across any language that depends only on the
knowledge of details of certain classes of events to indicate that a
sequence is being described?  Unless I misunderstand him, that is what
Dave is putting forth.  And this would mean that the intended audience
must be very small and considered to be very expert in the matters being

I admit a lack of knowledge about other semitic languages.  How do these
encode sequence?  (I'd research it myself, except that my library, which
lacks this information, is already the most advanced in this area of
study for some 400 kilometers, and the one that is that distance away is
only on a par to mine.)  An answer to the handling in cognate languages
might point me toward an answer to my question.

Still not quite comfortable with the answers,


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