Prototype Theory and Hebrew Tense/Aspect

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Wed Dec 15 20:34:45 EST 1999

See my comments below.

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Re[3]: Prototype Theory and Hebrew Tense/Aspect
Author:  <dwashbur at> at Internet
Date:    14/12/1999 15:34

> washburn:
> >>[+past +perfective +realis -dependence -subordination] 
> kirk:
> >Yes, your set of features looks good, and you're probably right that 
> >sequence does not really fit here.
> well, if you're talking prototype (and network semantics) 
> then you'll have to do something more with vayyiqtol.

Not necessarily.  That's what we're trying to sort out.

> the features listed above are the prototype of qatal
> in narrative and direct speech, (+ ki-clauses and asher- clauses). 
> if you don't like sequence for vayyiqtol, and i wouldn't push it, 
> then at least +thematic ('theme advancing saliency').
> see how easy it is to talk about a prototype?

Of course it's easy to talk about it, but demonstrating it is another 
matter.  I find that beginning an investigation with a foregone 
conclusion doesn't produce much in the way of improved
knowledge. ...

PK: But some people structure their discourses so that their 
conclusion ("you'll have to do something more with vayyiqtol") 
appears before the detailed argument in its favour ("the features 
listed above are the prototype of qatal..."). That is not circular 

.. And the set I suggested is hardly what you describe, since it 
includes [-dependence -subordination] which is definitely not a 
feature set of ki and asher clauses!

PK: So, Dave, can you propose a set of features which distinguish 
prototype QATAL (or perhaps just X-QATAL) from prototype WAYYIQTOL? 
You need to do better than [+dependence] or [+subordination]. 
Actually we can't even use [-sequential], as recently demonstrated 
in some passages quoted re Genesis 1:1. Maybe [-foreground] would 
be more promising, but again that's a discourse feature. But if we 
can't get even this far, the prototype approach doesn't look very 

> as for aspect and tense, they are both semantic categories, and to be 
> distinguished from the lexically bound semantics of 'kind of action'.
> semantics, of course, must be integrated to syntax and surface structures 
>  in order to have any linguistic relevancy for a particular language.

PK: Kimmo Huovila argues at length against any fundamental distinction 
between aspect and Aktionsart on the basis that neither is clearly 
semantic or clearly lexical. Meanwhile I think I can demonstrate from 
Russian both that aspect (perfective/imperfective distinction) is a 
morphological category inseparable from the force of certain 
morphemes, and that it is inseparable from lexical semantics (and from 
Aktionsart) - which causes problems for you who try to separate syntax 
from semantics. If you are interested, I will send some evidence off 

"Of course"?  Once again we seem to be assuming what we're 
setting out to prove,  otherwise known as circular reasoning. 
Semantics do indeed need to be integrated into syntax and surface 
structures, but the key phrase there is "surface structures." 
Seeking to determine the force of a particular syntactic feature 
necessarily takes us well below surface structure, so the 
statement is correct but irrelevant.

Dave Washburn
Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; 
give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.
                                   Psalm 86:11

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